Theory: Mauss's most influential work is his Essay sur le don (1925; English translation: The Gift: Forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies, 1954), a comparative essay on gift-giving and exchange in "primitive" societies. On the basis of empirical examples from a wide range of societies, Mauss describes the obligations attendent on gift-giving: the obligation to give gifts (giving, or potlatch, shows oneself as generous, and thus as deserving of respect), the obligation to receive them (by receiving the gift, one shows respect to the giver, and concommittantly proves one's own generosity), and the obligation to return the gift (thus demonstrating that one's honor is -- at least -- equivalent to that of the original giver). Gift-giving is thus steeped in morality, and by giving, receiving and returning gifts, a moral bond between the persons exchanging gifts is established.

The significance and nature of gifting in Northwest Coast potlatches has varied through time and across cultures. It is commonly portrayed as extremely competitive, with hosts bankrupting themselves to outdo their rivals and aggressively destroying property. While this form of gifting characterized practices of northern groups such as the Kwakiutl, such competition would have been considered inappropriate during Nuu-chah-nulth or Salish potlatches on the southern coast. Potlatches are to be distinguished from feasts in that guests are invited to a potlatch to share food and receive gifts or payment.

Items lined up for a potlatch, Victoria, British Columbia, 1865mmPotlatch figure welcoming guests
Potlatch [Chinook jargon, from Nootka, patshatl: giving], a ceremonial feast of the Indians of the Northwest coast marked
by the host's lavish distribution of gifts requiring reciprocation (Source: Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary).

Mauss stresses the idea that twentieth-century Western society, although obliged to adopt new principles in order to move forward, would also do well to come back to certain earlier principles, and in particular to the practice of "noble expenditures." As regards earlier societies's gifts and expenditures, they did not entail, writes Mauss, "the cold reasoning of the merchant, the banker and the capitalist." For Mauss, the subjective gift is the opposite of market relations, but it still bears their stigmata. For, in the imaginary of individuals and groups, it appears a bit as the dreamed of other side, as the inverted dream of the relations of power, interest, manipulation, and submission involved in commercial relations and the quest for profit, on the one hand, and in political relations and the conquest and exercise of power, on the other. When idealized, the uncalculating gift operates in the imaginary as the last refuge of a solidarity, of an open-handedness which is supposed to have characterized other eras in the evolution of humankind. Gift-giving becomes the bearer of a utopia, a utopia which can be projected into the past as well as into the future.


It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange
that a gift establishes a feeling-bond between two people, while
the sale of a commodity leaves no necessary connection.

-- Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property


Only economism, Bourdieu argues, with its 'restricted defintion of eco-
nomic interest which is the historical product of capitalism,' demotes
the symbolic to irrational sentiment or passion. By measuring all activity
against the 'unambiguous standard of omnetary profit, the most sacred
activities are also constituted negatively as
symbolic, that is with the
connotations often carried by this as devoid of concrete material effect,
in a word,
gratuitous, in the sense of disinterested but also useless.

-- Michele H. Richman, Reading Georges Bataille: Beyond The Gift


Gifting in the ancient world: a Gifting Container displayed in a Museum in Rome.


Gifting is an essential aspect of the "Burning Man" festival held yearly in the Black Desert of Nevada (click on images)



Some of the most interesting scholars in France today you never hear about at all. One such is a group of intellectuals who go by the rather unwieldy name of Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales, or M.A.U.S.S., and who have dedicated themselves to a systematic attack on the philosophical underpinnings of economic theory. The group take their inspiration from the great early-20th century French sociologist Marcel Mauss, whose most famous work, The Gift (1925), was perhaps the most magnificent refutation of the assumptions behind economic theory ever written. At a time when "the free market" is being rammed down everyone's throat as both a natural and inevitable product of human nature, Mauss's work -- which demonstrated not only that most non-Western societies did not work on anything resembling market principles, but that neither do most modern Westerners -- is more relevant than ever. La Revue du M.A.U.S.S. was launched in 1981 by a handful of French academics working in sociology, economics or anthropology. They resented the path which was being imposed to social sciences at the time, notably their submission to an omnipotent economic model. They disagreed with an exclusively instrumental vision of democracy and social relationships.While Francophile American scholars seem unable to come up with much of anything to say about the rise of global neoliberalism, the M.A.U.S.S. group is attacking its very foundations.

I'll tell you a plan for gaining wealth,
mBetter than banking, trade or leases --
Take a bank note and fold it up,
mAnd then you will find your money in creases!
This wonderful plan, without danger or loss,
mKeeps your cash in your hands, where nothing can trouble it;
And every time that you fold it across,
m'This as plain as the light of the day that you double it!

