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Social Sciences Building (A02), Room 410
ANTH 1002: Anthropology in the world
Module 3, Week 1, Lecture 1
September 23, 2019
Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/3.1.1
(Necklace [bagi], late 20th century, Pacific Ethnographic Collection #80.1/3369, American Museum of Natural History)
(Armband [mwali], late 20th century, Pacific Ethnographic Collection #80.1/3409, American Museum of Natural History)
Emile Durkheim is a founding figure of sociology and anthropology
Marcel Mauss was a nephew and student of Durkheim
At the risk of oversimplifying things, I would like to introduce a major division in types of society.
In the islands of PNG, fishermen exchange fish for garden food with gardeners. Fishermen always cook their food in fresh water, even though they live by the sea. Inland gardeners cook their food in sea water, even though they have fresh water nearby. “Intoxicated with great love of exchange, they exchange even the water of their respective dwelling places and carry it home for the boiling of their food” (Fortune 1932: 206).
Many people throughout the world exchange things they don't need for things they don't need. They even exchange identical things, like water.
Mauss says: Because you have to.
Gifts come with obligations because it is part of the system of total services. Specifically, giving a gift involves a triple obligation:
For Mauss, the Maori word hau means the “spirit of the thing given.” When someone gives a gift, they give part of themselves. “The hau wishes to return to its birthplace” (Mauss 2000 : 12).
What, then, is society? Mauss says that the essence of society is a “system of total services” in which everything one does is for someone else, and other people do everything for you. It is a state of total interdependence.
Gift economies are not simply societies in which there's a lot of gifts. A gift economy is a society in which reciprocity is a “total social phenomenon.”
Even societies which have created the possibility of individualism, the the West, still have gifts and still have reciprocity.
The moka and the potlatch are systems of total services of an agonistic type.
Agonistic means that the sides in an exchange are competing to give more services to the other, and to raise the stakes of reciprocity.
Competing for prestige versus gaining profit?
Fortune, R. F. 1932. Sorcerers of Dobu: The Social Anthropology of the Dobu Islanders of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge.
Mauss, Marcel. 2000 (1925). The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. Translated by W. D. Halls. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.