• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

What can the exchange of gifts tell us about society?

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

What can the exchange of gifts tell us about society? The exchange of gifts is highly useful for anthologists in understanding the principles of a particular society. This is because gift exchange is not merely the movement of objects from one person to another, but it is an integral constituent of a society and plays an important role in creating and maintaining social hierarchy. Furthermore, understanding symbolism behind gift exchange gives us a valuable insight to the workings and motivations of the society as a whole. It is important to recognise that exchange of gifts is a universal occurrence; no known human population consumes the entirety of their output with no form of exchanges. This universality of exchange means that all systems of gift exchange are a principle aspect of life and indeed society, and can thus be compared across differing societies and cultures. In this essay I shall discuss various examples of 'primitive', or rather traditional, societies which are underpinned by particular gift exchange systems, such as the Trobriand Islanders in New Guinea, how these systems of gift exchange fundamentally affect and in many cases control such societies, and whether these anthropological studies have an explanatory value. ...read more.

Middle

of the Kula, he would suggest that for the Trobriand Islands the Kula as a cultural activity 'is to a large extent a surrogate and substitute for head-hunting and war.' Whether or not this is the case, Malinowski's descriptions tell us a huge amount about the societies based on the Kula. The famous sociologist, Marcel Mauss famously questioned 'What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?' He argued that no gift is free but instead gift giving is a form of reciprocal exchange. He studied the North American potlach, which is essentially a gift exchange festival or ceremony practiced by the aborigines of the Northwest coast of North America, such as the Ha�da and the Kwakwaka'waka cultures. Mauss states that events such as the potlach are religious, juridical and moral, relating to 'both politics and the family' and are economic events concerned with 'production and consumption'. Mauss suggests that this embodies a total system of giving which is universally echoed in human systems of exchange. Within this system a gift may be reciprocated with an item of equal value, and thus statuses within a society will remain stable. Mauss argues that the given gift is a vehicle for the spiritual, religious or magical force of the giver, and because the ...read more.

Conclusion

Finally, I would like to explore the notion that these rules of reciprocity also apply to our society in 21st century Europe. The UK economy consists of the market sub-economy, the redistributive economy, the domestic economy and the gift economy which is, as with traditional societies, ruled by reciprocity. This can be highlighted by the well known embarrassment of receiving a gift at Christmas from someone who you have not got one in return. The extent of spending of the population at Christmas time is an indicator of the existence of a gift economy, as undoubtedly people would not buy many goods if it weren't for reciprocity. To conclude, it is clear that by examining gift exchange, not just as an action but as a symbolic act, anthropologists can gauge the causes and motivations behind different facets of society such as hierarchy, rank, trade and inter-tribal relations. Malinowski said of the members of Kula that none had knowledge of the total outline of their social structure, but merely know their 'motives, the purpose of individual actions and the rules that apply to them. Beyond this is out of their mental range.' This is in fact the task of the anthropologist; to take fundamental aspects of society such as gift exchange and examine how that influences the lives of the people and indeed the structure and functioning of society. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Anthropology section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related University Degree Anthropology essays

  1. Assess the concept of 'thick description'.

    He says that Geertz has not developed a new method of anthropological study, '[he] is just pausing between monographs to muse on texts, narrative, description and interpretation' (p.242). 'Geertz, like other anthropologists is still directing his efforts to reinvent an anthropological science with the help of textual mediations.

  2. How does Anita Desai exploit language in 'A Village By The Sea' to give ...

    The villagers had thought that the womenfolk were 'a nuisance.' This was a new idea and a contrasting one that too. In a society dominated by man, the woman has absolutely no say. We derive this when we see that Lila's mother never told their father anything for drinking and ruining his health.

  1. Culture is concerned with aspects of the human society, which are learned rather than ...

    Marx regarded ideology as 'a false consciousness''. It wasn't Marx who coined this term it was in fact Engels who coined the term 'false consciousness'. Marx sees religion as ideological, it teaches the unfortunate to be satisfied with their lot. The social forecaster should expose the distortions of ideology so as to let the helpless to get

  2. Why has the concept of exchange proven such a useful tool in anthropology?

    This festivity represents a ceremonial competition between clans and their leaders and includes gift-giving and the destruction of food, blankets or copper objects according to a set of rules, of which three have the greatest power - to give as the necessary basic first step necessary for the establishment of

  1. The purpose of this report is to organise the temporary exhibition of a collection ...

    looking after children and has kindly agreed to run Lego corner for the duration of the exhibition. She possesses all the necessary childcare and health and safety qualifications. * Security staff: Jackie and Bruce are in charge of security and have been hired from a reputable firm and are fully qualified for the job; they will work in alternating shifts.

  2. Effects on economy due to a food outlet

    and purchase hamburgers if they can utilize their own meat to prepare their own burgers at home. The population would not benefit from the expansion of Canuck Burger Corporation economically as well. If per say the Canuck Burgers Corporation did do well in the market, the profit made would not

  1. How have ethnographic analogies have been used in the interpretation of Prehistoric exchange systems?

    changes that occurred in the village throughout the second half of the twentieth century (Yan 2003). Even though Yan only covers roughly fifty years in his ethnography, the changes that he describes within that time support the theory that societies adjust and transform, and not, as Sollas argues, directly reflect earlier times.

  2. What can the study of childrens literature tell us about different models of childhood?

    In terms of literature in particular, children should be given ?some easy, pleasant book, suited to his capacity? (Hall, 2003, p.138) with enjoyment as the incentive for further reading. The influence of Locke?s concepts was wide reaching and was adopted by the famous publisher and author John Newbery, a pioneer in children?s print literature.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work