Historian of religions and an ethnographer (1872-1950), nephew and collaborator of Émile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss’s work deals mainly with pre-industrial cultures and their exchange systems which, in addition to the value this has for anthropology, enables us to clarify issues rarely dealt with in our own present-day culture of consumption.
Interest in Marcel Mauss lies precisely in his aim of showing a type of society based on the exchange of gifts. That is, social life as a whole can only be understood when this circulation of objects and prestigious symbols is factored in, which a community offers to the other and which this other returns to the donor or to a third community. His Essai sur le Don (Essay on the Gift) is his most well-known work, where he lays out his theoretical principles, which rewards rereading. This text was written in the period between the two World Wars, at a time when Marcel Mauss stated that the gift institutions he had discovered were still active and to be found in North American (the institution of Potlatch) and Polynesian communities (the institutions of Koola), as well as some Indo-European documents.
Reconsideration of the original thinking of Mauss - which was certainly the most innovative to arise in the Europe between the wars, and the most creative for a global theoreticisation of the field after the work of Marx - is certainly called for in the current time. In this way, both in the anthropological and the sociological field of consumption, readings which can be traced back to Mauss are important, in order to find more than merely the attractive exotiscim of his discovery. It resolves a conflict situation where the weight of the logic of the market opens out to other forms of integration and that of the social conflict so pertinent nowadays: the tensions between the Economy and communitarian cultures in relation to the societal culture and Economy; the ways of maintaining the sacred and the profane in a world partially secularised or the relations between individualism and property. All these issues intersect with the phenomenon laid out above, which emanates from the strangeness of a world of consumption where our imagination and values are increasingly located.
This logic, or rather, this ethics of the gift, implies three moments: (a) the obligation or willingness to receive; (b) the obligation to match this, (c) the obligation to surpass what is received. These elements enable us to analyse the return to community life within the context of globalisation.
Pierre Beaucage; “Retour su le don”; monograph Anthropologie et sociétés; 1995.
Pierre Beaucage, “Échange et société: avant et après Marx”; Anthropologie et sociétés; vol. 19-1-2nd; 1995.
Marcel Fournier; Marcel Mauss; Fayard; 1994.
Maurice Godelier; L’énigme du don, Ed. Fayard (1996). (English translation The Enigma of the Gift, Chicago, Cambridge; Chicago University Press, Polity Press, 1998, Spanish translation El enigma del don; Paidós; 1998).
J.M. Marinas; El síntoma comunitario: entre polis y mercado; Antonio Machado; 2006.
Marcel Mauss; “Essay on the Gift”, “Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques”; L’Année sociologique, 1925; new series, 1, pp. 30-186. in Sociologie et anhropologie, pp. 143-279; Tecnos; 1979; pp. 153-263.
Alan D. Schrift (ed.); The Logic of the Gift. Toward an Ethic of Generosity; New York, London: Routledge; 1997.
Annette Weiner; Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping-while-Giving; Berkeley; U. California Press, 1992.