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In an age dominated by consumerism and government agencies many people believe that generosity and altruism either no lo

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The World of the Gift

In an age dominated by consumerism and government agencies, many people believe that self-interest is the dominant motive in society. Gifts are seen as, at best, irrelevant frills. In The World of the Gift Jacque Godbout and Alain Caille show that, in fact, the gift is all-pervasive in our society. The anthropologist Marcel Mauss, in his famous exploration of the gift in "primitive" and archaic societies, showed that the essential aspect of the exchange of presents involved the establishment of a social tie that bound the parties together above and beyond any material value of the objects exchanged. He argued that these intangible mutual "debts" constituted the social fabric. Godbout and Caille show that, contrary to the assumption that modern societies function on the basis of market exchange and the pursuit of self-interest, the gift still constitutes the foundation of our social fabric. The authors describe the gift not as an object but as a social connection, perhaps the most important social connection because it creates a sense of obligation to respond in kind. They examine how the gift works today in a broad range of cases such as blood and organ donation; volunteer work; the bonds between friends, couples, and family; Santa Glaus; the interaction between performers and their audience; and the relation of the artist to society. Written in an engaging manner, The World of the Gift will appeal to anyone who is interested in how the world really operates. JACQUES T. GODBOUT is a research professor at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Universite du Quebec. ALAIN CAILLE is a professor at the Universite Paris X and director of the Revue du MAUSS.

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The World of the Gift Jacques T. Godbout In collaboration with Alain Caille

Translated from the French by Donald Winkler

McGill-Queen's University Press Montreal & Kingston • London • Ithaca

© McGill-Queen's University Press 1998 ISBN 0-7735-1751-0

Legal deposit third quarter 1998 Bibliotheque nationale du Quebec Printed in Canada on acid-free paper This book has been published with the assistance of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (Universite du Quebec) and France's Ministere de la culture McGill-Queen's University Press acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program for its activities. It also acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts for its publishing program. A shorter version of chapters 7 and 8 was published in Revue du MAUSS 12, 1991, 51-78.

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data Godbout, Jacques, 1939The world of the gift Translation of: L'esprit du don. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-7735-1751-0

i. Gifts-Social aspects. I. Caille, Alain, 1944II. Winkler, Donald III. Title. 851533.04062.13 1998



Originally published as L'Esprit du don by Les Editions La Decouverte and Les Editions du Boreal, 1992. This book was typeset by Typo Litho Composition Inc. in 10/12 Sabon.


Acknowledgments / vii Introduction: Does the Gift Still Exist? / 3 PART ONE



Three Forms of Social Bonding / 23


Interpersonal Ties I 2.6


When the State Supplants the Gift / 51


The Gift between Strangers 7 65


The Gift and Merchandise / 79

6 The Gift in Liberal Society 792 PART TWO


7 The Archaic Gift: Some Lessons in Ethnology / 101 8

Classic Interpretations of the Archaic Gift / 118


The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift / 12,9

10 The Passage to the Modern Gift / 149 PART THREE


11 Gift, Market, Disinterestedness / 171 12 Sketch for a Model of the Gift Relationship 7196 13

Conclusion: Behind Exchanges, the Gift 7 206


Contents Notes / 223 Bibliography / 233 Index / 247


It is customary, particularly in works devoted to the social sciences and humanities, to name the many individuals to whom one is indebted for an idea, a criticism, a comment, some information or material, or emotional support. This fact alone indicates how important the relationship is between gift and gratitude - the subject of this book. But, strangely, having written about the gift does not make one any more insightful when it comes to identifying those to whom one is indebted, nor does it make the task of expressing appreciation any easier. This task is particularly onerous when the book is a collaborative effort. Who has given what to whom? Who is the rightful author of such and such an idea ? If answering such questions is a delicate matter, it is because in order for ideas to exist and be shared, their attribution must be placed "between brackets." In the long run, however, and with his consent, I believe it is up to me to thank Alain Caille for the collaboration that has bound us together. It began, in fact, long before we met. Alain Caille had already begun to reflect on the gift and point out its importance in the pages of the Bulletin, and then in the Revue du MAUSS 1 (Editions La Decouverte), whose founder-director he is. During my year in Paris, when I was working on the first draft of this study, we met on a regular basis to discuss the problems involved, and exchanged views on almost all the issues dealt with here. We wrote the introduction together, and he composed chapters 7 and 8, as well as most of chapter 9. As I am the sole author of the rest, whatever inadequacies or approximations may be found there are my responsibility. To acknowledge that debt had to be my first priority. But I also want to draw attention to my many lunches with Anne Gotman. They sustained me during my entire sabbatical year in Paris. Her sensitivity, generosity, and intelligence invariably prevailed over my anxieties and self-doubt.



I am grateful as well to all those who helped me understand the importance of the gift through their conversation and their stories, but above all their behaviour, their attitudes, their day-to-day wisdom. Among these I would like to name my brother Guy, who perished in a shipwreck just as this book was being completed. I dedicate the book to him. Jacques T. Godbout Note on Translation: Quotations from works originally in French, with the exception of Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, have been translated by Donald Winkler.

The World of the Gift

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Introduction Does the Gift (Still) Exist?1 "The times are hard but modern"

"The times are hard but modern," goes an Italian proverb quoted by Sloterdijk (1983). The modern individual will plead guilty to many things, but not to being naive. Anything but that. He knows perfectly well what is hidden behind the gods, the myths, the great and wonderful tales that have come down to us from all lands and all ages. The modern individual is a realist, and therefore knows what is hidden behind the gift. Having had the sad but modern privilege of looking reality in the eye and not being duped by appearances, she knows that what motivates production and the exchange of goods is not altruism or generosity but material interest; that politics is not a matter of ideals but of power and violence; and that affections are not ruled by feelings but first and foremost by sex. More generally, the modern sophisticate answers only to the reality principle, and that principle proclaims that only matter and the body really exist. The rest is a figment of the imagination! And so we may dream about the gift, this offshoot or simulation of the ineffable, in the intimacy or darkness of a movie theatre or on a solitary walk. But using it as an instrument to analyse hard reality is out of the question. We have understood everything when we've understood that. And if we are so bold as to affirm something else, it can only mean that we are incapable of penetrating the veil. For the modern sophisticate, in the aftermath of Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss, or Bourdieu, innocence is no longer possible unless leavened with irony. Unless, as Umberto Eco has made clear, it is "un-innocent." "Man thinks, God laughs," adds Kundera. Of course it is tempting, praiseworthy, and appealing to seek a new key to the understanding of the world, a new way of reading modernity. Utilitarianism, Marxism, structuralism are all sad and disillusioning. Perhaps we've all been conned by modernity, but that's the way it is. Innocence has been lost forever. Might as well make the best


The World of the Gift

of it and not give in to nostalgia for the past, for we must all be brave little moderns. And to assume our modernity (or post-modernity) is first and foremost to accept the non-existence or the insubstantiality of the gift: "Thou shalt believe only in hard reality, thou shalt resist the temptation to surrender to the gift." This might be the first commandment of a catechism designed expressly for moderns. THE GIFT DOES NOT EXIST/THE GIFT IS EVERYWHERE

All this helps explain the astonishing inconsistency and diversity in reactions to the very idea of writing a book on the gift. On the one hand the gift does not exist, because only the body and self-interest are real, while on the other hand the gift is all too present. Let us look at these initial responses before embarking on any hypotheses of our own. Taking our cue from the modern ethos itself, we will refuse to simply take it at its word and will extend our skepticism to skepticism itself, asking ourselves what is hidden behind this compulsion to deny the existence of the gift. The Gift Does Not Exist (Any More) "You can't be serious, you want to write about the gift? You want to study charity, good deeds? Or generosity? Now that's a topic! Unfortunately, it's just about ceased to exist." Or perhaps fortunately, in the opinion of most. One may deplore the fact that the gift has given way to cold calculation and mercantile exchange, mourning or longing for a world more welcoming, human, and fraternal. But no one complains that law has taken the place of charity and that the right to social assistance, guaranteed by the welfare state, has supplanted the giving of alms. Where these are concerned, if the gift no longer exists, so much the better. Generosity has disappeared as well, replaced, it is said, by egoistic calculation. The key word that crops up when people react spontaneously is egoism. "People are so egoistic!" And after gifts to charity and religion, what comes to mind is "the gift of oneself" - and that seems so quaint and old-fashioned. "A book on the gift? Give me an example." After a bit of thought, this: "I've just offered you an aperitif. You say, 'Okay, but then I'll pay for the wine.' Why this quid pro quo? That's the sort of question we'll be dealing with." Such an example usually makes people feel uncomfortable, which will not surprise those familiar with the theoretical literature on the gift, as one of its main conclusions is that, unlike the world of the market, the world of the gift is one where the implicit and

Does the Gift Still Exist?


the unsaid reign supreme. The magic of the gift can only operate as long as the underlying rules are not formulated. As soon as they become explicit, the carriage turns into a pumpkin, the king turns out to be naked, and the gift is reduced to reciprocity. And so after a few moments of silence and reflection, our questioner gathers his forces and returns to the attack: "But that's just it, since I'm paying for the wine, there's no gift." To which we respond: "But is it really the same thing as our agreeing to split the tab for the aperitif and the wine, even supposing it makes no difference, monetarily? And if it does amount to the same thing, why not just do it that way and avoid complicating our lives?" In a way, this is the crux of the problem. If the gift and the countergift are unequal, then there's a winner and a loser, and possibly exploitation and trickery. If, on the other hand, they are the same, then there's apparently no difference between the gift and a rational, selfinterested mercantile exchange. In short, either the gift results from uncharitable motives and is therefore illegitimate or it is non-existent, illusory. This is the modern point of view as formulated by our discussant. Any attempt to depart from the law of the account book is seen as suspect or, at best, laughable. But we should ask ourselves whether the creation of social ties does not obey elusive rules whose connections with economic logic are often strange and paradoxical. How long would Robinson and Friday have survived on their island if their only relations had been commercial ones, excluding any other bond? Perhaps the wine is worth the same as the aperitif, but if the two diners had not had other than monetary motives in mind, they would probably not have met and the question of equivalence would never have come up. So the initial reaction to our idea of doing a book on the gift is one of denial. The gift does not exist. Or if it does, it's just a way of putting on airs and playing at disinterestedness and generosity, when what's really at work, as elsewhere, is self-interest and tit-for-tat. The second spontaneous reaction is one of embarrassment or defiance, as though some stranger at a party were to start quizzing you about your sex life, or how much, exactly, you earn. "What business is it of his?" you're inclined to say. You might try to defuse the question with some sort of joke, but you'd still be uncomfortable. The same defensive reflexes are triggered by the subject of the gift. This is not surprising. In the past, what was "hidden" was money and sex. The social sciences concluded that because it was unacceptable to discuss these things openly, they must constitute what is deeply real, must embody some basic truth. By a strange reversal, the gift, once required subject matter for edifying discourses, has become more obscene than obscenity itself. It's now almost de rigueur to expatiate on one's sexual or


The World of the Gift

financial conquests. The gift, on the other hand, has become taboo, unmentionable. At most it's a private matter, like religion, and if we continue to probe it must be because we suspect that, since the idea of the gift makes one blush, there may be something hidden. The Gift Is Everywhere However, once we've explained ourselves, initial reactions usually give way to a growing interest. Often "confession" takes over from indifference and uneasiness and the gift, which was nowhere to be found, is suddenly everywhere. Someone who had asserted "that the basis for everything in the modern world is egoism" turns out, according to his friends, to be particularly generous: "I'm amazed that Robert reacted that way. He's so generous; he gives of himself a lot. He even offered to pay for my daughter's schooling because he knows I'm going through a difficult period financially." Or the same people who had initially denied the existence or the importance of the gift tell us stories like the following: • A retired civil servant, an atheist and rationalist, totally secular, does volunteer work with a religious order that cares for the poor. "You know, I receive more than I give," he is quick to say, as though to justify his giving way to such behaviour before the court of utilitarian reason. "Often I don't say a thing, it's the person I visit who does all the talking." The message is clear: as long as he receives more than he gives, everything's all right - he's not violating the code of modern freedom. (Note in passing a surprising detail: to speak is construed as a gift. Perhaps the first gift.) • A university professor with a cynical cast of mind does volunteer work with AIDS patients. A friend comments, "He has such a big heart, and yet he's always distant with his best friends. But he works with those who have AIDS. No one knows about it." • A friend does volunteer work with a telephone help service. Even before she started, she claimed to have benefited greatly from the training she'd been given. "I want," she said, "to give back a little of what I've been allotted in life. I've received a great deal." • The wife of a friend "had her life literally saved by Alcoholics Anonymous," a group based entirely on the principle of the gift. "She's another person since she's been going to A A." In some respects, these examples are almost too good to be true, portraying the gift as an exceedingly pure and serene phenomenon. This is not to say that there is any reason to cast doubt on the sincerity of these gestures. The most sarcastic moderns will still admit that "good

Does the Gift Still Exist?


people" exist, even if there's something vaguely condescending in the way they refer to them. What bothers us in these accounts is their excessive simplicity. They represent too symmetrical a response to the modern denial of the gift. "The gift does not exist, all is egoism," murmurs the spirit of the times. "The gift is alive and well, and altruism too," declare these case histories - and the many more that could be found to back them up. Such altruism can always be interpreted by the modern spirit as one more avenue to pleasure for the individual. But, at the very least, egoism that finds its pleasures in altruism is very different from the crude, primary egoism whose universality the modern ethos takes for granted. And so the debate appears to be circular and endless. The modern realist refuses to believe in the existence of the gift because the gift is seen as diametrically opposed to material, egoistic self-interest. A "true" gift can only be disinterested, freely given. And, as such a thing is impossible ("there's no free lunch"), the gift, the genuine gift, is equally impossible, with the result that those who do behave generously insist that their seemingly altruistic actions are really to their advantage. On the one hand, as we have said, such denial allows them to conform to the egoistic morality of the times. But, on a deeper level, by denying that their motivations are disinterested, they attest to the reality of their gift. For, as Mary Douglas has shown (1989), the free gift does not exist - except insofar as it is a sign of asocial behaviour for the gift serves above all to establish relations, and a relationship with no hope of return (from the individual receiving the gift or his substitute), a one-way relationship, disinterested and motiveless, would be no relationship at all. Beyond the abstract ideas of egoism and altruism and the rigid antithesis between a supposedly real moment of calculated material interest and a supposedly ideal but unattainable moment of radical disinterest, we must think of the gift not as part of a series of unilateral and discontinuous acts but as an element in a relationship. Even more than Marx's capital, the gift is not a thing but a social connection. It is perhaps the social connection par excellence, all the more formidable in that it is coveted. To say on the one hand that the gift always has selfish origins, and on the other that it ought always to be disinterested, gives us only an antiseptic notion of what the gift is and stands in the way of our perceiving that if the gift is shunned and disclaimed by modernity, it is because it's dangerous. DANGERS OF THE GIFT, AND


"I refused the gift my employer offered me," says a secretary. "He doesn't deserve my accepting his presents. It would imply a kind of relationship I don't want." We know that the Greeks are to be feared


The World of the Gift

when they bring gifts: Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. Marcel Mauss has noted that the word used for "gift" in Germanic languages signifies both gift and poison. Just a coincidence? Not likely, as we find the same double meaning in the Greek "dosis," from which we derive our "dose," as in "a lethal dose." Whatever the linguistic background, it's clear that presents are especially poisonous when the way they are given or those who proffer them are in one way or another noxious. "A friend offered me, and others, a book he had published at his own expense. No one read it, everyone refused. He was very put out. It was awful. But his book was unreadable; you had to refer to the dictionary ten times every page, it was a truly poisoned gift. When you come down to it, we felt that his book was really an expression of need on his part, a need for recognition in every way: we were to acknowledge his worth and show our respect by working very hard to read his book, to accept his gift and show that we loved him." This gift was, in fact, indirectly an appeal for a counter-gift. That transgresses the rules of giving, and the friends resented a present that was so demanding and "obligational." For his birthday, Nadine offered homemade jam to Jerome, from whom she had recently separated. She was miffed by his reaction: "He didn't say anything. Finally I asked him if he was pleased. He just said I'd struck a sensitive chord. Not even a word of thanks!" In this case the recipient was just emerging from a difficult relationship with the giver, a relationship that had posed a threat to his self-image. He was afraid the gift might be a harbinger of renewed conquest, and so he was unable to say thank you. To say it would have meant "I accept, once again, being at your beck and call." This is apparent in his explanation that she had struck a sensitive "chord," the "cord" by which he had been bound. This is a perfect illustration of the expressive power of ordinary language, however banal it may appear at first glance. Any analysis indicates that words such as "thank you" and "please," which have been rendered formal and superficial as society evolved, have been neutralized only in appearance and still retain the expressive force they had at first use. For instance, the word "thank you" - in French merci may be seen as an indirect way of saying that the very fact of receiving a gift can make one in some sense dependent, can put one at the "mercy" (merci in French) of the giver. The word's historical movement towards its current status as a polite formula, superficially superficial, has not really drained it of its strength, and that strength resurges in certain circumstances. This example also shows that a present is an object that is linked to social ties. There is no question here of the quality of the gift of the jam not being delicious. In fact it's because it is delicious and offered by the maker herself - thereby embodying something of her that the offering may contribute to the creation of a bond. Because its

Does the Gift Still Exist?


quality is so high, it carries the bond within it, harbours it, and so is dangerous for the recipient, strikes his "sensitive chord." And he cannot say "thank you." The words "stick in his throat." At first glance, there may seem to be nothing mysterious about these three accounts. In every case the gift is refused, or is not acknowledged to be a gift, because to accept it would be to tacitly endorse an unwanted relationship. But saying that explains nothing, because it takes for granted what is, in fact, the problem. It assumes that the gift is a symbol for, and in some sense a manifestation of, personal relationships - that it is a catalyst and an outward sign of elective affinities. Above all, it assumes that the gift imposes obligations, which include the fact that it must be reciprocated. From a rational point of view, these examples are confusing. Why not just accept the poisoned book and say that you like the author but not that kind of writing? Why not take the jam and say that it's good, but what's over is over? In the examples given, one might choose not to do this because of fear of emotional retaliation. In the two examples that follow, however, the strength of the obligation to respond in kind is astonishing, even though no sanction of any sort seems likely, not even that the recipient might become involved in a tedious or uninteresting relationship. Back from Haiti, Albert says he's struck by the feeling that in Quebec one should not owe anything to anyone, while in Haiti, the situation is exactly the opposite (which, of course, presents other problems). He gives the following illustration: "My daughter had just received a good report card. To reward her, my wife and I went to buy her some candies at the corner store. There we met one of her schoolmates, to whom we offered some candies as well. Ten minutes later she turned up at our house with a dollar that her father had given her to reimburse me." And, further: "A man knocked at my door. His car had broken down in front of my house and he wanted to use the phone. He also asked me for some water. When he left he took 2,0 dollars out of his pocket and offered it to me. I refused the money. So he gave me his card, saying: 'I hope I'll be able to return the favour some day - the sooner the better.' " The utilitarian cast of mind so much in favour today ought to have led the driver to say to himself, "one for my side." But instead he acted as though a debt, even a paltry one, were inherently dangerous and impossible to bear. (Unless, more simply, there was a certain pleasure to be derived from giving something in return.) Faced with the dangers inherent in any gift, money and a recourse to mercantile thinking are the antidotes of choice, providing both countergifts and antitoxins. Framboise recounts: "Recently I had serious problems with a present. Someone gave me a lovely gift for my birthday. Then came his birthday, and ordinarily I would have offered him something comparable. But I


The World of the Gift

really didn't want to, I couldn't do it, I just blocked, because we don't have that kind of relationship. It wasn't right. I was torn between the fact that in one sense I owed him the same sort of present, but on the other hand such a gift would have implied something that wasn't true. In choosing the present, I couldn't not take into consideration the sort of relationship we had; the two things were linked. Finally I offered him something rather expensive but neutral, something anyone could have given him; it wasn't personal." This person found a solution to her problem by playing on two different value systems: the market, where things are valued only in relation to each other, and the gift, where things take on the value of the relationship and nourish it. Framboise didn't want the goods to reinforce the bond. Therefore she chose an object whose market value was equivalent to that of the present she'd received, but which, as a gift, was neutral. In our society, this is a frequent ploy. It's possible, for instance, to take a quasimercantile approach in order to interrupt a chain of gifts. For example, a couple invited to dinner bring such an extravagant gift (two bottles of very good wine) that the hosts interprete it as a sign that the couple don't want to return the invitation - which later turns out to be true. By tracing the order in which people respond to the subject of the gift, we have, curiously, followed the trajectory taken by the gift when it accomplishes its task. In the beginning, nothing exists but isolated individuals who, as such, are concerned only with their own interests. Then the gift appears on the scene, whether too good to be true or modest and insidious. But it creates a sense of obligation. If the obligation to respond in kind is accepted, then a network of personal relationships is established, at the heart of which are goods reinforcing ties. If the obligation is warded off by an immediate monetary counter-gift, then we are back at square one, with this crucial difference: the original isolating environment, made up of calculating and egoistic individuals, that once seemed perfectly natural and primary is now revealed as what it is - the product of a refusal to forge a relationship, an end as well as a beginning, as much an effect and a consequence as a first cause. We have now seen enough of how omnipresent the gift is in modern society, how seductive and dangerous it can be, to risk a first generalization and a few hypotheses. WHEN THE GIFT F O R M S A SYSTEM

In looking at initial reactions to the idea of a book on the gift, our impressions were not all that different from those of Marcel Mauss when he assembled the data, derived from ethnography and religious history,

Does the Gift Still Exist? n


for his renowned work The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, probably the greatest book in modern anthropology. "In a good number of [archaic civilizations]," he writes at the very beginning of the essay, "exchanges and contracts take place in the form of presents; in theory these are voluntary, in reality they are given and reciprocated obligatorily." (1990, 3) The Lasting Power of the Gift in Modern Society Despite the cautious nature of his initial statement, and his reluctance, given his limited data, to apply his findings to all archaic societies, what Mauss discovered, over and above a multitude of accounts and examples, was nothing less than the universality of the gift in ancient societies. The idea of universality must be understood in two ways. First, the gift concerns all societies and, second, it concerns each society in its entirety. Where specialists before him had been able to cite only particular examples, Mauss began to delineate the contours of an overall pattern, and to see how pervasive its influence was. In the same way, once we got beyond their initial denials, those we spoke to left the impression that still today, despite all the reasons to believe in its final and irrevocable disappearance, the gift is everywhere. If that is true, and if we want to begin to describe and reflect upon this ubiquity, we must overcome Mauss's reflex of scientific caution. Despite his hope of reviving the spirit of the gift and making it the pedestal on which an interdependent society midway between the violence of bureaucratic socialism and the egoism of asocial liberalism might be erected, Mauss seems to have found it hard to acknowledge that the gift persists today. He could only see it in birthday or Christmas presents, where it was a marginal vestige of what it had once been. In much the same way Claude Levi-Strauss (1967, 68 ff.), to illustrate the concept of reciprocity, refers to the practice of exchanging bottles of wine in small restaurants in the south of France. True, the example is appealing and telling. But if the gift only manifested itself today in such minor and marginal ways, there would not be much point in paying attention to it, except out of nostalgia or a predilection for folkloric studies. We have, however, gradually come to believe that the gift is just as typical of modern and contemporary societies as it is typical of archaic ones; that it does not affect only isolated and discontinuous incidents in social life but social life in its entirety. Today, still, nothing can be initiated or undertaken, can thrive or function, if it is not nourished by the gift. This, to begin at the beginning, is true of life itself, which, at least for the moment, is neither bought nor obtained by force but is purely and simply given, for the most part in the context of a family,


The World of the Gift

traditional or unconventional. Everything leads us to believe, whatever sociologists may say about self-interest and power, that families would disintegrate instantly if, disavowing the demands of gift and countergift, they came to constitute no more than a commercial venture or a battlefield. And the same holds true for friendship, comradeship, and neighbourliness, which cannot be bought or imposed by force or decree but presuppose a certain reciprocity and mutual confidence. The list could go on, but for the moment it is sufficient to point out that businesses, government, and the nation itself would rapidly founder if their employees did not give more than their salary required, if bureaucrats did not show some sense of public service, and if an adequate number of citizens were not ready to die for their country. What must now seem perfectly plausible is that the gift, far from being dead or moribund, is very much alive. But we can go far beyond that simple observation to suggest that this longevity is not only - negatively - the result of our need to supplement the well-grounded logic of mercantile interest and state power with some fodder for the soul but also testifies to the fact that the gift, like the market and the state, constitutes a system. The best way to see this is to reflect briefly on the status and function of speech. To illustrate the importance of the gift, we have given examples of the exchange of goods and services. But it is words first and foremost, sentences and arguments, that humans produce and exchange with others. Certainly, more and more, we speak only to pass on information or to give orders. But before providing information or seeing that others conform to our wishes, we must first use words to establish a relationship. Like precious objects in archaic societies, words are only effective if, between one person and another, or between groups, a relationship has been established that sanctions use of the word - that allows one to be on "speaking terms" and to be nurtured by this. So it is that one "gives" the floor to someone, or, if someone refuses to give it to you, you "take" it. And you may then take it again, although not without having said "excuse me," "thank you," "gracias," "grazie," "pardon," or "merci," since you must thank the other for the gift she is giving in talking to you, just as you must show that in speaking you put yourself at the "mercy" of the other. In this way you show that you can both "oblige her" and be "obliged to her," "muito obrigado." To be able to exchange goods and services, you must establish a minimum of confidence in and with the other, which generally implies that you "give your word" and that you cannot "take it back" without very good reason. Conversation thus gives everyone a chance to speak. It affords each individual the pleasure of giving, at no apparent cost, what is nevertheless most precious:

