Saturday, September 3, 2016
In the classic book The Gift, Marcel Mauss writes: "In these “total” social phenomena, as we propose to call them, are expressed all at once and at a stroke all sorts of institutions: religious, judicial, and ethical (morale)" (Introduction). Using specific examples from chapters 1 or 2 (if posting for Tue) or 4 (if posting for Thu), discuss how a practice of gift exchange comes to constitute a religion, judicial or ethical social system/phenomenon.
In describing the exchange and barter among the Polynesians, Mauss reveals a complex exchange regime where not only economically useful goods are exchanged but pleasantries, services and humans during marriages, childbirth, funeral rites and many other occasions. It was also stated that although gifts are theoretically seen as voluntary, it is ultimately compulsory and contractual. There is the obligation to give and the obligation to receive and if any or all of these are neglected, it becomes the grounds for a declaration of war. These forms of obligations justify a line of the 41st stanza of the Havamal, that “Those who mutually exchange presents are friends for the longest time”. Mauss also made mention of the fact that gift exchanges are everywhere and although exchanges can be influenced by factors like rivalry and competition, these factors were missing in Polynesia.