Nothing in Return?

Distinctions between Gift and Commodity in Contemporary Societies

in Anthropology in Action
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  • 1 University of Bristol M.Benson@bristol.ac.uk
  • 2 European Schoolnet

According to Mauss’ seminal works, it was through obligations laid bare by the gift exchange process—the obligation to give, receive and reciprocate—that pre-modern societies were symbolically reproduced. Mauss’ distinction between those early societies and the encroaching capitalist world has led to questions about whether gift exchange can play a similar role in today’s highly individualised and impersonal contemporary societies. In addition, it has also stimulated a great deal of debate about the relationship between gifts and commodities. If, as many theorists suggest, commodities are a central feature of daily life in capitalist societies, there is the possibility of fluidity between gift and commodity. This invites several interesting questions about the forms and functions of exchange: what forms does exchange take in contemporary societies; what implications, if any, do these forms of exchange have for relationships in contemporary society; and, does gift exchange still have a function in society?

Anthropology in Action

Journal for Applied Anthropology in Policy and Practice

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