Does the Gift Still Exist?


words, simple words, witty words, rude words, rare ideas, well-crafted phrases that may just find a home in the minds of listeners. It appears that in the modern world conversation serves the same purpose as the kula, the ceremonial exchange of the Trobriand Islanders, described at length by B. Malinowski (192,2). Like the vaygu'a, the precious goods of the Trobriand people, the primary purpose of circulating words is not utilitarian. Shared discussion of whether the weather is good or bad isn't done to provide information. The primary function of the word is to be given and returned, to come and go. Just as it would be shaming, as Malinowski explains, to say of an Islander that he has confused a ceremonial exchange with one of trade, so it would be unseemly to reduce conversation to a simple exchange of useful information. And even on the most utilitarian territory of all, that of business, more is accomplished talking of other matters over lunch than in meetings of experts where only raw information is exchanged. Which raises a question that may seem strange at first: do the gift of life, the art of conversation, familial or patriotic love, the appreciation of a job well done, team spirit, the donation of blood, and business lunches all have something in common? Behind the Market and the State, the Unseen System of the Gift It might seem that our assessment of initial reactions to the subject of the gift could be overturned by the empirical observation that follows. (Fortunately, however, it turns out to have little validity.) It goes as follows: it is true that there still are occasions set aside for the exchanging of gifts, and opportunities remain to show charity, offer rounds in bars, feel indebted, be "outdone," or, on the other hand, to free oneself of onerous, symbolic debts through recourse to money and merchandise. But these occasions are few and far between, isolated islands in a sea of utilitarian calculation. This hypothesis of the bare survival, occasional and discontinuous, of the gift, is, however contradicted by our most recent observations. These suggest that we must see the gift as the basis for a system, a system that is nothing less than the social system as a whole. The gift is the embodiment of that system of relationships that is strictly social, in that these relations cannot be reduced to factors of power or economic interest. We are prevented from seeing this - although it is virtually selfevident - by the way contemporary thought processes associated with utilitarianism, on which we all depend, lead us to formulate questions. According to that way of thinking the gift does not exist, either because only a truly disinterested gift would be a genuine gift and it is


The World of the Gift

impossible to be disinterested, or because the authentic gift requires real altruism, which is unattainable since the altruist must have some egoistic reason for being an altruist. It is important to recognize that these tautological dichotomies, which force us to think only in terms of the opposition of two terms, create a smoke screen which prevents us from seeing the truth. A Time magazine journalist, recently returned from Moscow, stated: "The thing about communism is that it doesn't work. It's a noble concept, but people are selfish. Because they are not saints, they often do as little as possible to get by."(7Vwe, 31 July 1989). In general, that is how we look at the current failure of communism, as if there were only two options - sanctity and egoism - whose societal equivalents are working for the state or working for the market. But after having written his article, the journalist, driving home, hears a love song that moves him deeply. On his arrival he embraces his wife and children, for whom he reserves the largest part of his earnings, once taxes have been deducted for the population at large. In other words, the journalist's life belies what he writes. He works very little only for himself but a great deal for others: for his wife and children, for his parents, so they will be proud of him, and even for the state! Despite this, he will continue to write in good faith about Eastern Europe as if it could only be understood in terms of the opposition between state and market. The fragmentation of community life has brought in its wake this inability to understand the way in which, in any society, the individual and the collective meet and merge. "We don't see that it is only in response to an unwanted solidarity, a solidarity imposed from outside, that the individual, inevitably, becomes egoistic and relates only to the market. Between a forced collectivization of human relations and the market, between an authority external to personal ties to the "community" and the market, the individual will always choose the market. But outside the market or the state he continues to live, suffer, and love, to work for his friends and children. He continues to inhabit a society, community, and social network that represent a mix of egoism and altruism. The social sciences have accustomed us to interpreting history and social interaction as the products of strategies employed by rational individuals who try to maximize the satisfaction of their material interests. This is the dominant vision, "utilitarian" and optimistic. It is counterbalanced, but only slightly, by the darker, complementary vision, Machiavellian and Nietzschean, that attributes everything to a quest for power. The combination of these two streams of thought leads us to the conclusion that there are two, and only two, major systems of social action: the market system, where individual interests clash and are reconciled, and the political system, organized around the monopo-

Does the Gift Still Exist?


lization of legitimate power (Max Weber).2 Now, it is very clear that no one lives first and foremost for the market and the state, in the market or in the state. Market and state represent focal points for what one might term secondary sociality, a sociality that relies on status and roles that are defined, for the most part, institutionally. To say that political and market sociality are secondary in no way implies that, constituting as they do a kind of superstructure, they are non-essential. It is simply a reminder that before human beings are understood in terms of any economic, political, or administrative functions they fulfill, they must be understood as persons: not just a conglomerate collection of particular roles or functions but autonomous units endowed with at least a measure of coherence all their own. The transformation of biological individuals into social persons does not occur first in the relatively abstract sphere of the market and the state, even if they make a certain contribution, but in the world of primary sociality, where, within the family, in relations with neighbours, in comradeship and friendship, person-toperson relationships are forged. Two non-conformist economists, Francois Perroux (1963) and Serge Christophe Kolm (1984), have identified three complementary economic systems: the market, ruled by self-interest; government planning, ruled by constraint; and that of the gift. The limitation of this approach, which not even Mauss successfully transcended, is that it continues to make the gift an economic system. It is insufficiently clear that the system of the gift is not first and foremost an economic system but the social system concerned with personal relationships. It is not simply a complement to the market or the state for it is even more fundamental and primary than these other systems, as we can see in countries that are in chaos. In the East or in the Third World, where the market and the state are in shambles, there still remains, as the last resort, that network of interpersonal relations consolidated by the gift and mutual aid, which alone enables one to survive in a mad world. The gift? It is perhaps what is there when all has been forgotten and before anything has been learned. On Some Reasons for the Invisibility of the Gift If these assertions are not too far off the mark and if, even in modern societies, which appear to be individualist and materialist, the gift is the embodiment of a system that ties together interpersonal social relationships, then why is such a widespread and important phenomenon not more visible and better recognized? Why do sociologists and economists think only in terms of self-interest and power, or culture, or inherited traditions, but never in terms of the gift? Why do men and


The World of the Gift

women not versed in the social sciences often think of themselves as discrete individuals and rarely as givers and receivers? There are three principal reasons for the reality of the gift being so obscured. The first has already been dealt with, but it is so important that it merits another quick look. It is, in fact, what makes any proposal to examine the gift seem incomprehensible today. "You're embarking on something impossible, too ambitious, too difficult to deal with. It's too delicate," according to some. "Leave that to the poets, the artists, the singers, all those who talk of love all day long, who write about the feelings behind the gift." If you reply that the gift is not love but a form of exchange, they exclaim: "But then you're denying the existence of generosity, disinterestedness. If there's an exchange, then there's no gift, A gift must be unilateral, with no hope of recompense." We have already noted that this image of the gift, which spontaneously springs to everyone's mind, arises both because of and as a complement to the dominant and sanctioned utilitarian vision. The gift is burdened with the impossible task of embodying absent hope and the lost soul in a hopeless, soulless world, a world from which, since the Reformation, grace has been banished, relegated to the outer limits of transcendence. Only God can truly, graciously, bestow His grace, only He can be gracious and generous. And so the gift is not of this world. This is where the utilitarian notion of the gift joins forces with the religious interpretation, at least that interpretation which has prevailed since the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Humans must make an effort to follow in the footsteps of Christ, of course, but it's clear that they have no hope of keeping up. To truly understand the gift, we have to evolve a more realistic conception of what it is and avoid both its exile to some other world or its reduction to profane, too profane, self-interest. This is possible if it is thought of as a system of social exchange rather than a series of unilateral and discontinuous acts. Second, to succeed in understanding the gift we must break with the explanations for human behaviour proposed by both utilitarianism methodological individualism or rational choice theory - and by the various versions of Nietzscheism - those that see humans as natural egoists as well as those that see them, at least in their modern, Western guise, as interested only in power. Not that these (largely tautological) theories are totally beside the point. It's hard to believe that individuals would deliberately act in opposition to their interests or without "good reason." But such theories, by virtue of the fact that they focus systematically on the acts of the isolated individual, of the "ego" (except where they ascribe such acts to the "power apparatus" of secondary sociality instead), cannot help but overlook the gift since, according to our hypothesis, the gift implies a relationship. And, we would even be

Does the Gift Still Exist?


tempted to say, it implies, a priori, a synthetic social relationship that it would be futile to try to reduce to the elements it holds together. We're aware, however, of the dangers inherent in this last suggestion. It could leave us open to accusations of harbouring dubious holistic inclinations and having a disregard for the freedom and autonomy of individuals. This is not our intention. All this will, however, become clear only once we have dealt with the third reason for modernity's amnesia on the subject of the gift. That will take only a few words. Archaic and traditional societies thought of themselves in the language of the gift, a language that defined their being-in-the-world and their distinctiveness, particularly in terms of primary social bonds (bonds desired for themselves) and refusal to lapse into historicity. It was therefore within the imaginative and sometimes frankly ideological space of the gift that they experienced and understood not only the community of humans and individual equality but also authority, law, hierarchy, exploitation, domination, and power. As modernity defines itself first and foremost by its absolute refusal of tradition, it is not surprising that it thinks it can assert its freedom by ridding itself of a language that seems coextensive with tradition, the language of the gift - and that it reserves its harshest words and its most caustic sarcasm to discredit and keep in its place anything that advocates generous or noble acts, such as Christian love. We could discuss at length the historical causes for the development of the market economy and modern bureaucratic nation-states. But there is little doubt that they have much, if not everything, to do with the growing modern horror of closed communities bound together by obligatory gifts that confirm traditional hierarchies. In that sense, the market and the modern bureaucratic state, machines that destroy traditions and particularity, are above all anti-gift devices. There is not much point in debating whether this destruction is good or bad. It has been an integral part of the movement, described by Toqueville, that favoured equal conditions for all and gave rise to modern democracies. This movement is irreversible, if we are not to plunge into the abyss of totalitarianism. As modern individuals we do not question the liberating virtues of the market and the democratic state. At the very least we will always consider them preferable to a community organization we have not chosen, or whose gift-giving obligations are imposed on us. There is no nostalgia for the past in these pages, no discreet apologia for a supposedly idyllic world which, in any case, no longer exists. However, it is important to recognize that no society can function on the basis of secondary sociality alone (with all social relations seen only as a means to an end), nor can it meld the system of the gift into those of the market and the state without lapsing into the despotism that


The World of the Gift

Toqueville feared he saw peeping over the democratic horizon. Modernity is not in error in having individual autonomy and universalism as a goal. It would, however, be an error to believe that the system of the gift is linked exclusively to traditional and archaic societies and that we can get along without it. The gift is nothing less than the embodiment of the system of interpersonal social relations. To do away with it would be to risk having societies that are radically desocialized and democracies that are meaningless at best. But this is to begin to deal with the ethical, philosophical, and political implications of our thoughts on the gift in modern societies, while what we need to do now is assemble and review our principal assumptions and hypotheses before continuing our journey. GOODS IN THE SERVICE OF TIES

In a way, this book is simply an attempt to take Marcel Mauss's The Gift seriously. One might well ask why such an important book has had few real successors, despite its impressive reputation. Instead, there are only the many monographs or ethnological analyses of the gift as embodied in one or another population. In these studies Mauss's name is barely mentioned - which is to be expected, as Mauss offers no specific grid for empirical analysis. His contribution lies in the light he sheds on very disparate material and the questions he raises. And his work is taken up only by those whose aim is to establish a general theory of anthropology, for example Claude Levi-Strauss, Georges Bataille, Karl Polanyi, and Marshall Sahlins. It would be easy, of course, to demonstrate that each of these authors, in his own way, has contradicted many of the ideas in The Gift, But such an observation leaves open the question of why such contradiction was possible. And no doubt the answer, in large part, resides in the fact that Mauss himself was often hesitant and uncertain. He was all too timid in facing headon two key issues which, if confronted directly, would have given The Gift the scope it deserved and enabled it to accomplish the task Mauss in fact had set for it, that of devising a scientific and philosophical alternative to utilitarianism. Mauss had hoped to find not only a speculative but a practical solution to problems that have been disputed in moral and political philosophy for the last 2500 years and that concern that "bedrock," that "eternal morality ... common to the most advanced societies, to those of the immediate future, and to the lowest imaginable forms of society" (1990, 70). In order to move towards the realization of such a project, one must first overcome Mauss's initial timidity and, as we have suggested, show that the gift is relevant not only to archaic societies but, though trans-

Does the Gift Still Exist?


formed in ways we have yet to analyse, to modern society as well. In other words, the gift should be of as much, if not more, interest to sociologists as to ethnologists or specialists in ancient history. If the logic of the gift is an enduring one, it should shed light not only on the past but also on the present and future. Mauss's further timidity, which we must also transcend, concerns the theory of the gift and human endeavour. There again Mauss has done the groundwork, when he notes, for example, that The Trobriand Islanders "still have a complex notion [of the gift] that inspires all the economic acts we have described. Yet this notion is neither that of the free, purely gratuitous rendering of total services, nor that of production and exchange purely interested in what is useful. It is a sort of hybrid" (73). Or when he says that "Self-interest and disinterestedness likewise explain this form of ... circulation" (74). We must, of course, examine all the implications of such an assertion. If the gift is seen as a cycle and not just an isolated act - a cycle that may be broken down into three movements: to give, to receive, and to reciprocate - then the error in scientific utilitarianism becomes clear. Utilitarianism isolates the act of receiving and portrays individuals as beings who are interested only in receiving, making both the gift and its reciprocation, both its initiation and that part of its nature that implies obligation and indebtedness, meaningless. The idea at the core of this book is a simple one: it is that the drive to give is as important to an understanding of humanity as the desire to receive - that giving, transmitting, reciprocating, and compassion and generosity are as essential as taking, appropriating, keeping, and appetite or egoism. "The lure of the gift" is at least as powerful as the lure of profit and it is therefore just as important, if one wants to understand modern society, to know its rules as to be familiar with the laws of the market or state. Society is made up of groups of individuals who are constantly trying to establish their position within the group by breaking and renewing ties with others. To tame, to domesticate "is to establish ties," says the fox to the Little Prince. It is to identify someone as a unique individual. Of course, nothing could be more obvious. But such ties are becoming increasingly rare, because time is short and forging ties takes time. That is why people tend to declare their uniqueness through purchases of mass-produced items - emblems of domestication that are themselves domesticated - and bury their quest for a "unique solution" in the solidarity to be found in numbers, in the welfare state - or in psychoanalysis. This book is an essay that asks whether it is possible for an adult to take The Little Prince seriously, and that asks the sociologist to give priority to social ties in creating explanatory systems. We will try to understand why our society, which, more than any other, insists that each


The World of the Gift

individual is unique, systematically tends to dismiss those primary social ties that enable people to affirm and shape their uniqueness and promotes those abstract and secondary ties that, at least in theory, make people interchangeable and anonymous, only to later create an ersatz personalization through identification with work or the state. Principally we will try to show how people react to this agenda by maintaining and keeping alive networks governed by gift-giving, which infiltrate gaps in the "official" secondary systems favoured by the market and the state. Only the gift can actually - not just in the imagination or ideologically - transcend the opposition between the individual and the collectivity, making individuals part of a larger, concrete entity. The only hypothesis one has to accept at this point is that in contemporary society, just as in archaic or traditional societies, there exists a form of circulation of goods that is fundamentally different from the form analysed by economists. "At the house of some friends I found the present I'd given Francois for his birthday when we were together. He'd actually sold it to them. It's disgusting!" said one woman we interviewed. To understand her disgust, we need only recognize that, where the gift is concerned, goods circulate in the service of ties. Any exchange of goods or services with no guarantee of recompense in order to create, nourish, or recreate social bonds between people is a gift. We intend to show how the gift, as a form of circulation of goods that promotes social bonding, represents a key element in any society. In Part One we familiarize the reader with the many guises the gift assumes in the different spheres of modern liberal society. We then discuss the role of the gift in archaic societies, which raises the question of the curious requirement that a true gift must be spontaneous. There follow some thoughts on the consequences of market organization in Western society. Part Three is devoted to reflections of a general nature, sparked in particular by the idea of disinterestedness. The paradox of freedom and obligation is also discussed, and the following question posed: how can we arrive at a theory that will account for a phenomenon which, by definition, eludes all formalization? Must we, where the gift is concerned, content ourselves with metaphors such as the allegory of the Three Graces, which since antiquity 3 has embodied for the Western world the three phases of the gift: to give, to receive, to reciprocate ?


The Sites of the Gift

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Three Forms of Social Bonding

In this section we will review what has emerged from research on the gift, taking up Marcel Mauss's project where he left off: at the door to modernity. In doing this we will adopt the convenient and popular distinction between the sphere of the market, the sphere of the state, and the domestic1 or private sphere, that of interpersonal relations, friendship, family, and so on. For our purposes Hirschman's (1970) well-known conceptual distinction between exit, voice, and loyalty is a perfect match with our three spheres. While the defining principle for the mercantile sphere is the possibility and ease of withdrawing from a social bond (exit) when one agent is not content, the political sphere is governed by discussion and debate (voice), and loyalty is the founding principle for the domestic sphere. This last sphere is generally considered the natural site for the gift in modern society, and we will devote a chapter to it. After having discussed the gift on its home ground, we will ask ourselves what happens to it in other domains in modern society. Even if these domains are driven by principles other than the gift, the gift is still present in many guises, to the point that some authors have claimed that it is defined by its coexistence with the state and the market. We will also study the various sites where the gift may be found. We have a number of options: presents, services rendered, charity, invitations of all sorts, the donation of a kidney or of blood, inheritance, hospitality, the gift of life, our relations with children ... These forms of exchange are not just vestigial, neither quantitatively (given how common they are in daily life), nor qualitatively (given their importance, as organ donations clearly demonstrate). A great deal of empirical research in this area has already been done by other authors, but often in a different context, usually mercantile. Possible starting points differ, depending on the relative importance accorded what is


The Sites of the Gift

being circulated, on the one hand, and the kind of connection involved, on the other. Here, the distinction between primary and secondary social relationships, first made by the Chicago school of sociologists, is as pertinent as ever. It is at the very heart of the phenomenon of the gift, since the essential difference between these two types of relationship is that the primary bond is desired for its own sake, while the secondary link is seen as a means to an end. Louis Wirth,2 a sociologist, felt that urbanization was made possible by the transition from primary to secondary ties. There are many interpretations, classifications, and typologies of the gift, especially where archaic societies are concerned.3 We will discuss these typologies later. For the moment, let us just note that in almost every case authors are content to study what is being circulated in an attempt to use mercantile criteria to determine the quantitative importance of the phenomenon. They are often content just to calculate the monetary equivalence of what is being exchanged, evaluating the importance of what is being circulated and determining "winners" and "losers" only on the basis of monetary worth (Roberge 1985). Such a practice rules out qualitative evaluation. But, more importantly, it ignores the nature and attributes of those ties that facilitate the movements of goods and services, even though these ties are what lend meaning to what is being circulated. In our view, it is vital that what circulates is never isolated and we are never content just to observe it on its own, independent of the ties that accompany it. To do this is tantamount to denying the phenomenon of the gift, leaving only the mercantile model. For example, when a grandmother baby-sits her grandchildren, would giving her the same salary as a baby-sitter make the two situations equivalent? Most people would agree that a grandmother's bond cannot be measured by money and bears no resemblance to that of an outside sitter! To speak in more general terms, the same object or service has a totally different meaning when it is given to one's own child rather than to a stranger. Where one's own child is concerned, no one would think it abnormal if there were no reciprocation; even less would one imagine calculating what has been given. It is the opposite attitude that would be considered abnormal, not to mention "unnatural." A volunteer helping someone else's child would be perceived quite differently. It is essential to ground any eventual typology of the gift in the nature of the relationship, although what is exchanged cannot be ignored. There are many possible approaches, but they must all take into consideration the nature of the bond and how it relates to what is being circulated; they must incorporate what is observed into the cycle "to give, to receive, to reciprocate," it being understood that giving and

Three Forms of Social Bonding


reciprocating are often one and the same thing, and that the word "reciprocate" contains a key component of the relationship that is reflected in objects in circulation. Except at the very beginning of a cycle and at its end we always have the impression that we are both giving and giving back. A survey of the different forms the gift can take has seldom been carried out in Western society. Such a survey must recognize the importance of the two other systems of exchange that exist in society - the state and the market - and assess the role of the gift in relation to them. It must also show how the presence of the market and the state alter the gift itself, especially when it is affected by the loosening of social ties occasioned by the market. In the next chapter we will concern ourselves with the domestic sphere. Family ties represent the most common and important constituent of this sphere, where one does not choose one's partners and breaking free of them, while not unheard of, occurs much less frequently than in other domains. The ruptures are more dramatic and opting out is sometimes impossible; the sense of obligation here is very strong. This is where we come closest to the traditional gift analysed by ethnologists. In the two following chapters the gift's more modern face will be examined, and we will see how it manifests itself outside the domestic sphere, within the state and mercantile systems. This leads us to the conclusion that there is a specifically modern sphere for the gift, that of the gift to strangers, which is discussed in the last chapter in this section.


Interpersonal Ties

It is only in the world of personal relationships that modern man allows himself to "give without keeping score," and it is there that the so-called gift economy prevails (Cheal 1988). But is it really an economy? What is it that circulates in this sphere of intimate relations? Affection, love, security, of course. But only that? The thesis that it involved only such intangibles prevailed for a long time in sociology. Theorists held that the market, and above all the state, had freed the modern individual from many "private" obligations. Through work, located outside the sphere of intimacy, the individual fulfils obligations to society in exchange for a salary. Part of this revenue goes to the state so that it may, through the offices of other people, who are also paid a salary, look after needs not dealt with by the marketplace. Little by little the private sphere divests itself of the concrete task of producing goods and services for people and becomes the exclusive site for the free play of feelings, whether positive or negative. This classic view no longer holds water. Here are a few facts. Twothirds of Canadians claim to have performed a spontaneous act of charity (a visit to a friend in the hospital, etc.) during the previous year. As for the aged, "all American, Canadian, or Quebec studies confirm that 70 or 80 percent of care and personal service is provided by the family," according to a government report.1 In France, individual donations to charity have doubled since 1945 according to Anne Gotman (1985); one-third of children less than a year old are baby-sat by their grandmothers (Cuturello 1988, 152.).x And this is only the tip of the iceberg. It's true that the intricate web of obligations we've devised for ourselves, involving our friends, our neighbours, those near and dear to us, is still concentrated, and probably will be for a long time to come, within the spheres of family or kin. These obligations are, however, more and more voluntary, less and less

Interpersonal Ties


restrictive, as modern society allows any individual who chooses to do so to live alone, without children, without family ties, without friends, "nourished" exclusively, or almost, by the market and the state, by what he receives in return for his contributions as a worker. Few people follow this path, of course, at least voluntarily, but it's important to note that this is, in fact, a path modern social relationships can take (and it's the path, quite simply, of homo economicus: Robinson and Friday on their island, content to do only business). This is important, because it shows that even if gifts within the domestic sphere appear to carry a burden of obligation greater than the freer gifts previously considered, it is less and less accurate to speak of them in terms of constraint. Often we welcome those obligations we feel towards our children, just as we welcome the children themselves. And even if these relationships still entail a certain number of contractual constraints, these are increasingly secondary, to the point where we can now assert that such relationships tend to form modern gift systems, systems where the gift is freely given. We will look briefly at how the gift functions in the domestic sphere, first between friends and companions, then within the family in general, and finally in the child-parent relationship and the passing on of an inheritance. We will also focus on women's unique role in the world of the gift. FRIENDS AND COMPANIONS

We choose our friends but not our relatives. In that respect the networks of friendship are freer. Unlike what happens in the family, "exit" is possible and can even be easy. It's true that we can also sever all ties with a family member. But we can't say, "You're no longer my brother." We can, however, say to someone, "You're no longer my friend." Children experience this sense of freedom within friendship from an early age. What circulates among friends is clearly a product of the gift system. We can illustrate this briefly with reference to research undertaken by Florence Weber (1989, chapter 2) in a French workers' village. Weber compared the system of informal cooperation in the village to the official rules of work. The informal system is characterized as follows: • There is reciprocity, but only after a lapse of time. "The need to give in return is masked by an assertion of disinterestedness" (74). • Weber finds frequent evidence for the importance of spontaneity and the need to express generosity, using this to explain her observation that the people in the village avoid, as far as possible, use of money within the village. "One of the reasons for this convention may be


The Sites of the Gift

found in the fictive disinterestedness essential to delayed reciprocity" (83). In other words, in this system money is a vulgar sign of a mercantile equivalence that does not fit well with gift-giving. The giving of a gift, even once it is reciprocated, does not stop there. It is part of an uninterrupted chain. Giving and reciprocating are only an "arbitrary sequence carved out by myself ... from the aggregate of services rendered ... that make for good relations" (76). In other words, what is circulated is in the service of the bond between giver and receiver and within the system of informal cooperation, as Weber makes clear more than once. The sequence is not closed, contrary to what happens in a mercantile exchange, where there is no creation of what the author aptly calls " a spiral of generosity," In other words, the equivalence prevalent in mercantile exchange tends to be replaced by a propensity to give more than one has received. The sequence involves not just the two individuals immediately concerned but their two households. The individuals are part of a network of ties that must be maintained, which is not the case in a mercantile transaction. Finally, the author notes that there is pleasure in the giving of gifts.

