The Enigma of the Gift

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University of Chicago Press, Feb 3, 1999 - Social Science - 256 pages
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When we think of giving gifts, we think of exchanging objects that carry with them economic or symbolic value. But is every valuable thing a potentially exchangeable item, whose value can be transferred? In The Enigma of the Gift, the distinguished French anthropologist Maurice Godelier reassesses the significance of gifts in social life by focusing on sacred objects, which are never exchanged despite the value they possess.

Beginning with an analysis of the seminal work of Marcel Mauss and Claude Lévi-Strass, and drawing on his own fieldwork in Melanesia, Godelier argues that traditional theories are flawed because they consider only exchangeable gifts. By explaining gift-giving in terms of sacred objects and the authoritative conferral of power associated with them, Godelier challenges both recent and traditional theories of gift-giving, provocatively refreshing a traditional debate.

Elegantly translated by Nora Scott, The Enigma of the Gift is at once a major theoretical contribution and an essential guide to the history of the theory of the gift.

 

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Contents

Forgetting the fourth obligation mens gifts to the gods
29
Is the hau really the key to the mystery? or how Mauss
49
own accord
101
Substitute Objects for Humans and for the Gods
108
Sacred objects as gifts from the Sun the Moon or the spirits
115
Are sacred objects symbols?
121
The mens theft of the flutes
133
Baruya shell necklaces and valuable objects
141
What is the place of potlatch societies in history?
153
What is a valuable?
161
On the metamorphosis of an object of trade into a gift object or
167
and society
175
The Disenchanted Gift
200
Bibliography
211
Notes
222
Index
249

Hypothesis on the emergence and development of potlatch
147

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Cornucopia Limited
Richard Coyne
Limited preview - 2007
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About the author (1999)

Maurice Godelier is directeur d'Études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, head of the Centre de recherche et de documentation sur l'OcÉanie, and past scientific director of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). His book Grands Hommes (1982) won the Prix de l'AcadÉmie Française.


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