Theories and ethnographies: economic anthropology Professor Theories and ethnographies on the gift (economic anthropology) A gift economy is a means of trade where goods and other valuables are given out instead of selling, without a clear consensus for instantaneous or future return of the favor (Cheal, 1988)…
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Therefore, gift in this context can be defined as goods and services that are exchanged with the intention of affirming a social relationship and status. Hence, gifts are a reciprocated system where citizens of any given community will be perpetually indebted to another person. Ethnographers have studied many different interpretations of the gift in traditional societies. The complicated factors of ‘the gift’ in archaic society have attracted debates throughout different fields of study. In addition, several professionals including anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, as well as economists have researched the issue. A sense of duty bounds these relationships together although these communities may be otherwise hostile towards one another. Marcel Mauss, a French anthropologist and a sociologist, carefully studied the facts on the gift in traditional primitive societies; following Durkheim’s model on the sacred, he theorized that gifts are of a moral, religious, and economic nature in natural economic systems; with a sacred quality to exchange and contracts. Mauss presents the idea of a system of obligatory service provision i.e. one provides a service because it is their moral responsibility to do so, this system brings together distinguished characteristics identified based on religion, justification, and economic status. An example is doing voluntary work in the community, Hann et al. (2011) notes, “... It is groups, and not individuals, which carry on the exchange, make contracts, and are bound by obligations the person represented in the contracts are moral persons- clans, tribes and families; the groups, or the chiefs as intermediaries for the groups, confront and oppose each other” (p.50). He visualized a unique connection between the gift and the recipient and emphasized on the power embedded on the gift that would propel the recipient to reciprocate the act of giving (Mauss, 1925. p.3). With this idea, he stipulated that the giver not only gives the gift, but part of them is also torn away from them in the process of giving. Due to this, he said that there was no complete separation of the gift from the giver (Mauss, 1925). He further argued that, what they exchange is not exclusively goods and wealth, real and personal property, and things of economic value. They exchange rather courtesies, entertainments, ritual, military assistance, women, children, dances and feasts, in which the market is merely one element and the circulation of wealth, but one part of a wide and enduring contract. Finally, although the social facts and their opposing factors take place under a voluntary guise, they are in essence strictly obligatory, and their sanction is private or open warfare. We propose to call this system of total presentation.” (Mauss, 1926) There is not only an obligation to repay gifts, but also to give and receive them willingly, to refuse to do so could mean refusing to accept the other into one's community and could cause war. However, by giving, the community shows itself as deserving and worthy of respect and generosity. Failure to give will mean to end their partnership and refuse any future gifts. Gift- giving contests have come together on this basis such as the famous North- West Coast Native American Potlatch as well as the Kula Ring in the Trobriand Islands. Malinowski also researched the Trobriand islanders, found the exchange between islanders of the Kula Ring
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