In the world of friends, neighbours, meetings in cafes, etc., there is much importance accorded the reciprocity attached to things that circulate. All the same, what circulates is part and parcel of the bond. Even in instances of reciprocity that resemble mercantile equivalence, things serve the bond. Thus when it comes to people buying "rounds" in bars, Weber affirms that "this spiral is utterly absurd: by the end everyone has paid, in principle, for what he has consumed, because there are as many rounds as people present." But, she adds, "The relationship established is more important that what occasioned it" (81). Weber found all the usual features of gift systems, although there was a greater emphasis on reciprocity than in other social milieus, such as the family, which we will look at next. THE FAMILY

The gift, as commonly understood, does not apply to the family, to the day-to-day relationships between parents and children, except where the giving of presents is concerned - and presents are seen as a supplement, an exception to daily dealings. The modern individual tends to employ the term gift spontaneously only in the context of relationships with strangers, as in charitable donations, aid to the Third World, volunteer work. For most, the gift exists at the heart of non-mercantile relationships but not in intimate relations such as those in a family.

Interpersonal Ties


This is the position of many analysts, who consider that the gift presupposes the existence of autonomous and independent agents (Cheal 1988). In their view, family members are so closely bound together, so intensely involved with each other, that what goes on in their midst is more like sharing than gift-giving. It's as though the gift were submerged in currents set in motion by bonds of feeling and can't assert itself as an entity in its own right - not enough, at least, for us to distinguish between the bond and what is circulating. Sharing would then represent a type of circulation distinct from the state, the market, and the gift. Jean-Luc Boilleau (1991) does not consider either sharing or, at the other extreme, charity, which he likens to renunciation, as involving gifts. On the other hand, Alvin Gouldner (1960) concludes his celebrated text on reciprocity by referring to the family, a world where, according to him, we make the transition from reciprocity to the gift itself. These distinctions between gift, renunciation, and sharing are very important. But are they distinctions between types of gift or between forms of circulation that are different from gift-giving? To answer this question we have to know much more about how these modes of circulation really work. We need an inventory of everything that circulates outside the market and the state in order to study what such things have in common and how they differ before we can decide whether such types of circulation are sufficiently disparate that the concept of the gift should be limited to certain exchanges only. It is our view that the family is the primary site for the gift in society, the place where it is experienced with the greatest intensity, and where our understanding of it begins. A guest arrives at a child's birthday party after the pieces of cake have already been distributed. When his mother suggests to the birthday child that he give some of his cake to the latecomer, he protests, "But it belongs to me!" His mother replies, "That's right, it's yours. All I'm asking is that you share it with your friend. It's up to you, because you have the right to keep it all for yourself. " Here we see a distinction being made between rights and the gift, the "necessary surplus" that goes beyond rights and is at the same time their pre-condition. This apprenticeship is crucial for "succeeding" in life: it is vital to learn how to give without being taken advantage of. Learning this may be more important than academic success and other achievements of that sort, although these, though only instrumental, are the only achievements deemed worthy of attention by utilitarians. The source of the family is that gift of self which creates the union of two strangers (two "foreigners") and forms the nucleus for the least foreign site imaginable. "It is no exaggeration to say that [the law of exogamy - the marriage of an individual outside his or her tribe] is the archetype of all other phenomena rooted in reciprocity" (Levi-Strauss


The Sites of the Gift

1967, 551). This encounter between two strangers, which produces the nucleus of the family, is "home" to the gift relationship. It is where the social tie exists in embryo. It is a site of transmutation, of the "birth" and emergence of a bond that is social and not just biological, as is the first relationship between parent and child. The transformation of a stranger into a familiar is what the gift is all about. It paves the way for reciprocity and the market but, first and foremost, it enables society to perpetuate itself as a society (not just a family), to renew itself in renewing the pact with every "generation." We therefore find the stranger where we expected him least: at the heart of personal relationships, at the core of the domestic sphere itself. THE UTILITARIAN INTERPRETATION

If some authors exclude the gift from the family in the name of sharing, others, on the contrary, by applying the neo-classical theory of a balanced economy, try to reduce the various phenomena involved in circulation within family networks to utilitarianism alone. From the formation of couples (matching) to divorce (Mortensen 1988), through family budgeting, many try to reduce the family to a system of utilitarian exchange. Family ledgers are carefully dissected (de Singly 1987), which is perfectly legitimate. But the claim is also made that the couple functions primarily on an accounting basis, that this dynamic explains what is taking place between the couple and, more generally, within the nuclear and extended family. The reasoning goes as follows: 1 It's true that, as a matter of course, the partners in a couple do not seem to do much calculation or balancing of accounts, at least not explicitly. 2 On the other hand, when things go badly, and above all when there is a divorce, they begin to calculate, to try to gain whatever advantage they can. 3 Therefore when everything is going well, the couple is hiding the fact that they are calculating all the time. They don't dare admit it, but that is what they do. This conclusion is totally unacceptable. Even if we go along with the premise, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that when the couple's relationship is no longer functioning, the utilitarian system comes into play. Before assuming that this system was previously hidden, we must first determine whether there was not another system in place, and whether the mercantile system was resorted to only because the first system of exchange and circulation failed. A valid hypothesis would then

Interpersonal Ties


be that after the participants have given for a long time "without balancing the books," accounts are now rendered, not without difficulty and often not without the assistance of a lawyer, transforming the operation into a settling of scores. One woman who was interviewed said: "When I got divorced, I couldn't start talking about money right away, as though our marriage had been nothing but a business deal. After a few years had passed, when I no longer felt as I had, I was able to do so. I don't understand those who manage it right off the bat." Ex-spouses do manage, thanks to their respective lawyers. Divorce is a perfect example of the shift from the gift to the market system, resulting from the appearance on the scene of a specialist whose principal role is to attribute the mercantile approach to the other partner, thus entangling both members of the couple in the logic of the marketplace.3 This is the necessary prerequisite for such a specialist, whose services would otherwise not be required (Boltanski 1990). The need to balance the books is already an indication that we are drifting away from the system of the gift. It is a sign that the relationship is deteriorating, not that the system used by the couple was always based on calculation. Nothing allows for such an interpretation, which is contradicted by the way couples live their lives, including those utilitarian researchers who dedicate their books to their spouses, "without whom this book would never have existed." The burden of proof belongs to the utilitarian thesis: since it is being claimed that the utilitarian model is always operating but is hidden, it must be exposed in some other way than by simply showing that it conies into play at the very moment the couple's relationship breaks down! But this is never done. Instead, it's as though an axiom were being applied and empirical demonstration were unnecessary. One might at least allow for the opposite hypothesis - that there is another system of exchange operating. This is not easily verifiable at the present time, as most research into the family restricts itself to the calculation of monetary equivalences. Some recent research, however, seems to support our case.4 What does it indicate? First, Kellerhals' studies (Kellerhals et al. 1988) have shown that exchanges within the family occur on a number of levels. The "norm of exchange" is not easy to determine, particularly because, unlike mercantile equivalence, it must take into account the nature of the people involved. Nevertheless, although his approach is nuanced, Kellerhals clings to the postulate that equivalence governs these exchanges. Other researchers explore the hypothesis of the debt as a foundation for relationships between couples. What do they conclude? Remarkably, their findings reflect the dominant features of systems centering on the gift.

3 2,

The Sites of the Gift

• The system works spontaneously. When Kaufmann asks how tasks are divided up between a couple, the most frequent response is, "It happens all by itself!" (1990, 91). The same answer was found in the survey done by Franchise Bloch et al.: "Things get done by themselves" (1990, 77). This does not mean that there is no system, nor that the system is unconscious. But it is built into the relationship. • The system affects not only the couple but the entire extended family. It's seen as a whole greater than its parts and includes the process of handing things on from generation to generation. • Bloch et al. (1989) go further. They see the family as "a social universe founded on an inversion of the economic world's fundamental laws" (13). They suggest that the latter function in terms of equivalence, while the gift works in terms of debt (12.). Gift-giving is more a matter of "notions of reversibility and sequences of events than of reciprocity." "In a matrimonial exchange ... the relative positions of those involved are asymmetrical. What maintains the social bond ... is the fact that each thinks he is giving the other more than he receives" (2.1). The great contribution of this research is that it shows that indebtedness is normal in a gift-giving relationship. Our interviews, however, lead us to believe that the authors go only half-way and that, in a successful family relationship, debt works in a way that is the exact opposite of what their hypothesis implies: a successful family relationship is one where everyone thinks they receive more than they give, where everyone considers themselves indebted vis-a-vis the other, rather than feeling that the other is indebted to them. "I owe him/her so much" is a sentence we have often heard spoken. This observation coincides with that of Arlie Hochschild (1989) in his analysis of relationships between couples. Let us be clear. We are not trying to deny that equivalence, as a norm, exists in the context of family relationships. Equivalence is not absent from a relationship based on the gift. But it is only one element, and it is not central. Equivalence is present and absent at the same time, in the sense that we can't stray too far from it without feeling that instead of giving we are "being taken advantage of"; but we can't get too close to it either, because to pay off the debt is to put an end to the relationship. When a relationship gets too close to equilibrium, one of the partners does something to shatter the equivalence, commits a rash, extravagant act that distances the partners anew from equilibrium. In this system a voluntarily sustained state of indebtedness is the normal state. Equivalence in such a system differs from a mercantile equivalence,

Interpersonal Ties


because it takes into account the personal traits of the agents, their level of income, their needs, etc. Obviously only empirical research will enable us to verify this hypothesis, which we can express as follows: the more successful partners consider their relationship to be, the more this state of indebtedness will exist. The same theory applies to the parent-child relationship: even if the child, "objectively," receives infinitely more than the parents, the parents feel that they are the ones in debt. "I owe him/her so much" is still the expression that best describes this state of being, in the system Hochschild calls "the economy of gratitude." These studies enable us to go further than those that adopt the model of mercantile equivalence, which for us comes into play only when the social bond is in crisis and the agents shift to a mercantile model, to immediate reciprocity. They "settle their scores," which is what one might expect in such a situation, but why should we conclude that they do that all the time, even when there's no sign of it, and when the opposite may be "scientifically" observed? According to Rene Girard: "Matrimonial exchanges, or indeed the exchanges of consumer goods, are barely visible as exchanges. When society goes off the rails, however, due dates fall much closer together and a more rapid reciprocity comes into effect" (1982., 2.3). How can one claim that a relationship i founded on a system that only becomes apparent when the relationship is no longer working? Why this perverse relegation of the social bond to the short, binary cycle of the mercantile system, when that requires an affirmation, never justified nor explained, of the invisibility of that system? Girard's implicit hypothesis is that equivalence exists, even if it is invisible. Our explicit hypothesis is that when a matrimonial relationship is characterized by a quest for mercantile equivalence, when a couple tries continually to balance its books, this is a sign that the relationship is not working and that their life together will end with a "settling of scores." The gift abhors equality. It seeks alternating inequality. FAMILY AND FREEDOM

Compared to other areas where gift-giving may be observed, the family imposes a significant limit on one's freedom: we do not choose the individuals who make up the family network - our parents, brothers, or sisters. For some this constitutes a crime against modernity, leading them to say that friends are better than family, because they are chosen. This raises the whole problem of social obligations and of freedom. For when people are asked what it is, today, that makes the family important to them, what makes family ties special, they say it is


The Sites of the Gift

their unconditional nature. But unconditionality implies an absence of choice. A free relationship is not unconditional, and so, in this area, friendship cannot replace the family. The problem of obligations stems from the fact that we are not seeking only freedom but security. And the more freedom in a relationship, the less security, because a free relationship is free to disappear. Modern freedom implies the risk of abandonment. (Young people often experience abandonment at the hands of one of their parents, particularly following divorces, and this loss is echoed when they are first disappointed in love. There is a close connection here with youth suicide, delinquency, and drug abuse. Every society must teach its members how to deal with the consequences of abandonment.) Modernity sets great stock on a certain kind of freedom, but this is at the expense of other necessities, such as security. The family is one institution that provides us with security, to the detriment, traditionally at least, of freedom, as we are constantly reminded by the "family haters" (Gotman 1988, 5). The founding nucleus of the family - the couple - was once joined in an unconditional relationship, "for better or for worse"; today, in our society, the relationship is freely chosen and the partner is a kind of "friend." The gift relationship has an unconditional aspect that is unacceptable to modernity but whose bonding effect was crucial to the development of the family. That is why divorce is probably the most important social revolution of modern times. Will the unconditional nature of other family relationships (brothers, sisters ...) survive the end of unconditionality in the couple? Will the unconditionality of unchosen family ties survive the fracturing of the only freely chosen relationship in this traditional environment? An entire, crucial field of research into family ties in separated, "reconstituted" families has now been begun (Le Gall and Martin 1990). What is at stake is the basic mechanism for any society: the encounter, in each generation, between the union of two individuals and the family line. In small communities (particularly in archaic societies) this bond was secure in principle because of a pact between the two groups or families from which the individuals came. In modern society, that sort of pact has virtually disappeared, but the bond has been solid because of what it carried with it: children and the singular responsibility they create for parents (which was much less evident in small communities, where children are a more collective responsibility). It's strange that society has both conferred such a responsibility on the couple and allowed for the easy dissolution of the relationship that sustains it. How can this contradiction be explained? Without an unconditional bond between the couple, can unconditionality in the

Interpersonal Ties


family be maintained in the community? If not, will such unconditionally come to be found elsewhere, differently, perhaps in an eventual return to certain kinds of small, strong, primary communities, the only logical alternative to the "decommunitization" of the family? Or can the human species do without this type of communal security, relying instead on state social security and mercantile abundance? These are the questions raised by the claim that all bonds may be dissolved, that goods are more important than ties, and that the latter, in the end, only serve to assure the circulation of the former in utilitarian fashion. Robinson and Friday need no ties other than those required to pursue their own interests, according to James Buchanan, Nobel Prize-winning economist and founder of the school of public choice; certainly they don't need ties that are unconditional or unbreakable. Such things just don't exist in this universe. We may, however, ask ourselves how a society can guarantee its own renewal under these conditions. Absence of choice gives rise to the following paradox within families: although the family is generally considered to be the social institution most turned in on itself, in our society it is often, and at times only, in families that we cultivate relationships with people who differ from us in terms of income, social class, profession, and interests. Family contacts cut across social classes, professional milieus, regions, etc. If we had had to choose these ties we wouldn't have done so, if only because we would probably never have met such people! For LeviStrauss, the family had to open up for society to exist: "If every biological family formed a closed world and reproduced within itself, society could not exist."5 Conceivably, it is thanks in part to family networks that contemporary society does not, in an extraordinary historical reversal, fragment into a series of professional, corporate conflicts between modern-day "clans." Thanks, in other words, to Christmas festivities and, more generally, to family celebrations. During the 19808 in Quebec, at a time of serious union unrest in the public sector, it was during family reunions that public sector workers and those in the private sector were able to meet and "explain themselves"! THE ROLE OF WOMEN

At the centre of the domestic sphere is the woman, who has always been a symbol of the gift. In Greek mythology the first woman was called Pandora, which means "she who gives all" (Vernant 1985, 266). A woman (but not a man) is often said to "give herself" when she makes love. This is said even of prostitutes: the French dictionary the Petit Robert defines a prostitute as a woman who "gives herself for money." When an artist works only for money, we say he prostitutes


The Sites of the Gift

himself. But a woman, even when she sells herself, still gives herself. To prostitute oneself is to offer a gift to the mercantile system. In most societies throughout human history a woman is "given in marriage." Not only does she receive and then give presents, but she is herself viewed as a present in anthropological literature on family systems. This is unusual, and we should at least consider the possibility that she represents something more complex than the "woman as object." It would seem that there is something strange at work, a special bond between the woman and the gift that is common to all societies (a bond that certain feminists, it seems, would prefer to have disappear). But there is also a unique link between the woman and the gift in modern society. It is as though, with the emergence of the mercantile and state systems, the woman came to be defined as the gift's repository, a nucleus of resistance to the invasion of these other systems. The mercantile and state systems seem unable to cross a sexual dividing line whose existence is remarkable. What can women teach us about the modern gift? This is a delicate subject, and we will restrict ourselves as far as possible to the "facts," without asking if they are of cultural or natural origin. And the facts show that in our society, perhaps more than ever before, the world of the gift is the special domain of the woman. In volunteer activities, even if the proportion of men is increasing, women remain the vast majority. And women are at the heart of the gift in the domestic sphere. All the work done on this subject agrees on this, even if only to deplore it, seeing in it a form of exploitation. Women are in charge of presents and are at ease in that world (Fischer and Arnold 1990; Caplow 1982; Cheal 1988). Men are clumsy, embarrassed, often ridiculous, understand the rules of the game poorly, lack subtlety, make blunders. As well, gift-giving rituals among women are often paralleled by male rites that tend towards violence. In North America, for instance, the contrast between the ritual of the "shower" and that of the male "stag" is particularly eloquent. While the fiancee's friends organize a party that gives her the opportunity to receive and display her magnificent wedding presents, the man's friends organize a party in the course of which his castration may be staged and he's ridiculed and often insulted. The two rites are rites of passage, one marking the birth of a new life and the other the celebration and death of the current life, the first welcoming the woman into a new social group made up of wives while the second recognizes the violent expulsion of the man from his present circle. And yet both celebrate the same union between two people. David Cheal has studied the shower in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where it is still practiced on a grand scale. Generous gifts, both money and objects, are given to the bride. They are "presented" by the many participants

Interpersonal Ties


(often more than 100) over a loudspeaker. Cheal claims that the success of the shower endows the women who organized it with prestige and social standing6 (Cheal 1988, 1989, 105). Finally, the woman's competence in the domain of the gift is expressed in the most important rite accompanying the modern exchange of gifts: their wrapping, an utterly gratuitous extra (in the sense that it is put to no practical use) but one that no present can do without, for it embodies the spirit of the gift. It hides what is in circulation, thus demonstrating that what counts is not the hidden object but the gesture, enhanced by the brilliance of the wrapping and, subsequently, by its squandering, when it disappears at the very moment the gift is received. What has taken so long to prepare is torn up and thrown away. Wrapping presents is a rite totally imbued with the spirit of the gift - and this operation is largely left up to women. By contrast, in the mercantile system, the tendency is to wrap all consumer goods in plastic. The meaning of this gesture is diametrically opposed to that of the gift. Here the aim of wrapping is to isolate the producer from the consumer, to ensure that nothing of the producer's person is "transmitted" to the consumer, not even a virus! As well, this sort of wrapping is not intended to hide anything and is often transparent. For a number of decades the working world has seen more and more women in its ranks. To what degree has the "mercantile culture", in Gouldner's sense (1970), been transformed? It would be interesting to study the practical changes that have accompanied the masculinization or, inversely, the feminization of a profession: social work in the first instance, medicine in the second. Why, until recently, has the mercantile culture made so little headway in the world of women? Why has the gift found refuge with women, even while they have moved into the mercantile and state sectors as producers and not just consumers or clients? The phenomenon may be explained as much by the domination of men as by the resistance of women to the invasion of the marketplace. The feminist movement tends to accept only the first hypothesis. Given the movement's principles and values, which incline it to call the world of men into question, one might expect it to aim at reintroducing the gift into the male domain and shoring up a movement resistant to the further spread of the mercantile culture. But it seems often to be attempting to achieve the opposite: the transformation of all female activity into a monetary, mercantile, utilitarian relationship, any non-salarial connection being regarded as unpaid work and thus as mercantile exploitation (Juteau and Laurin 1988). For part of the feminist movement, the ability to excel in the world of the gift is devaluing for women, a sign of servility and proof of the


The Sites of the Gift

exploitation and domination to which they are prone. This position is grounded in the postulate that it is impossible to give without being "taken advantage of." That is certainly true within the utilitarian ideology and the idea that all sectors of society are ruled by the laws of the marketplace. On this way of thinking, to operate within the system of the gift is tantamount to being taken advantage of all the time. The question of the gift thus points out a serious ambiguity in the feminist movement: while rejecting the system of values attributed to men, it hopes to extend it to the other half of humanity, and tends to condemn women who adhere to a model different from that of calculation and utilitarian rationality - who decide, for example, that it is more important to take care of their children than to embark on a career. Thus to work in a nursery in the public sector, in other words to care for the children of others, is a valued activity. But to be content to raise one's own children means one is alienated and dominated. The difference resides in the fact that in one case women fulfil their task in a salaried situation and in the other through the network of the gift. Some feminists, when they compare the two systems, tend to take into account only the advantages of the former (liberation, etc.) and to emphasize the drawbacks of the latter (constraints, domination, exploitation - as if salaried women were not exploited). They seem biased in favour of the market and, like all new converts to the market system, they accentuate the emancipation from social ties in order to make palatable the accompanying impoverishment of social relationships. What they fail to factor in is the increased decline in quality of the social bond. In choosing to remain within the family network, women find themselves relegated to an inferior position, because in societies controlled by men their role is not valued as it should be. That is true of the dominant mercantile culture, which transforms social ties into relationships between strangers. But what many women want is to change the dominant values in modern society. Can one attain that end by adopting the values one wants to change? Such a strategy is bizarre, to say the least! And it alienates many women who, in practical terms, are behaving differently. The president of a charitable centre who, after having raised four children, preferred to do volunteer work rather than return to the labour market, told us: "We're depriving ourselves of another salary, we travel less, but my husband accepts this, and I prefer to do what I like rather than to be dependent on an employer. I feel more free." By rejecting a certain type of consumption, isn't this couple calling the dominant cultural and economic model into question in a more serious way than the woman who accepts a salaried job? There is no suggestion here that women should not have the same right of access to the marketplace as men. What is being challenged is the claim that only a

Interpersonal Ties


salaried relationship allows for the fulfilment of an individual, whether man or woman. CHILDREN: GIFT OR OBJECT

During the same week (March 1988) in Montreal, two news items appeared in the papers: • A baby in a hospital has AIDS. Hundreds of people volunteer to adopt it. • A couple adopted a Korean baby a few years earlier. They now want to "return" it, because the child has an unpleasant disposition. The merchandise is not up to par. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. The rules of the marketplace are applied to the parental relationship because, at the outset, the goods were paid for, not given. Those who affirm, "My real family is my friends, because I've chosen them," ought to reflect on how grotesque a society can become in which one can choose anything, free of obligation, free of constraint, with nothing "guaranteed" except the quality of the merchandise, and with no concern for the unconditional nature of the commitment - in other words, a mercantile society. What happens to those chosen by no one? How can such a society renew itself? The relationship to a child is necessarily a gift-giving relationship and therefore implicitly involves some sense of obligation. These two news items illustrate the ambiguity of our relationship to the child in today's society. Let us look at the two aspects of this relationship. The Definitive Gift Within the family, the gift that still remains the least free is that which binds us to the child, the gift of life. It is in a way the quintessential gift, and the raison d'etre for the family, but it is fraught with the obligations to which one has consented. It may seem surprising that we take the relationship to the child as the prototype for the gift-giving relationship, and yet in many ways, it is just that. First, birth is a gift - a definitive giving of the self, the gift of life, the original gift, which inscribes the gift relationship and its concomitant state of indebtedness in every individual - a state from which the marketplace and certain psychoanalysts want to free us. This relationship lasts longer in today's society than in any society before it. The chain of gifts begins here for everyone, in a debt that can only be discharged by