-- "Epigram for Wall Street," Edgar Allan Poe (1845)



The book Pay It Forward has been translated into twenty languages for publication in more than thirty countries, and was chosen among the Best Books for Young Adults 2001 by the American Library Association. The mass market paperback was released in October 2000 by Pocket Books and quickly became a national bestseller. Pay It Forward the movie (Warner Brothers) is in release.Catherine Ryan Hyde is founder and president of the Pay It Forward Foundation. She donates a portion of her Pay It Forward paperback royalties and Foundation-related speaking honoraria to support Foundation activities.
The gift, according to Derrida, is "beyond recompense or retribution, beyond economy," effecting a sort of sacrifice of economy itself (GD, 95). The gist of Derrida's argument is: "The aporia that surrounds the gift revolves around the paradoxical thought that a genuine gift cannot actually be understood to be a gift. In his text, Given Time, Derrida suggests that the notion of the gift contains an implicit demand that the genuine gift must reside outside of the oppositional demands of giving and taking, and beyond any mere self-interest or calculative reasoning (GT, 30). According to him, however, a gift is also something that cannot appear as such (GD, 29), as it is destroyed by anything that proposes equivalence or recompense, as well as by anything that even proposes to know of, or acknowledge it. This may sound counter-intuitive, but even a simple 'thank-you' for instance, which both acknowledges the presence of a gift and also proposes some form of equivalence with that gift, can be seen to annul the gift. By politely responding with a 'thank-you', there is often, and perhaps even always, a presumption that because of this acknowledgement one is no longer indebted to the other who has given, and that nothing more can be expected of an individual who has so responded.

"Significantly, the gift is hence drawn into the cycle of giving and taking, where a good deed must be accompanied by a suitably just response. As the gift is associated with a command to respond, it becomes an imposition for the receiver, and it even becomes an opportunity to take for the 'giver', who might give just to receive the acknowledgement from the other that they have in fact given. There are undoubtedly many other examples of how the 'gift' can be deployed, and not necessarily deliberately, to gain advantage. Of course, it might be objected that even if it is psychologically difficult to give without also receiving (and in a manner that is tantamount to taking) this does not in-itself constitute a refutation of the logic of genuine giving. According to Derrida, however, his discussion does not amount merely to an empirical or psychological claim about the difficulty of transcending an immature and egocentric conception of giving. On the contrary, he wants to problematise the very possibility of a giving that can be unequivocally disassociated from receiving and taking." (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Professor Caputo specializes in continental philosophy of religion, working on approaches to religion and theology in the light of contemporary phenomenology, hermeneutics and deconstruction, and also the presence in continental philosophy of radical religious and theological motifs. He has special interests in the "religion without religion" of Jacques Derrida; the "theological turn" taken in recent French phenomenology (Jean-Luc Marion and others); the critique of onto-theology; the question of post-modernism as "post-secularism;" the dialogue of contemporary philosophy with St. Augustine; the recent interest shown by philosophers in St. Paul; the link between Kierkegaard and deconstruction; Heidegger's early theological writings on Paul and Augustine; "secular" and "death of God" theology; medieval metaphysics and mysticism.

Jean-Luc Marion is one of several contemporary French philosophers who focus upon the issue of givenness and gift; other notable French thinkers who have addressed this theme are Jacques Derrida and the late Claude Bruaire.

In many aspects this is an exceptional book. It not only discusses the history of gift in culture but through the work of Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound it discusses the gift in poetry and art as well. The book focuses on the importance of gift, the flow and movement of gift, and the impact that the modern market place has had on the circle of gift. From the opening pages when Hyde amusingly discloses the premise of gift by juxtaposing the Indian Giver with White Man Keeper, the book progresses the gift through community, folktale and art. If you have ever been dismayed by the modern or postmodern. If you have ever wanted to make your money, cash out and leave the madness, you should read this book. Not only does it give you hope, it may rejunvenate your idea of community.

E. F. Schumacher writes: "The development of production and the acquisition of wealth have thus become the highest goals of the modern world in relation to which all other goals, no matter how much lip-service may still be paid to them, have come to take second place. The highest goals require no justification; all secondary goals have finally to justify themselves in terms of the service their attainment renders to the attainment of the hightest."

Maurice Godelier’s career was to be deeply influenced by his encounter with the Baruya, a New Guinea Highlands society discovered in 1951 by the Australians which has neither classes nor a state structure, but which is characterized by a high degree of gender inequality and numerous institutions serving male domination. He observed and analyzed the transformations in this hunting-horticultural society that very quickly entered the market economy, was integrated into a state imposed by the West and exposed to the missionary zeal of Christian churches. Alongside his field research, Maurice Godelier has explored a number of domains essential for the development of the social sciences: reflections on the “mental” components of social relationships, on the necessary distinction between the imaginary and the symbolic, on the role of the body in the construction of the social subject and, more recently, on the distinction between the things one sells, the things one gives and the things that must be neither sold nor given, but must be transmitted. He offers an astute critique of Mauss, while building on Mauss's scholarship.