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Lecture 6

ANTA02H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 6: Marcel Mauss, Gift Basket, Ecological Anthropology

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Bianca Dahl

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ANTA02: Lecture 6 Gifts! Kinship!
February 6, 2017
Debbie Durham asking for gifts isn’t really about getting stuff, but as a way to jokingly
instigate a social conversation (practice)
Why people give gifts and do not give gifts back goes back to Marcel Mauss
MARCEL MAUSS (1872-1950)
He wrote “Essai sur le don, or, The Gift: Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic
Structuralist: social and cultural systems have elements that are functionally related
o Phase in anthropology where structuralist, believed all social systems that are
functionally related to each other
Society is like an organism; when one part changes, the rest adapts too
o Saw culture as a holistic thing
Essai sur le don, or, The Gift: Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies:
Focused on the exchange of objects can build up on social relationships not economic
exchange, but giving something freely where there is no reciprocity (do not have to pay
the person back)
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE GIFT most important thing he said
o We have implicit tallies in our head of who gives us gifts
o Gifts stand for values in friendships
o Gifts are instrumental, a way to elicit favours
“What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?” (Mauss
o there is an imbalance to cancel out the obligation to give a gift back
Each gift binds the giver and recipient in a moral relationship
o Moral = what is good/bad
o Every time a gift is exchanged it creates a moral relationship
Gifts Entail:
3 types of obligations:
1. Obligation to give gifts
2. Obligation to receive gifts
- Receive gifts with pleasantness /do not look sad or disappointed when receiving
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3. Obligation to return gifts (pay them back)
competitive, strategic...
o no one wants to be out done, always give better and better gifts
this is a theory of social relations!
Mause Based his idea of gifts in Polynesian societies:
Hau: the “spirit of the gift”, its “force,” that demands it must be returned
o The quality in a gift that demands that it is returned
o Need of reciprocity exchange back
Mana: kind of a spiritual authority derived from having a wealth of resources to give to
others to bind them into reciprocal obligations
o Imbalance of Power between giver and receiver
o Goes away when they receiver then gives gift back to giver
o Gift giving is trying to get rid of this Mana
Gifts can be aggressive
Person who gives the most has the most power, accrues [grows, increases] the most Mana
If you give a Mauss a Cookie…
…he becomes subject to your mana, is thereby in your debt, and has to reciprocate lest he
lose relative prestige forever
Someone gives a mouse a cookie, then he demands a glass of milk, then he asks for a
straw …. Ends with asking for another cookie
o The mouse was losing mana to the person giving him things the mouse was so
imbalanced in mana because he wasn’t giving gifts back
Big Bang Theory “Does” Mauss:
Penny gave the boys a gift for Christmas
Sheldon “you gave me an obligation to give you back a gift” “I need to give you a gift
back of the same value”
Sheldon buys a bunch of gifts wants to open her gift first, then he will give her a gift
basket that is of equal value then will return the the rest of the gifts [that are over/under
the price of her gift]
Penny gives napkin that says “live long and prosper” from Lendon nemo
Sheldon ends up giving Penny all the gift baskets he bought for her plus he gives her a
* Not about the price but the meaning/thoughtful of the gift*
Practice of first nations idea a person who was powerful in one community would
accumulate things over the year, then holds a gathering that includes neighboring
communities and gives away all the gifts he received over the gift
o People in neighboring communities, those people would receive resources it
became a social security system to ensure survival for all
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Give away gifts, in return, accrue prestige. OK BUT WHY?
“My Culture Made Me Do It”??
Ecological anthropology answer: adaptive
Mauss: all factors wrapped up in it -- a gift is a “total social fact” (an activity that has
implications throughout society, in the economic, legal, political, and religious spheres”)
o A gift is a “total social fact” had implications in all aspects of society, that showed
off inner workings of those aspects you learn about moral, law, religion,
economic aspects
Spirit of Asking in Botsawana:
Durham’s claim: everyday gift-requests are usually not granted in Botswana, but even if
they are, they’re not remembered next time!
o (Er, that doesn’t sound like Mauss...?)
o There is no mana, no record of exchanges this doesn’t sound like Mauss, she came
up with exceptions to gift giving
Gifts and Social Relations:
Durham asks: what’s going on in these forms of interaction, and what does this tell us
about social relationships?
Different types of exchanges people have over requests for stuff correspond to and
illuminate different kinds of social relationships
o So to see whether people keep track of gift giving tells you about how they think
about themselves
Those social relationships also tell us a lot about how they think about themselves as
o Notions of how people are indented to each other
The “spirit of asking”: (not need to remember)
1. Playful requests among friends (equals, no obligation to fulfil request; no mana no
imbalance) i.e., give me your watch
2. Formal requests, e.g., the Heiis’ invitation (equals, no obligation)
3. Requests for petty change toward a cause (equals, create community and legitimate the
cause, no obligation)
4. Serious requests between kin (hierarchical yet also equal, obligation) i.e., saying you are
my uncle you must help with pay for school
5. Begging by the indigent (hierarchy, odious, no obligation)
Durham said some people don’t keep track of gift giving
Mauss said that everyone keeps track
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