The Sites of the Gift

giving life in one's turn, establishing the fundamentally non-dyadic, asymmetrical character of the gift itself. Birth establishes the state of indebtedness as a defining feature of the human condition. This state can, of course, become neurotic. Psychoanalysts, with reason, remind us there is nothing worse than a mother who wants to give "everything" to her child. But the state of indebtedness is not intrinsically one of neurosis, and the goal is not to break free from it but to learn how to give in turn, to "play the game" within this system without "being taken advantage of." To be taken advantage of does not mean giving more than one receives, it means not respecting certain rules that are in force on a number of levels, parity between things in circulation comprising only one element, often secondary, as we have seen. Gratitude and the pleasure of giving are also essential elements. A successful education consists in learning to give and to receive without being taken advantage of. We can, in fact, be taken advantage of through giving, if the recipient does not see the gift as a gift but as something owed him; but we can also be taken advantage of in receiving, through the burden of debt incurred vis-a-vis the donor. Contrary to common wisdom, children begin at an early age to enjoy passing on what they have received. Psychologists observing children at the age of eighteen months have witnessed the emergence of offering and what they call the imitation of offering: a toy is offered to B by A, B then offers it to C in a sort of imitation. It has also been noted that the children who "offer" most frequently tend to become leaders. They are the most "attractive" and the most sociable. Authors distinguish them from the "dominators," who are aggressive and solitary.7 Here we have the seeds of potlatch, the market, democracy, and dictatorship. The pleasure we experience in "making the chain" is emblematic of the entire gift system: to give, to receive, to reciprocate, in short to pass on, to be a conduit rather than a source (Darms and Laloup 1983). In taking a turn at giving, the child continues the chain. The modern production line is the antithesis of that arrangement. It excludes individuals from the circuit, from what is being circulated, making them spectators and subordinates, delivering them to a chain of objects organized among themselves, subjugating them to the rhythm of these objects. The production line is made in the market's image. The eviction of the gift begins with the arrival of the merchant and ends with the production line, to which the artist offers resistance. The child is the being to whom one must give everything. Not only has one given life, but she or he is the only being for whom one would spontaneously give one's own life. Never, perhaps, has there existed at the centre of society an asymmetrical relationship so constant, intense, and long-standing. Today a child can remain on the receiving end of a

Interpersonal Ties


one-way gift-giving relationship for over twenty years. The gift to the child may be the quintessential form taken by the modern gift, and the debt incurred the most difficult to assume. In modern society, children are the only people to whom one can give without even being tempted to do an accounting. They are modernity's god, royalty for whom one can sacrifice all. Where any other category of individual is concerned, to give too much is soon seen as suspect, bizarre, abnormal. The child is the only transcendence we have left. The Danger of the Gift for the Child For the child, of course, this creates a number of problems. Only a god can receive without ever having to reciprocate. There is nothing more difficult than having to assume such a gift. In other societies, the child begins to give in return quite soon, by producing and procreating in turn. One must be especially strong to take on the role of a modern child, but a child, by definition, is weak. In other societies, only the sons of kings and princes had the status of the modern child, and it brought with it certain constraints, in that the child was closed off from the world. The situation is similar for the modern child. To understand this, let us compare such a child to children of the Third World. We were able to do this in a Mexican village, observing the village children and those of the couple who own the hotel. The latter were shut away, not allowed to bathe in the sea by themselves, not able to swim, ignorant and backward by comparison with other children; they remained alone, watching the others run and laugh but also work; they looked on the others with envy and, rather than working, were given lessons, learning what they would need to know in order later to "succeed." Is it more harmful to recruit children to work on the farm or contribute to the family's revenue, a practice condemned today by international organizations, than to enlist them in psychological warfare during separations (to "settle scores" with the spouse)? Training, along with the acquisition of knowledge that can enhance one's social mobility, is the first value passed on to today's children, and it takes priority over friendship, for example. We do not hesitate to change the child's school, separating him or her from their friends if the new school has a better reputation. Each decision of this sort sends the child a message defining the values that "count." Ties are sacrificed to goods or, more exactly, emotional ties are subordinated to utilitarian ties, to relationships that will be advantageous in the future. The present relationship between parents and children contains a perversion of the gift that threatens to overturn that relationship. Wanting to have perfect children, and seeking ways to obtain them, we


The Sites of the Gift

find ourselves making birth no longer a gift but a product that binds the producers and the "product" together in only a voluntary relationship. With advances in reproductive technology and the utilitarian and individualist ends to which they are being applied, such a relationship is no longer a matter for science-fiction, as we saw in the abovementioned example where parents wanted to "return to sender" a child they had adopted. The gift is not grounded in duality but in continuity, bonding, filiation. Filiation is what makes the difference between an adopted and a "real" child. A "natural" child does not belong to us, it is given to us, by God or nature. On the other hand, an adopted child (or, even more, one we have had "produced" in a laboratory, with its attributes specified in advance) comes from somewhere that is known, is the fruit of our efforts, our administrative initiatives, of the assent of a bureaucrat and technicians, and so in a certain sense it belongs to us, we have property rights over it that can go so far as the right to no longer own it and the right to sell it, basic rights for any property owner. The child in modern society is in a unique situation: never before held in such high esteem, never before so much in danger of being turned into an object. That is the significance of the examples given at the beginning of this section. Never has a gift-giving relationship come so close to being totally transformed into a mercantile and juridical relationship, never has this bond been so threatened by the rights of adults - beginning with that of being able to utilize one's body with no obligation towards others - and by the transference to specialists, in a mercantile or state relationship, of a number of responsibilities previously assumed by parents. The two poles exist: the child-god, the only human being to whom one can give everything without being looked on askance by contemporary society and the child-object, with which one can do what one wants (a bit like domestic animals), to whom one can also give much, but whom one can easily dispose of, with no obligation standing in the way. SANTA GLAUS

Nourished by the myth of the greatest gift possible (a God born to give His life for humanity), the "festive season" is that period of the year during which the world of the gift, usually lodged in the cracks of modern society, takes centre stage. This is when both the boons and drawbacks of obligations and social ties become starkly obvious. The poor, or those unfortunate in their social relationships, hate this time of year and flee it. They await with impatience the return of cold, neutral greetings, the great gift of mercantile society, where one pays for every-

Interpersonal Ties


thing and owes nothing to anyone, where one can be alone without being (too) unhappy, without suffering from the absence of company. Solitude is less easy to forget between 24 December and i January because the marketplace itself is no longer neutral and sets out, ostensibly, to foster social interplay. That is why people who are alone or cut off from social ties go south, to the sun. The trip south is the market's Christmas present - for those, of course, who can afford it. Given the importance of children in the modern world of the gift, no one will be surprised to find that they are the stars of the festive season; the gift to the child is the gift-giving relationship most under the sway of ties that bind. Which doesn't stand in the way of one of the most astonishing phenomena associated with the modern gift: the fact that the real donors, as though wanting to ensure that no gratitude be aimed in their direction, mask themselves by introducing a strange and transient mythical personage - Santa Glaus. This phenomenon is spreading. In many countries the post office sets up a special service to answer letters addressed to Santa Glaus. A state apparatus is thus consecrated to the gift, a surprising development in this rational world. But note that the postal service calls on volunteers to reply to the children. In 1989, in Canada, Santa Glaus volunteers answered more than 700,000 letters. Why is it so important to adults that children believe in Santa Glaus, to the point where many children pretend to believe in order to humour their elders ? Why in this being, who has only one function - to give - and whose existence is ephemeral? Why this device, thanks to which children can believe that the presents do not come from their parents? Why, after having indebted, if not ruined, themselves in this ever-growing potlatch8 of Christmas presents that pile up under the lit tree, do parents go to the trouble of denying the gifts come from them, of making the children who receive them think their parents had nothing to do with it all, of attributing the act to a personage who has no merit other than that of bringing presents, of making that quintessentially disinterested gesture? Why such abnegation, with its suggestion of sacrifice, of a gift to the gods, while the parents delight in the pleasure experienced by the child as the presents are unwrapped ... presents that someone else has given? It's as though the parents are trying to prove to themselves that they expect no gratitude for the gift, that they are not "real" donors, not the only ones at any rate, that the only thing that counts for them is the child's pleasure, that they are giving only for the pleasure of it, not even for gratitude. They accept the fact that this gratitude will be directed towards an unreal individual, and they even arrange things so that this will be the case. The donor's pleasure is important, but it is dissociated, thanks to Santa Glaus, from


The Sites of the Gift

any gratitude aimed towards the true source of the gift. Why does the modern spirit invoke such a primitive figure, such a profoundly religious9 conception of the gift? Why does the gift become anonymous, or almost? Why is it offered by an unknown, in the context of the most intense, primary social ties that exist? Just as in the relationship between a couple, the presence of the stranger manifests itself where one would least expect it. Perhaps it's a matter of emancipating children from a too onerous debt vis-a-vis their parents, of freeing them from the dangers of the total gift as embodied in the current parent-child relationship and of making a distinction between a special gift and the ordinary, everyday, ongoing gifts parents make to a child, which are taken for granted. All this in order to allow children an apprenticeship in the gift, in disinterestedness, in the chain of transmission, that they might experience through this stranger who gives for no reason (not even, any more, for the child's having been good). But what a sacrifice it is, "objectively" (though not subjectively, because the parents don't experience it as such), to give up being seen as the donor when we know that, for a child especially, to give and receive presents is "the clearest, least equivocal sign of love."10 There is probably some element of truth to all these reasons. Without ruling any of them out, we can extrapolate from the Santa Glaus figure's defining features and offer a hypothesis of our own: that of the gift's being involved in the line of descent. In French, the character's name is revealing. He is a father: Pere Noel, Father Christmas. He has a large beard, a deep laugh, and takes "little children" on his knee. Santa Glaus looks like a grandfather. He reestablishes that line of descent, that link with ancestors that modernity is always breaking, that reference point from which we have cut ourselves off. The gift is a chain through time, the market a chain in space. In the modern world the dead are no longer ancestors. They are corpses. However at the moment of the great annual festival for children that is Christmas, the ancestors (or their representative) return and give presents to the children. Christmas presents may well be the first objects that a child receives from its parents as a gift. The last may be an inheritance, on the parents' death, when they have gone to join their ancestors. The first and last gift would thus come from the ancestors. In this sense they are both inheritances. And so the parents are not alone in giving. Father Christmas opens up the closed world of the modern family and reestablishes a link with the past, in time, but also unites the children in space with the rest of the universe. He takes children out of their small world, expanding the limited network to which they are ordinarily restricted. Santa Glaus joins them to the world. That is why he comes

Interpersonal Ties


from so far away, from the North Pole. (In French he is accompanied by someone who comes from further still - the Star Fairy.) Santa Glaus links the child to the universe and to the past. He brings presents from the universe and allows the parents, by his presence, to be his offspring also, to become children again just for a moment. Finally, he enables the father to be a real father, if we agree with Legendre when he says "that no father is thinkable unless he be under the aegis of the mythical Father" (1989, 142). To confirm this hypothesis, we would of course have to study the history of Father Christmas, which has not to our knowledge been done, and to interview parents and children. But we know that, in his present form, Santa Glaus comes from the United States, a society which, according to Levi-Strauss, "often seems to want to reinstate in modern civilization, attitudes and behavior characteristic of primitive societies " (1967, 65). Might that be because it is the society that has most radically rejected its ancestors, seeing itself as self-created? Here again we see the gift as part of filiation, establishing a link with the past instead of wiping the slate clean of time, as do the market and the state. INHERITANCE

Within the family network there is another gift that is clearly grounded in filiation: inheritance. Like the gift in general, inheritance has been studied very little in modern societies, except in a mercantile context or one of state redistribution of wealth. The great debate concerns the taxation of legacies as a means to reduce societal disparities. The debate applies principally to very large inheritances, those of significant economic value, and deals at least as much with the mercantile system and redistribution (and the state's problems with inequality of opportunity) as with the system of the gift. At the other extreme studies have been made, this time from an ethnological point of view, of the systems for passing on land, a gift that is also tied up in a system of onerous external material constraints. But small urban heirs, the "average heirs" who make up the majority, have rarely been looked at by researchers. Fortunately, Anne Gotman (1988) has made a sensitive study of the phenomenon in France, conducting a series of interviews with heirs. Compared to the passing on of land and great fortunes, where it is a matter of making capital yield a profit, one can do what one wants with a small inheritance. Its dispensation is not, as it were, passed on to the heir along with the inheritance itself. What can we learn when the inheritance is handed down freely, especially concerning the use to which it is put? What does an heir do with a bequest to which no strings are attached?


The Sites of the Gift

In an extreme case, to give, receive, and reciprocate may be contained in the same act, since some heirs apply their inheritance exclusively to their own children. They simply pass it on, immediately and directly giving the gift they've received to someone else (by, for example, purchasing a home for their children). Gotman goes so far as to call these heirs "witnesses": "The inheriting generation acts as a witness-generation between the generation that preceded it and the one that follows" (2,2.0). It is only a conduit. Obviously, that assumes that we are moving away from reciprocity, as this superimposition of the three sequences in the cycle signifies a kind of return-to-sender, or as Gotman would say, "request denied," vis-a-vis parents who claim that whatever gifts their children give them, they will one day get back (164). The inheritance is a perfect illustration of the gift system, in that it synthesizes the cycle's three phases. "Bound into an inheritance ... are not only those who receive it but those who pass it on," writes Marc Auge in the introduction to his book. "It is remarkable," he adds, "that the same people who have never considered themselves as heirs can be the first to concern themselves with passing an inheritance on, as though the inheritance they received can only be seen as such once it is placed in the hands of the next generation." Gotman is clear: "The deduction of a lump sum from the liquid portion of an inheritance for distribution to each of the children is a very widespread practice. As one heir aptly put it, it's a 'reflex'" (1989, 147). Here we see that element of spontaneity that is found in all varieties of gift. And we observe the priority accorded "giving" over "receiving," the importance of keeping things circulating, the subordination of goods to ties. This last phenomenon shows itself in a number of ways: in the fact that some people pass the goods on immediately, but also in all the other uses to which inheritances are put that are a departure from ordinary expenditures. One honours the spirit in which the gift has been made, one sees the acquisition as something that will "remain" in the family. Almost no one does "just anything at all" with an inheritance, in the sense of spending it without any regard for ties to the deceased individual and the family. The object's value as an embodiment of those ties determines its use value. Most often, the inheritance ends up being passed on in its turn, and often the heir tries to leave behind more than she received. She puts herself in the service of the gift received, instead of appropriating it. There is no doubt that we are dealing here with a gift-giving system. That suggests that the transmission is not open to all and explains the importance of things "not leaving the family," especially things of a personal nature. As for those who immediately pass things on to their children, Gotman claims that "to hand over what one has received is to

Interpersonal Ties


remove it from oneself while keeping it in the family ... [to] pass it on and make the chain" (1989, 148). It is to give something away without quite losing it. The inheritance is a non-circular type of gift, but it is still a way of giving back what one has received, even if the gift does not return to its source, to the same individual. This is typical of what circulates by being handed on. But to have children is also to give back what one has received from one's parents, and it is the most beautiful gift one can offer them: to "make them" grandparents. It's not really an exception to the rule of circularity for the gift, which, according to Lewis Hyde, always tends to return to its original homeland (1983, 147). To give to one's children and to one's ancestors by honouring their gift, to give downstream and upstream, in a way balances out, is symmetrical. This "rectilinear circularity" cannot be set forth in a diagram, but it is no less real for all that. And What of Squandering?11 There are, of course, those who squander their inheritance, the exception that confirms the rule, as to squander means to withdraw from the system. Squanderers and squandering are realities that exist in both familial and mercantile succession. Capital is squandered: it is not profitably invested. If we look at such behaviour in the light of the gift, of the cycle "give-receive-reciprocate," the squanderer is someone who stops at the second stage. He suffers from a kind of indigestion, having received too much, and finds himself unable to do what is normally done in a mercantile context - which is to continue to receive even more, to use one's capital, to have it bear fruit - or, in a familial context, to give in one's turn, to pass on. And so he leaves no inheritance to anyone, he exits the circuit, he strips it of all its value: no market value, no use value, no bonding value. The squanderer, like his opposite number, the miser, is unable to circulate things through their " normal" circuit, the circuit through which he received them. The miser keeps them to himself, the spendthrift expels them from the circuit where he finds himself and within which they were supposed to circulate. The miser hoards money, the only element in the mercantile system that is supposed to circulate continuously and is never, unlike everything else, supposed to be consumed. In the gift system, of course, things circulate forever, through being passed on. We should remind ourselves, however, that often a bit of squandering goes along with the gift, a bit of excess, of folly, a superfluity that keeps the object's utility or exchange value at arm's length. It is this excess that indicates something is circulating as a gift. Gift wrapping is a striking example. In the context of a gift destruction is not necessarily


The Sites of the Gift

called squandering but can represent the supplement that accompanies any gift and sustains the relationship in question; in this it resembles the potlatch, which is seen as squandering only by Western society, which assesses it according to the standards of the mercantile model. With potlatch, objects are removed from the mercantile circuit, which is why it was prohibited by the Canadian government: "The potlatch was attacked by the Canadian authorities as being wasteful and destructive of moral and economic initiative, in other words as standing in the way of development and modernization" (Belshaw 1965, zi). There is no squandering in the potlatch because things remain in the circuit, they have meaning within their own network, even when they are being destroyed. But when the squandering occurs on its own, not as an accompaniment to the gift, it is tantamount to a gift that is being made to no one and thus is unable to enter into the network of the gift. It is a gift that has strayed from its source in the network in such a way as to cut itself off. To squander one's capital is also to reverse the normal role of capital, which is to be productive, to receive. To escape this one squanders, gives to "no one" or to chance (gambling), and so explodes the closed logic of "receiving." Or one squanders to show that it's the ties that count rather than the goods involved. There are many examples, but in each case the squandering is likely a perversion 11 ofofdisinterestedness.11of disinterestedness.12 disinterestedness. When we ask a squanderer why he does what he does he often talks about the gifts he has made for which he has not received any thanks, a gratification he might have expected. It's not a matter of reciprocity, but of gratitude. Either he has given more or less out of necessity, without the gesture really having been his own, or he has tried to "buy" friends, or even just company, or he has given to someone who didn't "deserve" it, and so on. In other words, squandering is a gift that is lost, even as a gift. THE F A M I L Y : A SYSTEM OF D E B T S

The thesis according to which family ties - like personal relationships in general - have been increasingly reduced to matters of feeling, while losing their other capacities for exchange, has been invalidated by all studies done on the family. There is definitely more circulating within a family, nuclear and extended, than feelings. The useful, the necessary, the spontaneous, the ritualized, mix joyously (or dramatically) in a web of inextricable ties that constitute a debt system we can neither get rid of, nor reduce to its utilitarian aspects. At the other extreme, exchange within the family can't be seen just as sharing, as the residue of a communal model where individuals are not autonomous. Today's family is

Interpersonal Ties


made up of individuals. And in that context sharing appears as one guise of the gift in that it involves a voluntary renunciation of objects, which is the fundamental phenomenological experience of gift-giving. Although this experience takes different forms, it is at the heart of the modern gift. Monetary values are superseded by the value of the ties involved, in an experience where the extent of personal involvement has value. The mercantile value is sometimes taken into consideration, the use value is often considered, but the value of the bond is always considered. With the family at the core of the gift, it is not surprising that it houses the most negative, perverse embodiments of the gift, that it is home to the poisoned gift. It is even possible that most psychological problems are reflected in gift behaviour. Psychoanalysis has paid special attention to deviant gifts, and literature provides us with many examples of such gifts, especially between parents and children and involving gifts whose purpose is to stand in the way of an individual's achieving autonomy, to bind a son to his mother, etc.13 Since the gift touches on what is most crucial to social ties, it is necessarily influenced by the health of interpersonal relationships. While recognizing the importance of these problems, this is not the side of the family gift that interests us. Our concern is not with how the gift is treated in a neurotic relationship but rather with how it works in a "normal," everyday relationship and what role it plays. We may also ask ourselves whether, as a consequence of dealing with cases involving "deviant" gifts, psychoanalytical literature has sometimes introduced a bias against the gift, suggesting that everyone should free themself from the gift and equating the achievement of autonomy with emancipation from the debt owed to parents. Although by a totally different path, this psychological approach reaches the same conclusion as the mercantile conception of the gift, which sees it as a debt which must be paid off if one wants to be free. It's easy, working from the analysis of pathological cases alone, to derive a false notion of the normal functioning of the gift; just as utilitarian sociologists have done in extrapolating from the disintegration of a couple and the "settling of accounts" that ensues to the partners' entire past life together. Some psychologists have tried to devise a family therapy based in part on the reestablishment of a "normal" gift-giving relationship. Thus according to Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and Barbara Krasner (i99i), 14 we are expected to give as much as possible to the newborn child without expecting anything in return, but bit by bit the situation reverses itself and is inscribed in the great balance sheet of every family. Such an approach produces a therapy that gives priority to the family network (contextual therapy) and to ethical values. But it is still


jo The Sit

grounded in the idea of a balancing of accounts and of a debt that must be discharged. We believe, to the contrary, that if paying off a debt represents an important avenue to liberation, as asserted by Salem (1990, 64), it is not the only way to achieve this. Liberation may also be achieved through a voluntary state of indebtedness. Such liberation will not be crisis-free, and the balancing of accounts will still play a role, but not a crucial one. As the Swiss psychoanalyst Charles Odier suggested as early as the 19405, we must proceed with a "de-accounting" where individual relationships are concerned (quoted by Salem 1990, 68). In other words, there exists a gift-giving state which is a state of indebtedness that is the inverse of "accountism." In that state, all partners are convinced that they owe a great deal to the other, something that is, of course, mathematically impossible. This does not rule out, however, an occasional recourse to balancing accounts, a possibility always hovering in the wings. The circulation of the gift in the domestic sphere constitutes an enormous field of research, as we hope is clear from this chapter. There are four different levels where the gift is active in this sector that lend themselves to analysis. i The world of emotional exchange and support. This is the foundation that shores up the rest of the structure but that cannot be isolated, like a jewel untouched by utilitarian dross. 2, Services rendered. This includes the numerous day-to-day acts, requested or not, that benefit another member of the network. 3 Gifts of transmission that link generations. These gifts are inscribed in an endless chain and draw attention to the fundamentally unreciprocal nature of the gift. 4 Ritual gifts. These are presents, follies, extravagances beyond the call of duty, beyond what is useful, beyond the requirements of the ritual itself. The ritual, however, tends to include the element of surprise in its own procedures, so that we are constantly toying with the ritual even as we follow it.


