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Nothing in Return? Distinctions between Gift and Commodity in Contemporary Societies

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/01/2008
<mark>Journal</mark>Anthropology in Action
Issue number3
Volume15
Pages (from-to)1-7
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

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?