Marcel Mauss The Gift Summary

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In chapter one of ‘The gift: the form and reason for exchange in archaic societies’, Marcel Mauss discusses his insights into the exchange of goods and material objects between people, and how it contributes to forming relationships. Marilyn Strathern’s understanding of kinship and reproduction in chapter one of ‘Reproducing the future; essays on anthropology, kinship and the new reproductive technologies’, helps support Mauss’ text, as the theme of reciprocity is crucial in giving structure to kinship.

Mauss states that “contractual gifts in Samoa extends far beyond marriage. Such gifts accompany the following events: the birth of a child, circumcision, sickness, a daughter’s arrival at puberty, funeral rites, trade” (Mauss, 1990, p. 1). This shows how gift exchange can be a fundamental aspect of an array of societal events,
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Mauss focuses his work primarily around the Samoan and Polynesian culture of reciprocity and gift exchange, whereas Strathern focuses on the Euro-American cultural and societal view on reproductive technologies and kinship. Analysing the two cultures side by side emphasizes the differences of each culture, allowing the reader to better understand what makes each cultural act in the way that it does. This is important because the reader requires a basis for contrast, which allows for deeper understanding. An example of this is how Euro-American kinship practices does not include aspects of Samoan kinship practices, such as the concept of mana and how it effects reciprocity between kin. This is shown when Mauss explains “two essential elements in potlatch proper can be clearly distinguished here: the honour, prestige, and mana conferred by wealth; and the absolute obligation to reciprocate these gifts under pain of losing that mana, that authority - the talisman and source of wealth that is authority itself.” (Mauss, 1990, p.
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