When the State Supplants the Gift

The world of the market has never pretended to have any affinity with the world of the gift. Assuming that each player enters into a relationship solely to further his or her material interests, the mercantile ideology defends the right to silently terminate a relationship as soon as the benefits derived from it are no longer deemed satisfactory. This possibility of exit, given prominence by Hirschman (1970), constitutes the model to which most consumers conform. If we can believe a poll taken by the U.S. Education Foundation in 1991, 96 percent of unsatisfied clients do not complain, although 90 percent choose not to continue purchasing from the same supplier.1 Such silence is not the case with the state, a world where everyone has a say and whose historical status relative to the gift is very different from that of the marketplace. One might even contend that here the situation is reversed - where the mercantile system is the opposite of the gift, the development of the welfare state has often been cited as a happy substitute for the gift, one which limits injustice and restores dignity, unlike earlier systems of redistribution grounded in charity. The state does not reject altruism, as does the market system; instead it shares, organizes, and distributes in the name of solidarity between society members, a solidarity more widespread than that of primary networks and more fair than that of private charities. In modern society, a significant proportion of goods and services in circulation come to us through the channels of the state, via the public sphere. How do these state channels relate to those of the gift? Many services that were once provided through charity or personal ties are now available through the state and its systems of redistribution. Some wellknown authors go so far as to assert that this apparatus can take the place of the gift in modern society as traditional forms of the gift become increasingly residual. Marcel Mauss himself, while recognizing


The Sites of the Gift

the importance of the gift in any society, believed that in the Western world the gift occurs predominantly in the form of state redistribution, social security is in some sense the modern extension of the archaic gift, and other manifestations of the gift are sure to be supplanted by mixed forms of circulation where state activity, in one form or another, will overlay the traditional gift. State redistribution would thus represent the final form of the gift today and in the future. Taxes replace the gift. In any case, that seems to be what goes through our minds when, solicited by an organization to donate to a cause, we reply, "Don't you think with all the taxes I pay that I've already given enough?" Taking Mauss's reflections a step further, Richard Titmuss (1972.), in a book on blood donation, contends that state intervention stimulates altruism in the general populace because it promotes solidarity among strangers, and that this is a superior manifestation of the gift that does not exist in archaic societies. He takes the donation of blood to embody and demonstrate his thesis. Without denying the importance of forms of giving that involve both the gift and the state, we will take the position that • even if the state is often closely intertwined with the gift, it does not belong to the same world, but to a sphere based on quite different principles; • not only does the state not belong to the same sector as the gift, but it can often have a negative impact on the gift. We will begin our analysis of the connection between the gift and the state with a consideration of Titmuss's thesis on blood donation. THE GIFT OF BLOOD

Titmuss's point of departure is our relationship with people we do not know, which he analyses through the medium of blood donation. This is a contemporary gift if there ever was one, since, like organ donation, it didn't exist when Mauss wrote his book. It is also contemporary in a more significant way because, unlike organ donation, blood donation is commercialized in a number of societies. But, where this new "product" is concerned, many countries opt for donations rather than the market and the transmission from donor to recipient is managed by the state in collaboration with the Red Cross. Not only do people donate blood to those they do not know, but it's entirely possible that in many cases "both givers and recipients might, if they were known to each other, refuse to participate in the process on religious, ethnic, political or other grounds" (Titmuss 1972., 74). In

When the State Supplants the Gift


France this anonymity has been strengthened, as it is required by law and is one of the three basic principles on which the French system is based, the other two being voluntarism and the absence of profit. Parents are forbidden to give blood to their children, and relatives to other members of the family, which has created considerable controversy at a time when there is fear of contamination. We are very far here from a communal type of relationship, since it is often because of its anonymity that a donation is accepted - it is this cultivated ignorance that makes the transfer between donor and recipient feasible. Can we imagine a procedure more foreign to that primary bond most authors have considered to be an essential component of the gift? Or more removed from the usual descriptions of the gift in archaic societies, as Titmuss himself has made clear: "Unlike gift-exchange in traditional societies, there is in the free gift of blood to unnamed strangers no contract of custom, no legal bond, no functional determinism, no situations of discriminatory power, domination, constraint or compulsion, no sense of shame or guilt, no gratitude imperative and no need for the penitence of a Chrysostom" (2,39).2 The giving of blood has the virtue of calling into question the generally accepted relationship between the gift and social ties, such as the fact, pointed out by Hyde (1983) and Sahlins (1976), that the gift circulates through community channels, that it presupposes social proximity, primary sociality, etc. A blood donation is unilateral in that it cannot be returned and so, according to Sahlins, ought to belong to the type of gift made only to those close to us, to familiars. But it is made to strangers. This observation also underlies Titmuss's thinking. Let us go further. Like organ donation, the donation of blood is overseen by a number of paid intermediaries associated with the public system and the blood reaches the recipient thanks to this organization, along with other products, such as serum, that are destined for patients and contribute to their care. For the recipient, blood is one element in an anonymous circulation network between strangers. At any rate we can make that hypothesis, although Titmuss is silent on this point. He deals with the recipients as an economist would - abstractly (in terms of the "demand" for blood, the number of litres, etc.), even though the title of his book is The Gift Relationship. He does note, however, that in such a context there is no expression of gratitude on the part of the recipient (74). Blood is not received as a gift but as merchandise, or as something to which one has a right as a citizen. Gratitude plays no part. Finally, only in the immediate vicinity of the donor, when the blood is given to the first intermediary, do we find some evidence of the gift: the Red Cross survives on donations, it is an organization that is neither of the state nor the marketplace, and it consists partly of volunteers. For


The Sites of the Gift

there to be a small element of the gift in the system, it is no doubt essential that the blood be collected by such an organization. In a way, the gift of blood is a gift that is not received. If we look at the "normal" cycle of give-receive-reciprocate, the donation of blood is part of only the first phase. Because blood is not received as a gift, the gift is not reciprocated, and in any case it is not donated with reciprocation in mind. Donors' motivations are primarily moral in nature (239). They even hope never to be in need of reciprocation. But they are certain that others will do the same thing for them if one day it should become necessary. It is important, however, for the donor to know that donated blood is being given, and not sold, to the recipient, even if commercial transactions may intervene and the path the blood takes is not part of a gift system. Some businesses exploit the situation by incorporating the donation into a mixed system whose morality is dubious. Thus in Brazil a company collects blood to treat hemophiliacs free of charge. At least that's what it claims. And that is also what it does, but only in part, because the quantity of blood collected is so great that a large proportion - the surplus - is sold for other ends. The system would collapse if the donors learned the truth. The donation of blood is the quintessential unilateral gift. And for good reason, one is tempted to add, because the gift is dangerous. It transmits illness and can easily be a poisoned gift. At first it was hepatitis B that was contracted through blood transfusion. Today it is AIDS that increasingly instils fear. In the United States the number of people who "donate" blood to themselves, who place it in reserve in a personalized blood bank, is on the rise. In blood donation we are dealing with a borderline case. We might even wonder why we should consider this act a gift. Neither Mauss (there is no obligation to reciprocate, and reciprocation is the point of departure for his thinking), nor Hyde, nor Sahlins, if they applied their own definitions strictly, would be able to include it. Only one aspect of the gift remains: the voluntary and disinterested act on the part of the donor, who sees donating not as an obligation to the state, nor as a business transaction, but as a gift. Once the gift has been made and the blood handed on by the Red Cross, which is the first recipient, it then becomes a product much like any other. Yet that little discrepancy at the beginning is enough for Titmuss to make an important distinction between this system and the mercantile system based on purchased blood. It is the major conclusion of his study, following comparison of the English voluntary system and the commercial American system: according to him, whatever economic or administrative criteria are used, the system where blood comes from a

When the State Supplants the Gift


donor rather than a seller is superior. Titmuss asserts that the danger of transmitting infectious diseases is smaller if the blood is donated. It is therefore a more secure system for the recipient. But it is better for the donor as well, given the abuses that occur when blood is paid for. Titmuss concludes, after a systematic comparison of the two systems (quantity of blood, its quality, loss and waste in the course of the many professional and administrative manipulations, costs), that "on all four criteria" - economic efficiency; administrative efficiency; cost per unit to the patient; and purity, potency, and safety, or quality per unit "the commercialized blood market fails" (1972., 205). Thus when a system of money-for-blood is introduced the effect is to lower the overall quantity of blood available, because many former donors, feeling they have been "taken advantage of," stop contributing, and the number of donors who stop giving is higher than the number of "sellers" who emerge. And so the "consumer" loses out according to all the usual economic criteria, including the freedom of choice between donated blood or sold, since the quantity of donated blood diminishes.3 This tiny initial difference between the two systems, with a donor at the start of the chain giving to a charitable organization, causes changes that resonate all along the chain, even if the awareness of the gift is lost to the subsequent players, even if the blood circulates through channels and links where the gift is absent. It is as if the spirit of the gift instilled at the beginning is able to circulate even when it is absent in all the other participants, including the ultimate beneficiary. The least we can say, twenty years after Titmuss's study, and bearing in mind the "blood scandal" in France and elsewhere, is that this spirit of the gift is not always present in the system. In her book on the subject of blood donation in France, L'Affaire du sang, Anne-Marie Casteret shows that the donor's spirit, present at the start of the chain, was perverted by state intermediaries, and that in this instance the giftgiving system turned out to be less effective than that of the mercantile system. If Titmuss had applied his analysis to a comparison not of the American and English systems but of the American system and that of France in the 19805, his conclusions might very well have been the opposite of what they were. The French system, based on the gift and the absence of profit and very costly to run, contributed, with the complete knowledge of those responsible, to rendering hundreds of hemophiliacs seropositive by furnishing contaminated blood products, while "the private firms, for fear of legal action, did not wait for official orders before applying preventive measures" (Casteret 1992., 2,2,9) and destroying large quantities of suspect products. What did Titmuss conclude from his analysis of this modern gift, the donation of blood? On the one hand, that a system based on the gift is


The Sites of the Gift

superior to the market, an opinion that we would today have to modify; on the other hand, that this system is also fundamentally different from the archaic gift because it is voluntary, carries with it no obligation to reciprocate, and is made to a stranger. Titmuss adds that these features are typical of those that are found in the public sphere, which, unlike the market, tends to disseminate the spirit of the gift throughout society as state solidarity and the gift reinforce and supplement one another. Comparing the United States to England, where blood donation is controlled exclusively by a mixed system that combines the gift and the public sphere, he concludes that the existence of the National Health Service encourages altruism while the American system inhibits it. By initiating the gift to "strangers," the state encourages the rest of society to follow its example (2.2,5-6). That is why, according to him, the more a society enhances its standard of living, the more it will shift from the sale of blood to blood donation as the dominant form of transmission. Although it is generally assumed that gift-giving is an archaic system and the marketplace embodies the future, where blood is concerned Titmuss takes an entirely opposite tack. Why? Because what is most important to him is that, with blood, we are offering a gift to strangers. "As giving comes to embrace the stranger, [it] will bring about a shift in values to more and wider acts of altruism in gift relations." The possibility of giving to strangers is typical of the modern gift and is encouraged by the state and by the public control of blood donation, which allows "ordinary people to articulate giving in morally practical terms outside their own network of family and personal relationships" (2,2,6). Titmuss admits that this theory is contradicted in part by what is happening in industrialized countries. Where the social role of the state is most central (Sweden, the USSR), blood tends to be sold (186-7). As well, the performance of the welfare state over the last decades does not bear out Titmuss's conclusions, as shown dramatically by the blood scandal in France. What makes the donation of blood different from what occurs in the marketplace, and to what degree are the different results due to the presence of the state ? Before answering this question, let us look at what happens when the role of the state increases. THE P E R V E R S I O N OF THE GIFT BY THE STATE

Blood donation is an individual act whose resulting "product" is managed by the state or by a professional organization that transmits it to the recipient. Titmuss's conclusions are based on an analysis of this act. This procedure is not, however, typical of the way the public system interacts with the gift. In the area of social services, for example, the

When the State Supplants the Gift


state constantly collaborates with the networks of the primary sector, such as the family or volunteer organizations. In the last instance, the state can either appeal directly to these volunteers or work through the associations to which they contribute their efforts. This is the case in the health and social sector and in most areas of state redistribution of goods that involve more than a simple financial transfer. According to the terminology now widely employed, the state and these organizations are "coproducers" of services to citizens, to the sick, to "beneficiaries." "At all levels of government, volunteers are prevalent in the delivery of services" (Brudney 1990, 4). And contrary to what one might have believed not long ago, studies show a significant growth in volunteer participation over the last decade (ibid.). Relationships between the public sector and primary networks such as the family continue to be important. Even if services once rendered through personal ties are now partly taken care of by the state, personal bonds are obviously far from having disappeared. Whether it likes it or not, and often without being aware of it, the state is in partnership with a gift system (as embodied in intra- and inter-generational family support, neighbourliness, friendship, and the many and varied forms of help and mutual aid in every sector) almost every time it takes its services directly to its citizens - at least outside those institutional installations that are cut off from society. And even within such institutions we often find charitable organizations offering essential services (especially in those havens for the terminally ill that have recently been set up). It has also become increasingly clear that altruistic values are indispensable for the functioning of such institutions. The gift plays an important role for many employees, particularly those who are in direct contact with the clientele - those at the far end of the chain of intermediaries that begins with the tax collector. Even if the services are provided by paid employees as part of a citizen's rights within the society, many employees supplement these right-driven services with services which are more closely related to those in the gift network. This is contrary to what happens with the donation of blood, in that the gift here is found not at the beginning of the chain but at the end, where money, raised through taxation, is transformed into services. It should not be forgotten that for a long time, prior to professionalization, altruism was the dominant cast of mind for employees in the public sector. Aline Charles (1990, especially i39ff.) gives an excellent description of the confrontation between altruism and professionalism in a Montreal children's hospital. In the beginning volunteer work was the ideal and the volunteers defined the objectives to which even the salaried employees had to conform. With the increase in professionalism, a reversal took place: volunteer work was regarded as incompetent


The Sites of the Gift

and in the end was subordinated to professional needs and, more generally, to the work of salaried employees. As Charles shows, this evolution took place in the context of a wider devaluing of women's domestic competence compared to the competence associated with higher education. Despite this change, a well-rendered service almost always presupposes an unplanned-for supplement stemming from the logic of the gift, because a service is not a product (Gadrey 1991). We are touching here on an important limitation to a professional approach that is increasingly based on technical knowledge and bureaucratic protocol. This is why the idea of public service remains crucial to a system's functioning well; such service is "awakened," or "activated," through contact with community organizations. The cohabitation of the two models is not easy, as the spirit of the gift conflicts with the egalitarian principle that plays the same role in the state system as that of equivalence in the marketplace. For the gift is grounded in a different principle. It abhors accounting, which puts it at odds both with the public principle of equality and the mercantile principle of equivalence. During the golden age of the welfare state, the state apparatus tended to deny the reality of the gift or to regard it as residual or bound to disappear. It was believed that all traditional forms of services would be replaced by the state. In Quebec, government documents predicted that by the year 2.000 all the elderly would be cared for in institutions. This was presented as a goal to be achieved and an ideal situation! The economic crisis made the welfare state much more moderate in its goals, not only in terms of the scope of the role it would play but also in the relative quality and desirability of its interventions. Today it is freely acknowledged that there is a real need for all those networks that have been dubbed "informal." This need is not just financial in nature; it is not just a question of "saving money," as is often claimed. It is also linked to the difference between the quality of services rendered by the state and those rendered by volunteer organizations of all sorts. But even if the state recognizes the contribution of the volunteer sector, and even if it acknowledges the presence of the gift within its own workings, that doesn't mean that its own activities follow the same logic as those social networks with which it is collaborating. When we look at this partnership more closely (Godbout and Leduc 1987), it becomes obvious that the two systems do not function according to the same principles. For example, we often see how hard it is for volunteer associations to maintain the same relationship with their "clients" when they enter into collaboration with the public sector. A public institution in Montreal asked an association that helps out the elderly (home visits, accompanying them to doctors, etc.) to work with it in

When the State Supplants the Gift


providing services. The state institution gave the voluntary association a list of its clients and asked it to provide the people on the list with the same services it provides for its members. After a few trials, the association president refused to carry on: "Let them take care of their clients; we have our own old people," she says. "I'm not going to work for their clients, but for my members I would do anything; they're like my children." It appears that the fact that an elderly person had been referred by a public institution, that she or he had chosen that avenue to obtain a service from the association, prevented a certain tie from being forged. That doesn't always happen of course, but such examples are common enough for the phenomenon to be remarked on and to call attention to the existence of two separate models. Having been identified by a public institution as a client, and having been presented as such to the voluntary association, makes it more difficult to set aside matters of law and establish a relationship based on the gift. A similar phenomenon sometimes occurs when a public institution, in an attempt to get closer to a particular community, employs local residents. Instead of having the desired effect of promoting a better relationship between the institution and the community, this strategy often transforms those who have been hired into strangers in their own community, which no longer acknowledges them as its own, at least not in their role as employees. Finally, the blood scandal in France is a spectacular illustration of how the public system can come to neglect the interests of its clientele even more seriously than the marketplace does. TAXES ARE NOT


State involvement always tends to transform a disinterested act into unpaid work, thus altering its meaning and bringing about the social deconstruction of the gift by including it in a model of monetary equivalence. Contrary to what Titmuss implies, the state taking over social programs - while still desirable for other reasons, including fairness does not necessarily shape people or reinforce an individual's "altruistic tendencies." It can actually shatter the gift-giving network and encourage individualistic or technocratic behavior, as was true in the blood scandal, where the initial gift-giving act was perverted by intermediaries. At the very least, it is clear that the state system is not a system of the gift. What is more, unlike what Mauss seems to believe and Titmuss certainly does, the state system and the system of the gift are not "naturally" complementary. It should be noted that the state fulfils its redistributive role in two very different ways.


The Sites of the Gift

• Through monetary transfers, direct or indirect. It does this on its own, in a context where it functions as an anonymous intermediary, as anonymous as money itself, and totally divorced from social connections. • Through services. The state has increasingly become a direct dispenser not of money but of services: social services, health services, various kinds of support services. In doing so it supplants systems of personal ties where gift or reciprocity play a prominent role (within families, among neighbours, etc.). At the outset, the state liberates the gift. Thanks to transfer payments such as old age pensions and public services such as home visits, it assumes responsibilities that free the members of primary networks from their obligations. But this positive effect can quickly go sour when the state is no longer content just to transfer money and assumes the role of dispensing services. It then often seeks either to supplant the primary networks or to make use of them in order to achieve its objectives. Let us not forget that, unlike the marketplace, the state may legitimately define collective needs, but it is much more difficult for it than for the market to recognize individual preferences. It therefore has a doubly "good" reason to constantly strive to define people's "real" needs in their stead. It is often easier for the state to convince individuals that they need only what it can provide than it is for it to develop mechanisms to recognize individual needs. That is why many organizations founded on the gift opt for minimal contacts with the state. We can now return to Titmuss's conclusion, which, based on his analysis of blood donation, presents the state as a champion of the gift. We have seen that all that distinguishes the gift-giving blood system from the system of blood-for-sale is the initial act: the free and disinterested donation of blood by an individual. The state, however, has evolved in a completely different way. The beginnings of the modern state consisted in the transition "from the gift to taxes," to quote Alain Guery (1983). The welfare state built on this trend by replacing giftgiving systems (charity or personal donations) with social security, moving from a gift system to one of rights. All the resources that move through state channels got there through constraint (to some extent freely consented to in democratic societies where, to cite the well-known formula, there is "no taxation without representation"). But this is the exact opposite of a voluntary gift - a gift that's imposed is not a gift. Blood donation, therefore, is not an example of the way the state normally functions but an isolated case outside the state system. It is thanks to a donation made to a non-profit organization, the Red Cross, that the system can boast features that set it a cut above the distribution

When the State Supplants the Gift


system for commercialized blood. It is not thanks to the state. It is interesting, in this regard, to note the shift in vocabulary that has taken place among employees in the public service. They no longer talk about "rendering" services, but rather about "dispensing" them, which shows that their connection with the circuit of the gift has been severed. If they are no longer "rendering," or giving back, then they have withdrawn from the continuum "give-receive-reciprocate." They have not given the services, they dispense them, and their agents "receive" a salary in exchange but no counter-gift. The very fact of having broken with this vocabulary signals a retreat from the three moments that define any giftgiving chain. It is important to retain Titmuss's basic idea that a gift to strangers is what is special about the modern gift, but to attribute this act to the state seems inexact. The state establishes relationships between strangers that are different from those in the marketplace, but they are also different from those of the gift. Although recognizing this does not disprove Titmuss's assertion, it does force us to make certain distinctions and to question to what degree the welfare state can intervene in the logic of the gift without subverting it. The establishment of connections between strangers through the medium of the state can easily have perverse consequences if it is not done in concert with social networks, and if it is not "in phase" with them. That is what we have learned from the crisis of the welfare state: state solidarity is limited by the fact that the state puts in place a different type of circulation, characterized by increased use of intermediaries. Situated beyond the ken of the gift system, the intermediaries tend to promote their own system, their own values, rather than those of the citizens as conveyed through their elected officials. In the gift system, even if it's a matter of relations between strangers, there is still a tendency to personalize the contact, at least symbolically, and to make the stranger less unknown, a logic that is utterly opposed to that of the state. The state system tends to make decisions independent of personal relations and characteristics, on the basis of abstract criteria derived from rights. As a result, the intermediaries impose their logic on both donor and recipient, who become at one extremity the "taxpayer," and at the other the "client," each with their particular rights. Between the two is a series of intermediaries on whom the principle of the gift has no hold. Let us review the reasons for which circulation under the aegis of the state cannot be considered a gift-giving system. The gift is part of a voluntary system, while the state operates on the basis of obligatory levies from its citizens - taxes that are imposed - and interacts with these citizens on the basis of laws - regulations and preestablished norms -


The Sites of the Gift

whose aims and objectives are to treat everyone under their jurisdiction in the same manner. The state abhors differences, which are seen as a potential source of inequality and subjective preference. The gift, on the other hand, thrives on such things: affinities and privileged and personalized ties that are not only proper to personal relationships but also underlie the functioning of organizations grounded in the principle of the gift. Even where strangers are involved, the gift is part of a system of circulation that operates on the basis of what is implicit in the social ties themselves, while circulation by the state takes place in a system divorced from individuals and their relationships. Citizens are only found at the beginning, where they are taxpayers, and at the end, where they are beneficiaries, and in both cases they are, as far as possible, stripped of their identifying features. Differences, which constitute the major source of energy and dynamism for the gift, make the state uncomfortable. In his analysis of blood donation, Titmuss confused the system of the gift with that of the state. Like Mauss,4 he thought that modern social security was the equivalent of archaic gift systems. But even if these collective systems of insurance, public or private, perform the functions reserved in other societies for the gift, we cannot therefore say that the two systems are based on the same principles, nor that they are naturally complementary. In the transition from the gift to taxes or social insurance we have lost an important element of the gift in which a donor risks an act whose reciprocation is never guaranteed. THE GIFT TO STRANGERS

Not all relationships between strangers are conditioned by the marketplace. There are also gifts between strangers, people unknown to each other.5 The donation of blood is one example, as we have seen, but so are exchanges governed by the laws of hospitality, donations made by the public at times of natural catastrophe (such as earthquakes), charitable donations, some forms of volunteer work, etc. These forms of circulation of goods and services operate outside the marketplace and independent of state redistribution; in other words they are completely voluntary and spontaneous. It might even be claimed that their importance in today's society is so great - and it is increasing - that they can be considered emblematic of that society. The quantity of goods and services that circulates between strangers on a voluntary basis, far from being a vestige of traditional societies, is a distinctly modern phenomenon. We agree with Titmuss that such gift-giving concerns relationships between strangers and so no longer belongs to the domestic world, the

When the State Supplants the Gift


marketplace, or the state. The gift to strangers is quintessentially modern, a fourth sector between the state and the private domain, which conforms to the principles of the gift at least in part and enables "ordinary people to articulate giving in morally practical terms outside their own network of family and personal relationships" (Titmuss 1972., 2,2,6). At the time Titmuss wrote, before the consolidation of the welfare state, he could not see that state solidarity created a different system which operates alongside those of the gift and the marketplace. By comparing the gift only to the market, he was able to argue that social security, as a circulatory mechanism distinct from that of the market, could be a substitute for the archaic gift and embody the gift's specifically modern form. His thinking reflected that in Western democracies during the thirty glorious years when we set out to replace every gift system with public institutions that symbolized progress. But without dismissing the possibility of a relationship between state redistribution and the gift, it is important to make clear that they are two separate systems, that the state also has much in common with the market, and that the state system often destroys the system of the gift. Although it does not go about this destruction in the same way as the market, it is just as effective. Karl Polanyi is one of the few authors to have recognized the difference between the gift and the state system, and made this distinction as early as 1945 in his book The Great Transformation. There he deals primarily with the effects of the market and of contractual freedom on primary ties: the principle of freedom of contract "meant that the noncontractual organizations of kinship, neighborhood, profession, and creed were to be liquidated since they claimed the allegiance of the individual and thus restrained his freedom" (1957, 163). But Polanyi also warns against the negative consequences of the welfare state's taking the place of these alliances: "Any decent individual could imagine himself free from all responsibility for acts of compulsion on the part of a State which he, personally, rejected; or for economic suffering in society from which he, personally, had not benefited. He was 'paying his way,' was 'in nobody's debt " (2,58, italics added). To owe nothing to anyone, to be able to walk away from a social bond and discharge an obligation just as you change tradesmen when you're not satisfied - this capacity for exit, analysed by Hirschman, is the defining feature of modern freedom as embodied in the market and echoed by the welfare state. The state has at least as much affinity with the market as with the gift and is virtually equidistant from them (Godbout 1987). Even if the state, as Polanyi recognizes, fulfils functions that were previously the responsibility of gift systems, its actors are strangers and intermediaries play a crucial role. The state does not


The Sites of the Gift

obey the logic of either the marketplace or the gift and truly consistitutes a third system. Simmel has written at length about systems that "create certain relationships between people, but leave the people on the outside" (1987, 373). This type of bond negates the system of the gift, but it is typical of monetary exchange and bureaucratic relations. The state, however necessary it may be, does not represent the future of the modern gift. This future is elsewhere. Polanyi distinguishes between three systems of circulation: the market, redistribution, and reciprocity. This is also our point of departure. But we believe that these three categories are not enough, that another sphere specific to modern society, the gift to strangers, is not part of the market, the state, or the domestic world. At one extreme it resembles the state (employee organizations, etc.) and is often absorbed by it in the end; at the other it resembles the domestic sphere without really belonging to it (in the case of groups formed to provide of mutual aid). Before exploring the mercantile world, let us take a closer look at the gift between strangers.


The Gift Between Strangers

We now look at a sector specific to the modern gift. Its outlines are not clearly defined and at one extreme it blends into the state. Where the welfare state does more than just transfer money, its redistributive function draws constantly on both this sector and the domestic sphere. At the other extreme the sector connects with personal relationships and the domestic sphere. It is not always completely autonomous and independent of the market or the state and its organizations are often financed in whole or in part by the state or the mercantile sector. But its organizations are still distinctive: the gift is at the centre of such circulation of goods and services. Although some of the obligations of this sector have been taken over by the market and the state, it and the institutions that compose it have not disappeared, as had been predicted. Some institutions, such as the churches, have capitalized on the "time saved" and modified their practices (Turcot 1990). Other associations, such as unions, have actually come into being to challenge the negative impact of the market and the state. The world of the gift to strangers is extremely rich and varied. It is colourful, dynamic, and often discreet, although it has become increasingly visible in recent years. It is largely a world of women, although more and more men are turning up in it. All indications are that it is growing in importance. In 1988 in the United States about 80 million people donated their time to a volunteer organization, working an amount of time estimated to be the equivalent to 8.8 million full-time employees (Brudney 1990, 2.). In 1987 in Canada 2.J percent of the population claimed to have participated in "organized volunteer activity" with recognized organizations. These associations provide a significant proportion of personal services, with their terrain bordered on one side by the state and on the other by social networks associated with the family, neighbours, and friends.


The Sites of the Gift

This sector hews to the spirit of the gift insofar as the founding of these associations is a voluntary act and their members are not interested in profit. But many associations which begin this way soon drift away from it and draw close to the state and the market in their ways of working. They become institutions that obey the logic of a salarial relationship and the "iron law of oligarchy" described by Robert Michels (1914) in his celebrated study of the German SocialDemocratic Party. Such organizations are not the primary focus of this chapter, which deals with institutions founded on the principle of the gift. In North America these are commonly referred to as "community organizations." Within this vast complex, we are particularly interested in associations whose services are provided by people who are not paid for that work. This definition does not rule out a small, paid administrative staff, but the staff is not responsible for providing the service itself. That criterion is not absolute - some associations whose members are paid a small sum also belong to this sphere. But it remains the best gauge when we want to distinguish between organizations that function in conformity with the system of the gift and those closer to the mercantile or state system. As well, the same association can assume different forms in the course of its history, and a number that started out as gift systems have evolved into a mercantile or state system. Many charitable organizations are actually professional organizations working in the new industry of the gift. A portion of their activities has been taken over by the mercantile or professional system, by what Guy Nicolas calls the charitable or philanthropic marketplace, which "provides the new managerial class with opportunities for expansion" (1991). But that is not inevitable, as is shown by the example of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Having excluded associations based on a salarial relationship, must we include all organizations whose services are provided by their members, including the countless leisure associations such as those for rod and reel fishermen and other sports enthusiasts? The non-remuneration of members cannot be the only criterion for this sector. A number of authors1 have devised typologies classifying associations in terms of their size, their aims, the way they are run, etc. It is useful here to consider whether organizations are instrumental or expressive. An instrumental association has a goal that goes beyond itself; it has a social role to play, it is open to the outside world. By contrast, expressive associations are only interested in satisfying their own members and are closed in on themselves. This typology enables us to distinguish between organizations founded on reciprocity and those founded on the gift. Sports clubs fall into the first category, self-help groups into the second. Both

The Gift between Strangers


types of associations are autonomous, free, establish their own rules and norms, and are not governed by the split between producer and user that accompanies salaried work. But their objectives are different, and that affects the way they function. So we must add a second criterion to that of the non-remuneration of people who render a service: the association must also, in its objectives, demonstrate that it is open to other people besides its members, or its primary nucleus. Thus AA is governed by the principle of reciprocity but is open to others. Once its members are "cured," they must pass on to others what they themselves have received by helping another alcoholic. They must become part of a gift-giving chain that is not binary or symmetrical, as reciprocity is commonly defined. AA is an "instrumental" rather than an "expressive" organization. Given these two criteria, we can distinguish two different models within this sphere. • Benevolent organizations, those founded on volunteer work, that provide a service with no expectation of reciprocity. There is a sense of good will, of a free act, voluntary and ultimately disinterested, that makes the working methods of these organizations distinct from those of the marketplace. • Organizations of mutual support, founded on reciprocity, but open and inclusive rather than selective. In both cases the service is provided directly by the members and not by a staff, and the organizations are open to the outside world, even if reciprocity is required in the second category. These two types of organizations represent about a third of the associations involved in gifts between strangers. What role does the gift play in these associations? How do they differ from the state and the market? Before dealing with charitable organizations, let us take a look at one association that offers mutual support. SELF-HELP GROUPS: ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

Self-help groups are generally low-profile and are ignored by the market and the state. The state is much more interested in charities than in such groups, often for reasons of immediate self-interest as they provide services which the state would otherwise have to provide. Thus the Canadian government, which in 1987 completed an ambitious survey of the parallel sector, paid no attention to self-help groups. Because such groups do not approach the media to solicit funds or to seek support for government grants, they are usually not reported on.


The Sites of the Gift

And other community associations, particularly those that depart from the system of the gift and of work with intermediaries, tend to keep their distance from self-help groups. Finally, even researchers, because they tend to omit self-help groups from their typologies of non-profit organizations (Malenfant 1990), overlook them as well. And yet such organizations are of considerable importance, and the way they function deserves study. We don't have any overall estimate of the number of people affiliated with self-help groups. A survey in the United States concluded that the ten most important American selfhelp organizations had about a million members (Romeder 1989, 2). These groups contend with the most serious social problems in our society: alcoholism and drug abuse, depression, violence, crisis situations, terminal illness, societal rejection. In France, half the drug abusers who kick the habit do so through the auspices of self-help groups, and it is groups such as these that defend and bring solace and comfort to those afflicted with AIDS (Defert 1992.). They often form vast networks that spread through many countries, but without a superabundance of intermediaries. Unlike some leisure associations they are, according to Brault and St-Jean, "instrumental rather than expressive" (1990, n). In other words, self-help groups are concerned with solving a problem, not with deriving pleasure from an association. But it is often through the association, in the ties that are forged, that the solution to the problem is to be found. One of the fundamental principles for self-help groups is that helping is therapeutic, that in the very act of helping others a solution to one's own problems may be found. To give and to receive become indistinguishable (Romeder 1989, 40). The action taken by these groups is based on a rejection of the split between producer and user. They often appear in response to the inadequacy of public services or in an attempt to avoid the dependence on professionals and institutions that public services often foster. Let us introduce these self-help groups by taking a closer look at one of them: Alcoholics Anonymous. Why AA? For a number of reasons. • It is considered a pioneer - the first self-help group - and a model for the others. Founded in the United States in 1935, and constantly expanding since that time, today it has about two million members around the world (Brault and St-Jean 1990, 9). • Its growth did not lead to bureaucratic structures. On the contrary, the number of employees in each local AA group has always been very small and has tended to diminish, going from i per 98 groups in 1945 to * Per 391 groups in 1961 (according to the AA Service Manual, 15).

The Gift between Strangers


• It is a source of inspiration for most new self-help groups, even if they do not wholeheartedly adopt its philosophy in every respect but become mixed systems - like Weight Watchers or Depressed Anonymous - or seek government grants, something to which AA i opposed. • It works. Although it doesn't, of course, always succeed, it is more successful than any other approach or treatment for alcoholics, to the point where most institutions for the treatment of alcoholism have adopted its procedures at least in part, and a number of them acknowledge its influence in explicit terms. Where AA is concerned there can be no doubt: it is a gift system both in its group philosophy and in the way it functions. Anyone who agrees to become a member must acknowledge that he or she is an alcoholic who cannot solve his or her problem alone, and must recognize that the capacity to find a solution comes from outside, from a gift bestowed by a superior force, delineated individually. Such an admission implies a break with the narcissism of the modern individual, that boundless confidence in one's personal capacity to be "independent and autonomous" and the equally boundless fear of being "absorbed by the other" (Romeder 1990, 68-71). According to many researchers, this character trait tends to be particularly widespread among alcoholics and recognizing it is the first step toward help. There are a number of other steps, the last of which consists in passing on to another alcoholic the gift one has received. The transformation of AA members is often spectacular and deep, going far beyond simply treating alcoholism as an illness. Something else is given that far transcends the immediate goal. We have witnessed this transformation and have also heard testimony from members and their families. "My mother was saved by AA. She was a wreck. Not only does she no longer drink, but her personality has changed. She's thriving. For example, she used to fear speaking in public more than anything in the world, and now it gives her great pleasure." Let us take a closer look at the workings of this gift system, which is both eminently modern and quite traditional. It is modern, first of all, in the freedom given to its members. All you have to do is agree not to drink for twenty-four hours. No verification is made, only the individual's testimony counts. You can enter and leave an AA group, change groups, come back, as you like. These groups can now be found around the world and constitute a global federation, a network of networks entirely controlled at the base. The groups themselves come close to direct democracy. There is no charismatic leader, no guru. On


The Sites of the Gift

the contrary everyone is anonymous, even the founders of AA who, like all other members, are known only by their first names. Also modern is the fact that the groups are not held together by a shared past, the territorial or cultural commonality of its members, but only by the one problem they share. All AA literature emphasizes that the group's single goal is to help alcoholics, something for which it has been criticized by more political groups. But, as we have seen, the modesty of the goal is linked with impressive results for its members, which go far beyond the mere fact of ceasing to drink. Such transformations have sometimes led professionals who treat addiction to say that AA is a form of bizarre sect. It is hard to agree with this criticism when one observes what goes on at AA. Those who make such criticisms confuse the phenomena proper to sects with the dependence certain alcoholics can experience during the early phases of disintoxication after they first join the movement, a reaction due to the state of physical and moral degeneration in which they find themselves. It is true that alcoholics are prone to periods of mental torment and confusion that make them prime candidates for conversion, and this, not surprisingly, can unnerve professionals unaccustomed to seeing this in their practice. And yet, despite its modernity, the movement also includes a number of traditional attributes of the gift. There is no rupture, there are no intermediaries in this gift system. AA takes an extreme position on that issue. Alcoholism is seen as an incurable disease - an AA member is therefore always an alcoholic, but an alcoholic who does not drink. Thus there is no split within the membership between those who have just joined and those who have been members for twenty-five years. We do not find the patient, the client, on one side while on the other side are those who have been cured, the experts, the ones in the know. AA adheres very strictly to this principle. A member who stands up to speak at a meeting must always begin by identifying him or herself (first name only), adding "I am an alcoholic." In our view, this total rejection of any distinction between provider and consumer (which is what makes intermediaries so prominent in the mercantile and state systems2) is crucial and explains the communal attributes of AA and its absence of bureaucracy, despite its spectacular growth. The gift can circulate without interception and intermediaries have no control over a system based on the principles of community and direct democracy, where each group's president is elected by the members and the presidency changes every three months. In order to steer clear of bureaucratic or professional "temptation," AA remains leery of money, no matter where it conies from. It refuses any funding from outside, whether from private enterprise or the state.

The Gift between Strangers


Every AA community (group) must finance itself. At the end of each meeting someone passes the hat, while asking guests who are not members not to give! There is no publicity. The global network of AA spreads in other ways; like the gift, it circulates, the word is passed on. AA groups are traditional in a number of other ways. Even if the community is not grounded in a common history, meetings often consist of listening to a member tell the story of his alcoholic past. This is called "sharing." What is more, the degree of personal transformation that takes place often has no equivalent except in initiation rites described by anthropologists. Finally, the insistence that each member surrender himself to a superior force from whom he or she will receive the courage to stop drinking is both traditional and modern. Modern, in the sense that we are dealing with a god appropriate to each person (AA makes it very clear that it is not a religion, that each member has his own beliefs), but traditional, because the member has to believe in a force that will free him from that narcissism typical of the modern individual. As Bateson writes: "So you transcend by some sort of double surrender. There is a sort of equation between the alcohol and God, which are both more powerful than you are ... Bill W., who started AA, was a very clever man, very clever" (1987, 128). AA attaches great importance to the ego's need to "surrender" and abandon itself, to the abdication of personality. The individual who belongs to AA exchanges the solitary narcissistic consciousness of the alcoholic for one that is part and parcel of a larger entity to which he gives himself over. She or he experiences the enlargement of consciousness that goes along with the connection to a gift system and that lends the strength to confront his or her "sickness." Traditional and modern, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, but founded on the absence of rupture and on the gift, AA explodes those categories and calls into question Western dualism and the opposites between which most authors would have us choose: state and individual sovereignty (Bowles and Gintis 1987), holism and individualism (Dumont 1991), and, in more general terms, spirit and matter, as noted by Bateson (1972., 337), one of the rare social science researchers to take an interest in AA. The nonalcoholic world has many lessons which it might learn from ... the ways of A.A. If we continue to operate in terms of Cartesian dualism of mind versus matter, we shall probably also continue to see the world in terms of God versus man; elite versus people; chosen race versus others; nation versus nation; and man versus environment. It is doubtful whether a species having both an advanced technology and this strange way of looking at its world can endure. (Bateson 1972., 337)


The Sites of the Gift

Such calling into question does not spring from some exotic oriental philosophy but, in the most ordinary way possible, from the United States, from the American middle class, from an anonymous American! This is not the least of AA'S paradoxes, which doubtless explains, in part, the lack of interest on the part of intellectuals in an experience and a philosophy that are so rich and effective, new and old at the same time. AA is a kind of revolution. But a revolution only by analogy, for it makes its way in the world without fuss and without martyrs. It makes no demands, joins in no debates, and constantly reiterates its single modest goal: to help those who want to stop drinking. Our categories of Cartesian thought, however, do not apply to this network founded on the gift, which spreads anonymously, by direct contact, independent of the state and the media but independent of tradition as well. It gives back meaning to the lives of tens of thousands of people who want a solution to their problems with alcohol. It is not a religion. It is a new form of sociality that should give us pause; it is a model for the way in which the gift system might function today, and it anticipates what modern society and human relationships might be if we were to abandon the paradigm of growth and if the marketplace were to become a good servant rather than a bad master. If economists, as Keynes wished, were to become as modest as dentists! CHARITY

If it is true that a certain number of voluntary organizations change their nature and end up being absorbed by the state or mercantile systems, we also see the frequent emergence of movements based on the gift. This tends to go unnoticed, just as organizations such as AA, which continue to function according to the principle of the gift without turning into bureaucratic entities, are largely ignored. What are the primary attributes of such associations, most of which are concerned with social issues: health, youth problems, drug addiction, violence to women, poverty, leisure? Non-Rupture: Community Ties When we ask these organizations what sets them apart from public institutions working in the same field, the first thing they emphasize is the absence of any gap between those who give or provide the service and those who receive it. Even if, in varying degrees, they deal most frequently with strangers (this is particularly true for organizations whose territory is the Third World), there is a constant tendency, as we have seen, to narrow this gap and to personalize the relationship

The Gift between Strangers


(personalized help for children in foreign countries, a personal commitment on the part of aid workers, a consistent use of volunteers, etc.). That, in essence, is what being a "community" organization means: that the principal and driving force for the actions taken are rooted in ties that exist between the members of the association, or between the association and the person being helped (who is almost never referred to as a "client"). All insist on what distinguishes their work from government intervention: the communal bond between the provider and the recipient of a service. This absence of rupture is especially striking in self-help groups, but it is present everywhere. "Here they are at home; this isn't a government office," they say. They also refuse the sense of superiority attached to professional competence that creates a gulf between client and specialist: "We're all the same; we can all understand the problems of people who come to see us; we're like them." The Importance of the Individual This connection between the "giver" and the "receiver" means that people are dealt with differently, in relationships governed by the bond itself and not by norms external to the relationship. "The person being helped is not a dossier." "We are responsible for each individual," say most of the members of community organizations. How does this work out in practice? The answers are varied and spontaneous. For example: "If one of our members loses his father, we pay him a visit. How many bureaucrats would do the same thing?" Historically, in many social sectors volunteer work has been replaced in part by hired help and professionalization has become synonymous with technical competence. It is interesting to note, however, that the volunteers in these areas have continued to display a great deal of "humanity" in their relationships. This phenomenon has become increasingly important in the hospital sector in recent years, especially in such areas as palliative care, where volunteers play a crucial role. The quality of the ties has never been entirely sacrificed to a salarial relationship. In her study of the changing role for volunteers in the Montreal hospital sector, Aline Charles concludes, "If there is a side to their work that volunteers will never renounce, it is moral support for the patients, and everything that contributes to making their stay in the hospital less painful" (1990, 85). To compare the gift and the state is to make apparent two quite different principles: formal responsibility, contractually defined in respect to rights, and a responsibility that devolves from ties to those who are unique and for whom we are unique. In terms of the gift, society is a


The Sites of the Gift

network made up of the total number of unique relationships each member has established with others. That is the picture these organizations present. And such a network links us to all other members of society, much more than the formal routing through a bureaucratic centre that subsequently allows each member his share in any redistribution. A centralized system of redistribution can only work if it is connected to the social network, if it is enriched by it and imbued with it. If not, we are left with bureaucracy in the pejorative sense: a rigid structure, powerless to adapt. We cannot underestimate the importance of these differences when we look at systems whose aim is to make each individual a "number," in the strict sense of the word, in order to "process" him or her statistically and otherwise. For these systems, everything that is unique becomes a problem. Nothing is less individualistic in this regard than the state apparatus which, paradoxically, plays a crucial role in modern individualism. It frees individuals from the community, from family, from all those ties that hem them in and hold them back from liberating themselves, from becoming "true" individuals with no obligations other than those that are self-imposed. The gift system contends, on the contrary, that the more ties a person has, the more he or she becomes "individualized," the more his or her individuality is enhanced. By contrast, the state has need of a "depersonalized individual" (Gouldner 1970). It's as though modern society, which "sacrifices" the unique character of each of its members to the needs of its organizations and its functioning, has devised an ideology of individualism in order to compensate. In hunter-gatherer societies, as Campbell affirms (Campbell, Moyers, Flowers 1988), the solitary hunter needs to remind himself that he is not alone and unique, while the bureaucrat or the worker on the assembly line needs to be told he or she is unique and that, despite appearances, he or she is an individual and irreplaceable. Pleasure, Freedom, and Return By far the most common explanation people have given for doing volunteer work is that they themselves have received an enormous amount from family, from community, from "life in general" and they want to give something back. Volunteer workers experience a feeling of obligation towards the people they are helping, but also insist that pleasure is one of the prime motivating factors for their actions. Most of the time they set themselves apart not only from professionals but also from the "old" idea of volunteer work, associated with charity and religious duty. That does not rule out a strong spiritual inclination on the part of

The Gift between Strangers


many people, "But that's my own business," they assert when the question is posed. All repudiate the image of the lady patroness who purchases her salvation with charitable works: "prosperous and idle, fussing over the poor between two social engagements" (Charles 1990, 15). We might ask ourselves, in passing, whether this picture is a fair representation of volunteer work in all its variety and richness, even in the past. Whatever the truth, today people do volunteer work for the pleasure of it and receive more than they give, even in charitable organizations where the service rendered is unilateral and there is no reciprocity. "I'm not doing this because I have a big heart. I get so much from the people I help." This declaration may seem strange in the light of volunteer activity that has long been associated with the charitable gift and unpaid work; where there is, strictly speaking, no return. But this is only so in accounting or mercantile terms: there is no material return. There is, however, a return, and it is significant. Think of the word benevolence and its root meaning: a voluntary act, free in the sense of freely offered. It is not "unpaid work," an expression that suggests that something is not quite right and whose standards are those of the world where all work is remunerated. Once these activities are defined as work, the fact that they are freely given takes on another meaning and becomes a sign of exploitation. Such activities, however, exist outside the world of work and production, divorced from that rupture created by a salaried relationship. They hew closely, always, to social ties, are part and parcel of those ties and so are separate from the salarial relationship. We often note in these circles a certain wariness where money is concerned and a distinct bias in favour of small organizations that allow for personal relationships and avoid the bureaucratic structures needed to delegate tasks to paid personnel. Such volunteer organizations, rather than growing, prefer to multiply. Traditional or Modern?1 Like AA, these associations are modern in the sense that the constraints of the traditional communal model are absent. They are characterized by the great freedom enjoyed by their members and differ radically from religious communities or the ancient guilds, for example, associations opposed by nineteenth-century republicans. Simmel has made an incisive analysis of the transition from medieval associations to modern ones that, by engaging only "one small part of the personality," safeguard the freedom of their members (1987, 42,9). Many of their features are still traditional, in particular the importance of personal relationships and personal commitment. But they are



fundamentally modern in that they address the relationships between strangers and insist on freedom. This brings us back to the ways in which their actions complement those of the state, for this freedom presupposes that there are institutions whose responsibility it is to dispense a certain number of services that are no longer provided by the social network. As we saw in the last chapter, for a long time the state took on the obligations dropped by the social networks, with all the advantages and inconveniences that that entailed. But allowing this to happen encourages the expansion of the welfare state, even though the state is not competent to fill some of the roles it has inherited, particularly those that owe most to the gift. A MODERN GIFT

Sahlins (1976) has established a typology for the gift based on the hypothesis that the more the gift circulates in a primary network (between intimates), the less rigorous is the equivalence between gift and reciprocation and the longer the reciprocation stretches out in time. In an extreme case of this "generalized reciprocity" what is given in return "is not tied to any temporal, quantitative or qualitative conditions" (2,47). In other words, the further we move from being strangers, the more equivalence is open-ended or generalized, so that the gift that is most remote from the marketplace also represents the most general type of exchange, an exchange whose temporal dimension has no limit. This suggests that there are two types of "generalized exchange" (Levi-Strauss 1967): • One which embodies a spatial extension or generalization: this is typical of the market and theoretically can spread over the entire globe. It is limited to certain types of goods, those open to quantitative monetary equivalence, and it does not much lend itself to extension in time. The return tends to be immediate. • One that constitutes an intensive or temporal generalization: it can accommodate anything, and there are no temporal limits. Spatial limits do exist, as the only circulation is through interpersonal connections. The better the "quality" of these connections, the easier it is to depart from the quantitative equivalence with immediate reciprocity that one associates with mercantile exchange. The more intimate the connection, the more unilateral the exchange, at least in appearance. But how can we understand unilateral gifts to strangers? According to this typology, the gift to strangers is characterized by what Sahlins

The Gift between Strangers


calls "negative reciprocity" and is aimed at a return exceeding what has been given. We have seen that this rule of profitable return does not apply to the contemporary sphere of unilateral gifts to strangers, such as blood and organ donations. Nor does it apply to donations in time of disaster or volunteer work. And there are mutual support groups, which sometimes create a bond that crosses frontiers, so that a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, wherever he is, can phone someone who will help him with his problems. In all these cases, contrary to what Sahlins says, there is no correlation between the proximity of the protagonists and the elasticity of equivalence. We have said that this sphere of the gift to strangers is quintessentially modern. Why? First, most gifts in most societies, according to Sahlins, are mediated by networks of personal affinity, primary ties such as family or friendship. But these gifts are not, or such mediation is not essential to them. Often we have no idea of the specific recipient, despite, as noted elsewhere, the consistent tendency to personalize the relationship and to reduce the number of intermediaries other than the donors themselves, those inscribed in the system of the gift and imbued with its spirit. But, one could reply, religions, Christianity especially, have always encouraged this sort of gift. The "love of the stranger" is an essential tenet of Christianity, and the charitable gift is never restricted only to those near and dear. On the contrary, one's neighbour is held to be all of humanity. Religious communities are exemplary in this regard, though their future is insecure. Their members are in some sense "professionals in the gift," an unthinkable category for modern theory, whether Marxist or liberal or feminist, whose basic concepts are those of exploitation, domination, and utilitarianism. (Although it is difficult to see how anyone can feel they have correctly understood such communities when they portray the vow of poverty as just another form of exploitation or hypocrisy.) But religion is not specifically modern, so how can we claim that the gift to strangers is exclusive to the modern gift? It is very likely that this sort of gift has its roots in the great religions, especially Christianity,3 but the current link between religion and the gift to strangers is much more tenuous, and often non-existent. Religions, while playing an important role, are no longer indispensable to this phenomenon and their influence is often reflected privately, in a personal spirituality that keeps its own council. What is clear is that all the people we met insisted on repudiating the traditional religious model for the charitable gift: the gift as a form of sacrifice made in order to go to heaven. Instead, they stressed the importance of what they received in return, in its different guises. Our current findings indicate that the gift to


The Sites of the Gift

strangers exists independent of religion, even if religion is often present in non-traditional forms. One last objection can be made to our claim that the gift to strangers is a modern phenomenon. During the Roman Empire this custom existed separate from religion and had even assumed considerable importance, as is shown by Paul Veyne's (1976) book on Roman patronage. But the contemporary practice of gift-giving among strangers differs in one crucial way from the practice of rich Romans giving to the people: it is not a class phenomenon. Even if there is a certain amount of redistribution among nations and social groups, the modern gift is not founded on the upper class's moral obligation vis-a-vis the people. People from every social milieu participate in the modern gift, not only by donating money but also by giving of their time: listening to people, making visits, accompanying the aged, and so on. What is more, such gifts are often anonymous, even hidden, in any case not mentioned to colleagues at work or even to intimates. There is nothing ostentatious here, as in the gifts made to the collectivity by the affluent class. An unknown gift made to the unknown, where religious motivation is not essential and which encompasses all social strata: this is the world of the modern gift between strangers, whose importance continues to grow. Before concluding this survey of the gift as it now exists in modern society, we must ask ourselves what its fate has been in that arena which, historically, has embodied its negation: the mercantile sphere.


The Gift and Merchandise

THE GIFT IN THE SERVICE OF B U S I N E S S The Paradox of Dale Carnegie

In the mercantile sphere the gift is usually a means to the circulation of objects, to the distribution of products, to sales. This instrumental use of the gift on the part of merchants is not hard to detect: Dale Carnegie made a lot of money with his 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book was a manual on how to harness the gift to the market and it has been in print since its initial publication. Chapter after chapter, the author repeats the same litany: If you want to succeed in business and in life, show an interest in others. And he includes a plethora of examples, each more inspiring than the last, of people who became rich by following this advice. But the apparent simplicity of the formula quickly becomes paradoxical, since it appears that the formula only works if the interest is sincere. In fact, implicit in his book is all the ambiguity surrounding the gift in a utilitarian context. "To make a lot of money," thinks the merchant bearing gifts, "you have to start by offering presents, then charge a lot for them later on." But the problem with this simplistic version of mercantile logic is, as Carnegie tries to show, that it overlooks an essential factor: the merchant must be sincere in offering his present if he wants it to pay off later! This earliest and most celebrated work on human relations as a technique, a series of gambits, or merchandise teems with gift-giving anecdotes that contradict as much as embrace the means-end relationship dear to the merchant's heart. In the beginning the author claims that he has written the book because the public has been waiting for it for a long time and he's astonished that such a work does not already exist. He quotes Rockefeller: "The ability to deal with people is as


The Sites of the Gift

purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun" (19). But there seems to be a contradiction in what Rockefeller says: if the ability to deal with people is a piece of merchandise like any other for which there is an enormous demand, which he himself shares, how do we explain that no one before Carnegie had come up with the idea of producing it? The answer is in the book, where we learn that we cannot, after all, treat successful human relationships as means alone, as nothing but commodities. Carnegie's work draws on traditional values (loyalty, enthusiasm, team spirit). Of course, there is much emphasis placed on money, but at the same time the author seems to say that money will come as a supplement, that it must not be one's immediate goal. All the ambiguity of his message, presented at the outset as a miraculous formula, is implicit in this dual doctrine: "Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely" (145). The author whose aim was to let readers in on the secret for making relationships answerable to business, for learning to " succeed in life," must in the long run, as he himself admits (132.), return to the precepts set forth by all of humanity's sages, from Confucius to Jesus Christ: be concerned about others, but sincerely, not for utilitarian motives, not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. And when you do this you will also reach the goal of material success, as a bonus. That is what we call the Dale Carnegie paradox and it shows clearly that, even in the mercantile sphere, the instrumental use of social ties is not as simple as it appears in utilitarian discourse. THE GIFT IN


So it is with the rediscovery of the importance of informal relationships within business. The study of such relationships has been central to sociology in the workplace for decades. This sociology first took off in the 19305, with the famous study by the Mayo team which, seeking factors likely to increase worker productivity, undertook a number of scientific experiments, using both an experimental and a control group. They altered the lighting, the colours, the temperature of the workshop, salaries, rest time, freedom of movement, and so on. No matter what they did, productivity in the experimental group went up inexplicably, until someone suggested that the workers were simply responding to the fact that people were taking an interest! What Mayo discovered was the importance to productivity of informal organization within a business and the morale of the primary groups. These phenomena can of course be interpreted in terms of the gift, as has

The Gift and Merchandise


been done by economists such as George Akerlov (1984). The subject is at the forefront of current debates, given the crisis of "Fordism" (a production model grounded in assembly line work and the deskilling of the worker) and attempts to find new formulas that help workers relate to their workplace, formulas that take into account the importance of networks of affinity and belonging. Any network of affinities owes something to the gift. To see this we need only look at the current literature dealing with this issue and the resulting experiments with a number of fashionable formulas, such as quality circles. Or we can look at the explanations for the superiority of Japanese industry. As early as 1946 Ruth Benedict, in her work on Japan, insisted on the importance of the gift in that society, even in the economic sphere. More recently Ronald Dore (1987) has attributed Japanese economic effectiveness to altruistic social values that supersede the desire to maximize profit. The fact that large companies such as Saint-Gobain in France are now taking an interest in the local networks of small entrepreneurs (Raveyre 1988) is part of the same trend and marks a comeback for social factors as an acceptable explanation for economic phenomena. We must, however, make a distinction between ties and the gift. The gift serves the bond, it is not the bond. No human organization functions like a machine. All are something more than their organization charts, and if this something more, this supplement - which is the quality of the relationships between the members - is missing, nothing works. That is what the school of human relations has shown since Mayo, as has the more recent strategic analysis of power relationships within organizations (Crozier 1987, 1989). This has all led to the calling into question of Taylorism (mass-production founded on extreme divisions of labour) and to Japanese-like methods. It has also pointed up the importance of social ties, even in organizations governed strictly by rational bureaucratic principles, whose members are grouped together according to material interests alone and the stipulations of a very specific contract. Even there, mutual confidence between partners is essential for any common action to succeed. But in such organizations, where ties are certainly important, to what degree does the gift contribute to these ties? To what extent do objects and services circulate through non-contractual as well as contractual exchanges? What is their significance and how do they enhance contractual exchange? If the importance of human relationships has been well established by all informal studies, the importance of gifts has been explored very little, other than to denounce paternalistic ownership. Few sectorial studies have analysed the specific role of the gift in the complex and multileveled exchange between different economic


The Sites of the Gift

partners. What we can say is that there is reason to believe that the gift plays an important role but that it cannot be used in a purely instrumental fashion without losing much of its effectiveness; the Dale Carnegie paradox. This is why individuals in modern society resist the total commercial integration of all sectors of society, even if that would increase the GNP, for it would also have a negative effect on the quantity and quality of services.1 This resistance is particularly evident in the art world. THE ART MARKET

A work of visual art is not just a commodity, but there is no doubt that it is that as well in today's society. It has even acceded to the "highest level" of commodity, since it is now an object of speculation - it has lost all use value and is purchased sight unseen, on the basis of its future mercantile value alone. Baudelaire once said that art was "pure commodity." The current evolution of the art market seems bent on proving him right. "We talk of the contemporary art market today as though it were an art 'biz,' comparable to show-biz, and biz means business" (Robillard 1990, 142.). A journalist from Time went so far as to claim that "Contemporary art has become quite simply a currency," adding that "the market burns off all nuances of meaning" (Time, 2.7 November 1989, 43). But is it only a market system, as this last quotation would lead us to believe? Nothing is less certain, when we take a closer look. Besides, the same journalist affirms elsewhere, in talking of the works of art bought by the Japanese and leaving the United States: "Every time [this happens], you feel it has vanished into an abyss." Might the current artistic system also be a system of the gift? What does someone working in the visual arts "produce" (or create)? What does this "product" contain, that a canvas such as The Irises may be given by the painter to his brother, then sold for 54 million dollars a century later, without its "usefulness" or its rarity being in any way changed? What world can such a "product" belong to? Strange Commodities It is well known that the modern idea of art endows the artist with a unique role in society. What is more, this is a recent development, as Yves Robillard has shown. If, for the moment, we restrict ourselves only to the system of production, the artist participates in a system where all roles are crucial, from the collector to the dealer to the artist himself. In this sense, "it is not the artist who makes art, but art that

The Gift and Merchandise


makes the artist, because art is above all the product ... of an elite of privileged players that I have paired off in the following way: artist and critic, dealer and collector, museum curator and art historian" (Robillard 1987, 14-15). This approach inserts the artist into a system, but is the system mercantile, gift-giving, or mixed? And what is the specific role of each of the players, especially the "artist"? Why has modern society accorded this player in particular such a special status, if only in the collective imagination? One may well claim that the artist is a fiction, as Robillard does, but we must acknowledge the necessity of this fiction. In that curious evolution from zero to 54 million dollars, the artist counts for something; the fact that he is Van Gogh is not irrelevant. As we take a closer look, we find that this merchandise boasts many other unusual features, all linked to what we call the artist. We intend to demonstrate that these features can only be explained with reference to the system of the gift. We could define the "ideal type"2 of the artist (in Max Weber's sense) in terms of a number of attributes that set artists apart from other producers in contemporary society. First, in contrast to the other producers of goods and services, they devotes themselves entirely to the product, without regard to the clientele. Other producers in this society are usually answerable to intermediaries located between them and the eventual consumer of the product. The artist would like to realize the dream of all producers: to create a product without having to bear the client in mind. This is not only an identifying feature, but, it would seem, the very basis for existence. A "true" artist is never beholden to a client's demands, and it is hard to imagine an artist hiring a marketing firm to determine what should be produced. And the client cannot modify the product3 but must "respect" it. Of course, the risk is that no one will buy because the artist has not won the recognition of the public. The artist who succeeds is the one who is bought, but without selling himself; in other words, without behaving like most modern producers. To answer to a demand, for an artist, is to prostitute himself. Nothing is more looked down upon by the players in the artistic system than the thought of buying a work of art because it goes with a decor, the colour of a wall, rather than for the work in and of itself. The only thing worse would be to order a work conceived in terms of the decor! The artist who would accept such a commission risks seeing his value on the art "market" plummet. At the other extreme is the unhappy artist who does not prostitute herself, who refuses to respond to the demands of her client, but whose art does not sell. In this sense the work of art is not "pure commodity," but rather pure Product, and the antithesis of a commodity. It is the


The Sites of the Gift

result of the radical refusal of certain producers to answer to the merchants when they create. The idea of the avant-garde is the most extreme and perverse example of this. To be successful, for the avantgarde, is proof of failure. For the avant-garde, all that counts is the appreciation of other artists, in other words the community of producers. The temptation is always great, among modern artists who want to reconstitute a lost community, to cut the producer off from the user4 and to fall back on a community only of producers. This brings us to a second aspect of the artist-myth: the great importance accorded the production process itself and above all the link between the product and the producer. This is in marked contrast with the modern way of talking about the production process, where we insist on the fact that the system creates "all by itself," independent of the producer, thanks to the autonomy of the machine and even of the overall system of integrated machines. Where the artist is concerned, on the other hand, even if he cannot "sell" his product he is encouraged to talk about how he made it. The artist produces in a state of grace and exaltation that fascinates the amateur, his client, and that is the antithesis of modern production, its norms and its reality. The artist may have trouble talking about the beauty of his canvas, but he will describe with ease what he felt when he painted it, the idea behind it, the problems it presented, and the way he solved them, etc. The importance of this aspect is recognized by other players in the system, and even by the client, who accords considerable significance to the way in which the product has been created and to the state of mind of the person who created it. In artistic circles one often comes across comments such as the following: "This watercolour is interesting less in its own right than as part of a retrospective, for it helps you understand how the artist moved from one phase to another." "The way a work is arrived at is often more interesting than the work itself." " Contemporary art tends to include traces of its evolution in the finished work." "The artist's studio is a sacred site; not just anyone is allowed in." And this brings us to a third feature. In the artistic system, the producer and client are not such discrete entities. The client shares the values of the producer. She likes to think that in acquiring a "work" (we are not even talking about a product), she is in some way participating in the artistic community. And so she must respect the work and its creator, she must not treat the work as a mere product. And that is true not only of the client but also of all the intermediaries, who, even if they earn money, must share this system of values, must "believe" in the artists they exhibit, must defend them, take them under their wing. It is perhaps for this reason that the client who buys an artistic product is called an "art lover," someone who loves.

The Gift and Merchandise


We are getting close here to the system of the gift. There is a sort of producer-client community, a community that modernity sets out to deny. The artistic system rejects the producer-user split, so crucial to the foundations of modernity. And this gives us an insight into the ambiguous status of the artist in modern society: she doesn't belong to it. And we're back to square one. She is a creature of the gift system, not the utilitarian system. In a utilitarian society, she can only be a myth. All these attributes of the artist take on a meaning that becomes clear both at the moment of production and in the artist's ties with a client. The artist produces in a kind of exalted state that nothing must disturb. The product is born of this state of mind, and ideally it must be influenced by nothing else. According to this analysis, the artistic act is the act of receiving and transmitting a gift. The product, the work of art, is the result of inspiration. The work of art, in fact, is not actually a product - it does not fit into the system of modern production. The artist receives something that he passes on, which is a gift. Aesthetic feeling, beauty, whatever name one gives to this supplement, it is essential: without it the work would be only a product and the artist would have long since joined the ranks of industrial producers. This feeling, this supplement that circulates between artist and client, explains all the identifying features described above and makes the artistic world a gift system, a community made up of amateurs who share the same belief, the respect for a certain product. This supplement has no monetary equivalent. And that holds true for all the arts. In the transmission of art, money is always an inadequate vehicle. Every artist hopes to receive, in addition, recognition and gratitude, as is the case with a gift. That is the reason for applause after a concert, a sign that the community linking the artist to the music-lover exists and that the emotion has indeed passed from one to the other, that there is something more at stake here than a mercantile relationship, that the producer-client gap has in part been closed, something that no monetary reward, however large, can achieve. The artist has "thrown herself" into the work, and expects that the recipient will do the same. She is no longer a producer, she is an author. Not even the highest price for her services will make her happy, if obtained "at any price," and that extends to the production process itself. A pianist's repetition of a musical passage brings satisfaction; the repetitive work of an assemblyline worker brings a salary. The worker is excluded from the product; the artist enters into the work. One excludes, the other includes. If we look at the artistic system from this point of view, everything becomes clear. The roles of the partners in this great artistic game are plain to see, especially that of clients, who must be "amateurs"; they must participate, they cannot just consume, as in the mercantile


The Sites of the Gift

production system. In a way, they must participate in the same system as the producer, the artist, who plays a preponderant role because he is the one who introduces the gift into the system, who is in touch with the other frame of reference. All the players must participate in the myth of art. But it is the artist who embodies it, who communicates with that other non-mercantile world and so wins respect for the producer who is also a creator. The Artist and the Production System What appears strange is the fact that not everyone is an artist in this society. That is the theme of Lewis Hyde's (1983) book. Why does the artist have such a great need, more than the other players we've looked at so far, to protect himself when dealing with clients through the medium of the market? In one sense, might we not say that the defining characteristics of artists and their valuing of the product are in every way representative of modern society's ideal? Modern society is one whose goal is production, whose god is the product. Growth of the GNP, growth in the rate of production, growth in productivity, such are the benchmarks by which one evaluates progress and advancement in this society. A society must produce first and foremost, and must produce ever more. This is self-evident in modern society but it would seem bizarre in many others. Think, for example, of the hunter-gatherers, who, in the strictest sense, produce nothing and are content to harvest what nature has produced for them. Such a modern attitude would be incomprehensible to them. All the resources of modern society are an accessory to production. Modern society may be defined as a production system and we might expect, in this context, that the status of a producer would be exalted. But what we find is the opposite. Since the advent of industrialization, and even since the appearance on the scene of the merchant, everything has been done to devalue the primary producer. The introduction of intermediaries has had the effect of placing all decision-making responsibility in the hands of someone who has nothing to do with direct production. This trend reached its peak with Taylorism. In explicit and deliberate fashion, and in the name of client demand, the authority of producers was undermined and transferred to an intermediary who controlled the product. It is, to quote Friedmann's apt formula, the fragmentation of work. Modern society, dedicated to the god of production, reduces the producer to insignificance while at the same time idealizing production. That is its paradox. And that is why it invents the myth of the artist. The unbounded respect for and glorification of the artist's product and

The Gift and Merchandise


act of production are a kind of mythic negation of the fact that the real production system destroys the producer. The artist cannot become part of that system. He cannot give in to the client, to his smallest demand, without betraying the myth to which he is bound and on which his very production depends. This is why it is important for most artists to live in penury, or not to derive their living from their art. The artist who lives in misery is a martyr to the system of production. Artists who support themselves by their art must do so in spectacular fashion. What is important is that, unlike what transpires for the rest of production, there be no link between the mercantile value of the work and the amount of work put into it by the artist. Speculation in the art world plays on this compulsory imbalance. All the players must help protect this chicken who lays (for the merchant) golden eggs, and it must not, above all, be killed and cut into pieces as has been done (profitably) with the rest of production and with the actions of other producers in this society. Like the blood donor, the artist functions in a mixed system. But the artist succeeds in infusing all the rest of the system with the spirit of the gift. Like the blood donor, she is at the beginning of the chain and is part of a mixed system. But unlike the blood donor, she always retains a certain control over the "product" and has succeeded, at least until now, in exerting some small influence on the overall system. To be an artist is a state of being; blood donation is an act that can be absorbed much more easily into a mercantile or state system, with the perverse results we have seen. The death of art, forecast for a long time, represents an end to this influence or, at the very least, to the illusion that it exists. Society therefore often strongly resists the transformation of certain gifts into commodities, even when these gifts are in part taken over by foreign systems such as the market. We can see this as well in the case of organ donation. ORGAN


There was, of course, no organ donation in traditional societies. It is a creature of modern technology and is bound to increase in frequency in the future. Organ donation, from the dead or the living, is in some ways similar to blood donation. But there are many differences. The importance of intermediaries between donor and recipient and of a particularly sophisticated techno-professional apparatus are the first features that strike the observer. Here, once again, we have a mixed system, not the "pure" system of the gift, for these intermediaries - technicians and professionals - are governed not by the gift but by a salarial relationship. But this apparatus ensures the transmission of


The Sites of the Gift

the gift. Society does not accept the sale of organs. Unlike what happens with blood, the commerce in organs is generally prohibited, even if in fact there is a black market. In India there is an open market for kidneys, and even one for eyes from living donors. Rich buyers come from all over the world to take advantage of this (Kass 1992., 67). The contaminated blood scandal is probably only the forerunner of a number of scandals still to come involving organ transplants. While no one can give accurate figures to measure the magnitude of the phenomenon, we know that there exist, particularly in Latin America, organized rings that carry out kidnappings and murders to feed North America and Western Europe's rich transplant markets,5 and indications are that the demand for replacement organs will continue to grow. Who would not want to live ten or fifteen years more? Or, even more pertinently, who would not want to do everything possible to prolong the life of one near and dear, a parent or a child? But there is a lack of available organs. For example, in France at the end of 1990 the shortage of transplantable organs was 4,731 kidneys, 719 hearts, 380 livers, and 163 heart and lungs.6 All of this raises questions about how to obtain and distribute organs whose transplantation is so expensive: approximately $50,000 for a kidney, $85,000 for a heart, $50,000 to $300,000 for a liver, and $200,000 for a bone-marrow or heart-lung transplant. Anglo-Saxon countries are tempted by the prospect of legalizing organ sales and such legalization appears highly desirable to a number of representatives of Third World countries, who do not see why poor people should be prohibited from bettering their lot and assuring the future of their children by selling a kidney or an eye. Why not allow this, say some authors, if the contracts are legal and if sellers and buyers are fully aware of the transaction's implications? France, by contrast, prides itself on its opposition to any suggestion of marketing parts of the human body - at least in principle. Thus the French bill on bioethics takes as its governing principle the inalienability of the human body, its non-monetary status, and its nonmarketability.7 Transplantable organs can only come from gifts, and essentially from post-mortem gifts, following clinical death.8 The cornerstone of the French bioethical system consists of the Caillavet law (1976) and its ensuing regulations (1978) that allow the medical profession to presume that any deceased person is a consenting donor, unless the defunct's family can plausibly assert the contrary. If the byword for Anglo-Saxon jurists is the contract, that of the jurists and authorities responsible for French bioethics is the gift. But can the putative gift decreed by the Caillavet law be considered a true gift? While in some cases this may be true, overall it seems doubtful. Chris-

The Gift and Merchandise


tian Cabrol, director of France-Transplants, is disturbed by the diminishing numbers of declared donors and argues that any person who does not wish to donate should be able to register his or her refusal through a centralized data-base accessible by computer (Le Monde, 2.2. January 1992., 157). This proposal would actually enable doctors to deal more effectively with families reluctant to endorse donations. After all, who would want to be officially designated as a non-donor, a state-certified egoist? But if everyone is automatically a donor, where is the gift? Is it not, in fact, because donation is less and less seen as a gift that the number of declared donors is diminishing? And because families are insisting that they are the true owners of the dead bodies? For what is at stake, finally, is who disposes of the jus utendi et abutendi. Anglo-Saxon law views individuals as the sole owners and longstanding tradition consecrates the priority of lineage. What role does the French principle of the gift, so moral and seductive in appearance, play here? Very often it serves as a smoke-screen for speculative practices which are as unregulated and uncontrolled as they are disclaimed. But, more basically, the principle of the presumed consent allows the nation-state to assert its pre-eminence over individual rights, encouraging a subtle slippery slope from presumed consent to a kind of tax collection. Kidney Donation Things are different when the organ donation takes place between individuals who belong to the same primary network, as in the case of a kidney donation involving two living people. (Our discussion is based on American studies.) Here we are dealing with a unilateral gift similar to a legacy - which is what it becomes in the case of a gift after death. But even where the living are concerned, it is clear that the donor receives nothing that can compare with what he gives, economically speaking. What is the relationship between the donor and the recipient, before and after the gift? In the first instance, the relationship is most often a personal bond, generally involving a member of the immediate family, because that is where biological compatibility is greatest and rejection is less a risk than with a collateral relative. (Outside the family, there is a high probability of the gift not being "received," of its being rejected.) The communal tie is so important that without a familial bond intermediaries often question whether it is legitimate to ask someone for such a gift and incompatibility is often given as a reason to refuse a donor (Fox and Swazey 1978, 2.3). It is hard for the authorities to believe that a gift from a stranger is possible, and they are very reluctant to authorize it. Overall, according to Fellner and Schwartz,


The Sites of the Gift

"the medical profession looks upon the motivation of the living organ donor with distrust and suspicion" (quoted ibid., 7). However, for the donors, it is frequently the most important act they will ever perform. For all those who have donated a kidney, "the act has turned out to be the most meaningful experience of their lives" (z6). This finds expression in such statements as: "I feel I am a better person. I've done something with my life. Now I can accomplish anything" (ibid.). This gift will never be reciprocated in any economic or accounting sense; there is no equivalence, no balancing of that which is in circulation. Nothing tangible is returned. But however unilateral this may appear, testimony indicates that the return is enormous, even if what is returned is implicit in the act itself and is not embodied in any specific object or service, something which would be impossible since, in the material sense, neither one exists. Donors are transformed by their donation to the point where their testimony comes to resemble accounts of initiation rites, of "being reborn," an unexpected parallel between organ donation and archaic exchange. The unusual return doubtless explains why, despite its apparently unbalanced, unreciprocal, "impulsive" nature, this gift rarely causes problems between donors and recipients. On the contrary, it often draws them closer together (69). It is, of course, a very serious, dangerous, significant act, both objectively and subjectively. Not surprisingly, those who have studied the phenomenon try to understand how donors9 arrived at their decision, what led them to undertake an act that is in no way obligatory in a free modern society. It would seem that, quite simply, there was no decision to make. "The term decision appears to be a misnomer," conclude the researchers (quoted in Hyde 1983, 65), who speak of "instantaneous decisions." "We respond reflexively," says a donor (66). Amitai Etzioni, looking at similar results (19903, 97), suggests that we should make a distinction between choice and decision, and reserve the latter term for choices people make when they adopt a rational deliberative stance, weighing drawbacks and advantages (ibid., 95, 150). This is an extremely important piece of empirical data: for an act as serious and significant as the donation of a kidney, people do not behave in accordance with utilitarian postulates. They do not calculate but act completely outside this explicative model for human behavior. There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule. For example, there is the case where the donor, a woman, asked her mother for a fur coat in exchange. This behaviour is consistent with mercantile logic. The mother's explanation, however, is interesting. She attributed this request to her daughter's lack of maturity, implying that the spontaneous, "irrational" gift, impulsive and unpremeditated, is a sign of matu-

The Gift and Merchandise


rity in decisions as serious as this. This position is clearly at variance with the widely held Western idea of maturity, which is that of a logical individual who weighs the pros and cons in preparation for the most rational decision possible. Pierre Bourdieu would say that the daughter, unlike others, was lucid enough not to buy into the collective lie, courageous enough not to give in to the hypocrisy of the gift and deceive herself that she was making a disinterested gift. But this behaviour, anticipated by the dominant view, is in fact considered abnormal by most individuals. Finally, it is interesting to note that kidney donation resurrects the long-standing opposition between marital union and filiation. The spouse would be "the most suitable organ donor from a socio-cultural point of view." But spouses are usually excluded, due to tissue incompatibility. This reflects the paradox of the stranger-relative relationship, where the stranger, even though part of the family, is prevented from making such a gift. The spouse suddenly becomes a stranger once more. His or her "true face," which the rites of marriage have exorcised, is thrust into centre stage by such an "operation." The spouse may even see interfamilial donation as a kind of symbolic incest, when the brother or sister is the donor. This discussion of organ donation concludes our survey of the gift in liberal societies. It is a modern gift if there ever was one, but it calls into question the deliberative utilitarian model, where the means are chosen rationally with an end in view. Organ donation shows that the gift is a moral act and as such is "intrinsically motivated and not subject to means-end analysis" (Etzioni 19903, 43). Before comparing it to the archaic gift, it is helpful to review the most important features of the modern gift as embodied in its numerous and varied manifestations in liberal society.


The Gift in Liberal Society

What have we learned from this survey of the gift in its various modern guises? We have suggested that the modern individual is constantly involved with the gift. But what is a modern gift-giving system? What can we say about it at this juncture? What features emerge from the four areas explored in earlier chapters? We will now take a look at the returns on the gift, at the act itself, and at the nature of the ties involved.

GIFT AND RECIPROCITY. THE ( M U L T I P L E ) RETURNS ON THE GIFT Most authors writing about the gift agree that it is not disinterested. As Florence Weber says, it "masks" something else (1989, 74). Almost everyone shares Marcel Mauss's initial amazement when, as he began to study gift relationships, he became aware of the need to reciprocate, which turned out to be not only something that required explanation but what the gift was all about, its true nature, hidden behind all affirmations of disinterestedness. The essence of the gift, it seemed, was that it was not a gift. Reciprocity might be limited (dyadic, symmetrical) or generalized (open, passed on in series), but it is reciprocity all the same. The path we have taken has led us to different conclusions. It's true that there is often a return, and that although the gift represents a unique and novel form of circulation, the lack of return is not its defining feature. That being said, it's clear that there are many differences between this sort of return and that found in the mercantile system. First, there is not always a return in the ordinary, mercantile sense of the word, which implies a return of material objects or services. This is evident, for example, where we are dealing with unilateral gifts to

The Gift in Liberal Society


strangers. The frequency of non-reciprocal unilateral gifts is remarkable: blood, organs, charity, gifts to children, a legacy where the inheritor is sometimes no more than a relay station, etc. Second, the return is often greater than the gift. When there is a return, it seldom conforms with the principle of mercantile equivalence. The partners even seem to delight in keeping the exchange constantly unbalanced where mercantile equivalence is concerned, cultivating instead a state of reciprocal indebtedness. The realm of the gift is situated between two poles, that of an imbalance so great that one feels "taken advantage of" and so breaks off the relationship,1 and that of equivalence, where one pays off one's debt and so also brings the relationship to a close. Third, the return exists even if it is not desired. How are we to characterize this strange phenomenon, which one interviewee even found scandalous: When I was a child school was very easy for me, moreso than for the others. They said I was gifted. I found that unfair to the other children who were having a harder time. When I was told the parable of the talents, that made me feel better, for I decided that I ought to do more than the others, to pass on the gifts I had received. That made it less unfair. As long as I gave freely, I could restore the balance. I felt better until I realized that in giving I received a great deal of satisfaction, pleasure, and even, often, material advantages in return, that in fact a truly disinterested gift was impossible even if I wanted it to be so, and it did not make things more fair. On the contrary, not only did I receive more, but the act of giving brought me satisfaction beyond the reach of others. The parable of talents ended up making things more unjust than they'd been at the beginning.

This testimony illustrates the opposition between the world of justice and that of pure love, analysed by Luc Boltanski (1990). The gift is situated between those two worlds. How can we understand this sort of return, received even against the will of the donor, without reference to the spirit of the gift? The only thing not free in the gift is the receiving of it. Whether we want it or not, there is often a return. If we extend the definition of return beyond the material circulation of goods and services, then there is always a return, and this return is considered important by most donors. There are a variety of nonmaterial returns from a gift: the gratitude it inspires, the appreciation, the links it creates, that supplement any circulation of material goods and do not enter into the accounting. These represent important returns for the donors. In fact, if this return is not there, we are left with a "failed" gift and the donor feels he has been taken advantage of. But


The Sites of the Gift

this return is not where most observers, whose perspective is based on mercantile equivalence, have always tended to look for it. Finally, and unexpectedly, the return is also contained in the act of giving itself, in the artist's inspiration, the personal transformation experienced by donors, spectacular in the case of someone who donates a kidney and less so, obviously, in other instances. But even volunteer workers are generally of the opinion that they receive a great deal from the people they help. There is an immediate return of energy for the giver, who is enriched. This return, non-existent in other forms of circulation, is part and parcel of the act of giving. There is no name for this phenomenon in the social sciences, which is most visible in organ donation and AA. Sometimes its effect is stunning: "I'm no longer the same person," the donor will say. This return does not enter into any equation that measures equivalence, since it is contained in the act of giving, which, in any ledger, is on the debit side. It is most often dismissed by modern utilitarian theories, whether popular or scientific, and is ignored by other theories of the gift. The magnitude of this transformation has no equivalent in modern society. We can only compare it to experiences common in archaic societies: initiation, rites of passage, conversion, death experiences. We find it also in forgiveness. Psychologists analysing this phenomenon speak of "the transforming nature of forgiveness, coupled with the experience that this involves more than one's own will" (Rowe et al. 1989, 242,). S P O N T A N E I T Y , F R E E D O M , N O N - C A L C U L ATI O N

As we have seen, researchers who wanted to understand how people arrived at the decision to donate a kidney found that the term decision was inappropriate. And those who wanted to find out how a couple worked out the sharing of tasks were told: "It happens all by itself!" There is no question here of simply taking these responses at face value, but they do illustrate a key attribute of the gift. The gift calls into question the utilitarian practice of calculating "pluses" and "minuses." Doing so assumes that for a decision to be truly "human" or "civilized," it must be rational. It turns out, however, that donors making the most important decision of their lives, that of donating a kidney, do not "weigh the pros and the cons" - there is no calculation. But it is not a simple matter of calculation on the one hand or animal reflex on the other. There is the act performed in the spirit of the gift. And what is true for an act as important as kidney donation is true for everything that circulates within the gift system. Calculation is not a practice cen-

The Gift in Liberal Society


tral to the gift system. It is peripheral and although it plays a role that still remains to be spelled out, it is not the role we find in the usual rational model. Anyone who approaches giving too rationally tends to cut himself off from the system of the gift. It would appear that the cycle's three phases - to give, to receive, to reciprocate - are often indistinguishable: depending on the player's point of view, to give is to reciprocate, and vice versa. Even in volunteer work, often considered the quintessentially disinterested gift, the volunteers see themselves as reciprocating: they give because they have received a great deal. And they often feel that they receive more than they give! We call their act a gift when we dwell on the initial impulse, on the act that sets the cycle in motion, and on the fact that this act is independent of the return, independent of what occurs at the end of the cycle. This implies that not all terms within the trio give-receivereciprocate have the same status. It is the first term that constitutes the foundation of the system. It sets the tone for what is to come and carries everything along with it. It establishes the logic of what is happening and makes it clear that the system is not mechanical but free and undetermined. This emphasizes that the reciprocity of objects is not essential to the gift, and if we look only at tangible objects in circulation, we find that the gift is defined by its first stage, that of giving. That is what Seneca meant when discussing the allegory of the Three Graces: "However, within the group it is the eldest who is in a privileged position; as in acts of kindness, she is the one who goes first." 2 Within the system of the gift, "to reciprocate" means, in fact, to give. The distinction between giving and receiving is one of analysis alone. For he who reciprocates gives as well. We do not return a gift the way we pay back a loan. We give, and if analysis shows that we have already received, the label "reciprocation" is affixed to this part of the act. And so we are truly dealing with the system of the gift, where reciprocity is such that when there is equivalence, it is not mercantile. It obeys other rules. It resides in what happens between people. The act cannot be explained in terms of status (Gouldner 1960, 170), or power, or the market, but by the history of a relationship. Time is at the heart of the gift and reciprocity, while the elimination of time is at the core of a mercantile relationship. Certainly there are perversions of the gift, where it is an instrument of power, of domination, and so on. And such perversions are not unusual. But they are not what the gift is all about, any more than the pleasure in a relationship is what is essential to a mercantile exchange, however often it may be present. We have seen with the Carnegie paradox that the gift's effectiveness as an instrument of power is greatest when instrumentality as such is least in evidence!


The Sites of the Gift THE MEANS AND THE END

Taking the usual distinction between the three sectors - the state, the market, and primary ties - as our starting point, we have asked ourselves whether, and how, the gift is to be found in modern systems of circulation. At the heart of the mercantile sphere we encountered the "Dale Carnegie paradox," according to which to succeed in business we must not only value the other but do so " sincerely." Where the state is concerned, we have criticized the approach that regards income redistribution as a modern form of the gift. That led us to recognize the existence of a fourth sphere, that we have called the gift between strangers, an important area that is specific to the modern gift, as Titmuss demonstrated, and one wherein we have discovered ancient, "liberated" structures of the gift. What are the common features of the gift that emerge from these forays into different aspects of today's society? • The stranger: Who turns out to be everywhere, even though the gift is supposed to be mediated by community ties. We have found that the stranger plays an important role in modern society, where gifts to strangers and to the unknown occupy a special place. The gift tries to mitigate what is foreign about those who are unknown to us, unlike the state and mercantile spheres, which try to eliminate relationships and treat everyone as a stranger. We find the same theme of the stranger where we expect it least: at the heart of the family. The family's nucleus is necessarily formed by two strangers, and the key disseminator of presents to children in the family is a stranger as well: Father Christmas. • Freedom. The important element of constraint emphasized by Mauss (the gift "reciprocated obligatorily") seems to be missing, in part, from the modern gift. This is true everywhere the gift exists, and that tendency seems to have spread ever further, affecting ancient systems such as marriage, which has become as free to escape as to enter into. • Disinterestedness. If there is no disinterested gift, there is still disinterestedness within the gift, in the sense that the gift is often given without thought of return. That is the most obvious difference between the gift and the state. What enters into the circulatory system of the state has come from taxpayers and is governed by a separate system made up of intermediaries, who absorb part of what is in circulation in exchange for ensuring that the system continues to function. Taxpayers expect a reasonable return for what they put into the system a return which is clearly determined and is not based on individual decisions concerning reciprocity. Social security is not a gift, but a

The Gift in Liberal Society


right. (It has numerous advantages over a system that relies completely on the gift, as has been frequently demonstrated.) • Spontaneity, which is found everywhere that the gift is. The gift knows no constraints,3 whether authoritarian, legal, or rational (as a product of calculation). It obeys "the impulse of the heart." It is essential that every gift contain an element of spontaneity that sets it apart from the rules and ensures that it is not experienced as a phenomenon that is entirely willed. There is always something in the gift that carries the donor away, that eludes him. • Debt is omnipresent, but not mercantile debt. Here the word refers to a totally different phenomenon. • Return, something that cannot be accounted for if we try to apply the standard idea of reciprocity to the gift. The standard idea tends to confuse what happens to things in circulation with what happens between people, between agents. From the standpoint of the usual logic of exchange, the most astonishing return is in the transformation undergone by the donor. The Dale Carnegie paradox, which we see when the gift encounters the marketplace, is actually present in all forms of the gift. For if we relate to each other sincerely, we are not entering into the relationship only in order to get something but because we "feel" an impulse, a "movement," towards the other. This idea crops up everywhere in the world of the gift. We do not give in order to receive - so that the other will give, perhaps. Something in this idea is impossible for the modern spirit to grasp. How can we desire an end (to receive) and take steps to achieve that end (by giving), but at the same time not look on the act of giving as a means to an end, the last being the condition for obtaining what one wants! The whole idea of "in order to" here takes on an unaccustomed meaning. Means-to-an-end logic itself - which represents the very foundation of instrumental rationality (Weber) and modern organizations - is under threat. The gift seems incompatible with a means-end relationship, that link between a present and a future action, the linear connection that provides the grounds for anticipation, calculation, all theories of action, the very idea of intentionality. Something eludes us in the gift and induces vertigo in our modern sense of reason - which does not mean that the gift is irrational. This is what we must now try to understand, as we turn again to the archaic gift, the customary target for social scientists who analyse the gift.

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From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

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The Archaic Gift: Some Lessons in Ethnology

That is why we set up a shrine of the Graces [Charities] in a public place, to remind men to return a kindness, for that is a special characteristic of grace, since it is a duty not only to repay a service done one, but in another time to take the initiative in doing a service oneself. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 1133, 3-5.

Aristotle was probably the first, and for 2,500 years the greatest, theoretician of the gift. Friendship, philia, he asserts, resides in the capacity to give and reciprocate, in reciprocity (antipeponthos). Without friendship there would be no community (koi'konia), and without community no political order would be possible, since the primary objective of the political order is to procure for citizens the only pleasure worthy of man, that of living together in mutual respect for each others' values. In just a few words Aristotle puts his finger on the paradox that pervades the logic of the gift. The paradox, in other words, that presides over the forging of social relations, which are generated, nourished, and enriched by "grace." What does this mean? First, generosity and spontaneity are required. This raises a problem for all of us, for the legislator who establishes the polls and for each one of us, at every moment of our lives, however banal that moment may be: how do we cultivate spontaneity? Long before it could have read the works of those in the Palo Alto school, who wrote about this problem, humanity seems to have tirelessly posed the same question: how can human beings be obliged to be spontaneous ? In the language of utilitarianism, this would be presented as how to convince individuals that it is in their interest to be disinterested, to persuade them that, as the "prisoner's dilemma" demonstrates, the common good can only be arrived at if each individual stops being

ioz 102

From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

suspicious and gives up on defending his or her immediate personal interests, confident that others are doing the same thing. It is assumed that, given the risks they faced, archaic and traditional societies opted to be cautious and preferred to make actions affected by spontaneity as compulsory as possible, while acknowledging spontaneity, exploring it, and making explicit its every twist and turn. That explains the proliferation of rituals, regulations, and taboos that scandalize modern scholars and give them the impression that archaic or traditional man experienced only constraints and an utter and unbearable absence of spontaneity. This is both true and false. True because it is axiomatic that a prescribed ritual imposes constraints. False because not everything can be foreseen and controlled, because there is often a choice between several sorts of constraining logic, and because at the heart of those orders determined by rite and tradition, the principal obligation is that of placing oneself in the position of a donor, and so of taking the initiative. It is also false because the norms were established by the members of these societies, by the same people who respected them, often through direct democracy, or by imposition not from the outside but by their ancestors, their gods. Finally, it is false because the degree of constraint for a precept that has been internalized by the subject himself is always problematical. As we will see, a gift one has no choice but to make is no longer a gift, whatever the society. The "atmosphere of the gift," to use Mauss's terminology, prevails only "where obligation and liberty intermingle" (1990, 65). It would be unthinkable for us to generalize in this way if there were not ample ethnological evidence to back us up. Is the evidence adequate and adequately clear-cut; is it eloquent and conclusive? One may, of course, have doubts. Ethnologists are prudent people, sensitive to the thousand and one specifics of the societies where they do their "fieldwork"; few risk making declarations that apply beyond their own terrain. That is why Mauss was so daring in The Gift when he sought a general pattern, whether universal, possible, probable, or potential, among diverse ethnological examples drawn from the Americas, Europe, India, and Oceania. Mauss himself was careful not to extrapolate beyond the cultures he had studied. But, to our knowledge, no ethnographic study has introduced data that could undermine his partial generalizations, which it seems possible, then, to enlarge on. Can we go so far as to affirm that all archaic or "savage" or "primitive" or "stateless" societies think of themselves and conceive of their universe, their cosmos, in the language of the gift? We think so, with the obvious reservation that a declaration so general can never be proven inductively through the accumulation of examples but is only valid so long as it has not been refuted. The examples that follow serve

The Archaic Gift


then as illustrations rather than proof. Illustrations, however, that we hope will suffice to discredit those theories of the primitive gift that, in trying to explain it, boil it down to the point where it disappears, and give the impression that it is a mirage that never had any life other than in the realm of ideology. THREE EXAMPLES OF THE ARCHAIC GIFT

Let us go back to the first sentence of Mauss's The Gift: "In Scandinavian civilization, and in a good number of others, exchanges and contracts take place in the form of presents; in theory these are voluntary, in reality they are given and reciprocated obligatorily" (Mauss 1990, 3). Although this statement remains true, it requires both extension and clarification. As we have just said, it should be extended to other archaic societies, probably to all. And, following Mauss himself, we must indicate more clearly that what is being exchanged in the form of gifts or, better and more simply, given and returned - are not just economic goods or contracts but "acts of politeness: banquets, rituals, military services, women, children, dances, festivals, and fairs, in which economic transaction is only one element, and in which the passing on of wealth is only one feature of a much more general and enduring contract" (ibid., 5). What is being exchanged, in short, is everything. That is why the gift constitutes the "total social phenomenon" par excellence. The gift, or rather, to quote Mauss once more, the circularity and reversibility induced by the triple obligation to give, receive, and reciprocate. The two primary examples given by Mauss are the potlatch, as studied by Franz Boas among the American Indians of the North-West, and the kula, described in detail by B. Malinowski in his Argonauts of the Western Pacific (192.2). The Potlatch: Why Destroy it? Who practiced the potlatch? The North-West American Indians. Which Indians? The Haida, the Tinglit, the Tsimshian, the Salish, the Kwakiutl ... and which Kwakiutl? Defined how? Once we start looking in detail at the enormous and inexhaustible scholarly writing that has followed the classic studies of Boas and his disciples, doubts and uncertainty proliferate. We know so little about which of these tribes really practiced the potlatch that no one agrees on its characteristics (see Schulte-Tenckhoff 1986). The perplexity of those members of a Canadian court who, at the end of the nineteenth century, were asked to pass judgment on an Indian charged with having practiced the


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

potlatch, which had just been declared illegal, anticipates the quandary of dozens, if not hundreds, of ethnologists. The law prohibited the potlatch, but did not explain what it was. Without presuming to resolve the debates between experts, let us keep in mind Mauss's classic description, and, for more details, refer the reader to Schulte-Tenckhoff's admirable book, which presents the entire dossier on potlatch and concludes that, despite their ethnographic inaccuracies, the descriptions1 provided by French ethnologists inspired by Mauss strike closer to home than those of their AngloSaxon rivals. The Indians of the North-West Coast, fishermen and hunters, were wealthy, in part because of their fur trade with the Whites over a considerable period. They divided their year into two very different seasons. In summer they scattered to hunt, fish, and gather berries. Winter, on the other hand, brought them back together and initiated a period of intense social activity. Everything was a pretext for extended and repeated celebrations. It was on such occasions that the potlatch was practiced, the "struggle of wealth," as Helen Codere (1950) termed it, in the course of which every clan chief tried to show that he was more munificent than the others by giving away the greatest amounts of food and precious goods. The goods were primarily of two kinds and constituted, according to Mauss, a kind of money: there were copper objects, some of which were armorial shields, and beautiful blankets "of wonderfully different colours that still serve as adornment, some of them of considerable value" (Mauss 1990, 90). To our eyes, it seems like a game of who-loses-wins, where the winner is the person who shows himself to be the most generous. In this case, the gain was not purely symbolic: "The political status of individuals in the brotherhoods and clans, and ranks of all kinds, are gained in a 'war of property,' just as they are in real war, or through chance, inheritance, alliance and marriage ... Marriages for one's children and places in the brotherhoods are only won during the potlatch, where exchange and reciprocity rule. They are lost in the potlatch as they are lost in war, by gambling, or in running or wrestling" (Mauss 1990, 34, 37). At the heart of the potlatch are two central ideas that, in one form or another and in various degrees, can be found in all systems of generosity: esteem and honour. Gaining these requires, in part, that one not reciprocate immediately, but later and with more. And the later the better, because delay involves a proportional increase in the debt. An immediate return amounts to a refusal of the gift, with benefits and counter-benefits reduced to a simple transposition or exchange - to a barter. While this is not unheard of in ceremonial exchange, it is held in very low esteem and is limited to intermittent occurrences that have no influence on

The Archaic Gift


more noble exchange. To reciprocate immediately means that you strip yourself of the weight of the debt, that you fear not being able to assume it, that you are trying to avoid obligation and that kindness that binds, and that you give up on forging social ties because you fear you will not be able to be as generous in your turn. That the weight of the debt is heavy is obvious from the fact that, as Mauss observes, everything must be paid back with usurious interest added on. The rates, he writes (although in all likelihood he was misled by Boas), are in general from 30 to 100 percent per year (ibid., 42.). Honour, an enhanced value attached to one's name, and an increase in renown are then exactly proportional to one's capacity to lose - to assume the debt. These marks of distinction stem from "the meticulous repayment with interest of gifts that have been accepted, so as to transform into persons having an obligation those that have placed you yourself under a similar obligation" (ibid., 37). The notions of esteem and honour are common to all gift systems. What is specific to the Kwakiutl potlatch, and what has fascinated generations of anthropologists - professional or amateur - essayists, and men of letters is the extremes to which they are carried. This led Ruth Benedict, for example, to castigate the Kwakiutl for their obsession with riches, desire for superiority, and what she saw as their shameless, paranoid megalomania.2 The rivalry does seem to have been excessive. In some potlatches, notes Mauss, "one must expend all that one has, keeping nothing back. It is a competition to see who is the richest and also the most madly extravagant." And he adds: "In a certain number of cases, it is not even a question of giving and returning gifts, but of destroying, so as not to give the slightest hint of desiring your gift to be reciprocated ... houses [are burnt], as are thousands of blankets. The most valuable copper objects are broken and thrown into the water, in order to put down and to 'flatten' one's rival" (ibid., 37). It is not surprising that for Mauss the potlatch constitutes the privileged example of what he refers to as "agonistic prestations." T H E C I R C U L A R G I F T : T H E KULA

The other example of the archaic gift system on which Mauss dwells at some length is that of the kula, practiced by the Trobriand Islanders and their neighbors in the Massim in north-west New Guinea. This system is more serene, though grounded in the same concepts of credit and honour. Here what is striking is the scope of the system rather than the forms of credit. The term kula means circle, the circle that links partners scattered across a considerable number of islands and regions


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

who form an international, wide-ranging system of exchange so large that their circle intersects, on its periphery, with comparable circles.3 Participation in the kula represents the high point in the lives of Trobriand men. It is what wins them friends and renown. It makes life worth living and gives everything meaning. If we needed any proof of the superiority, in human affairs, of strictly symbolic motivations over those that are purely material, the impressive lasting power of the kula would be among the most eloquent. The kula exchange seems to have existed for at least five centuries and, although it fulfils no utilitarian function as such, far from fading away with the "westernization of the world" (Latouche 1992,), plays an increasingly important role in the current lives of the Trobriand Islanders and their neighbors (Weiner 1989). What is so fascinating and compelling in the kula? Perhaps, in the first instance, beyond the quest for renown common to all types of ceremonial exchanges, it is the extraordinary clarity with which its formal ordering reflects the principles of alternance and reversibility at the heart of the gift. All must play, but each in his turn, when his time comes. To illustrate, with an example that is itself abstract and formal: one fine day, in a certain month of a certain year, some men from the Island of A, led by an entrepreneur, the leader of an expedition, charter one or more dugouts and sail towards the Island of B. The boats leave almost empty, loaded only with objects of no importance, trinkets and baubles, whose only purpose is to serve as bait, as "opening gifts." Once the visitors have landed on Island B, they encounter partners with whom they have traded in the past and seek new ones by offering small presents. If these are accepted, the man from B gives the man from A an important gift. A new bond is created, a new friend is made, a new path (keda) has been cleared. A Trobriand chief, notes Malinowski (192.0), is usually linked in this way to 2,00 friends, 100 in the north, 100 in the south. Once new friendships have been established and old ones consolidated, the men of A leave B and set sail for the Island of C, then D, where the same process is repeated. They return at last to A, now loaded down with the precious gifts they have received. Some months or years later it will be the turn for the people from B, then C, etc., to mount an expedition and to receive valuable gifts under the same conditions. In the context of the kula, certain utilitarian goods can circulate, as long as they include some sense of luxury. Barter (gimwali) is tolerated, as in the potlatch, but here too it is peripheral and comes between episodes of ceremonial exchange. Nothing is more shaming than to be accused of conducting one's kula like a gimwali. It is only with certain tribes, partners for which one has no respect, that it is permitted to bargain. And in all cases bargaining is out of the question for nobility.

The Archaic Gift


The goods specific to the kula are vaygu'a, precious objects, masculine or feminine, that consist of shell bracelets and circulate in different directions depending on their sex. It is these objects of desire that populate legends, tales, and dreams. Their passage from hand to hand is recounted in the greatest detail, along with the power and glory of their former owners. They are guarded jealously, despite the knowledge that they must sooner or later be surrendered as gifts. Their value, as Malinowski and Mauss have observed, is determined not only by their size and the quality of the materials that have gone into them but also by the number of hands through which they have passed and the social positions of those that have possessed them. There can be no better illustration of the radical division between the symbolic and utilitarian value of goods. In his Coral Gardens and Their Magic (1935), Malinowski describes at some length the production of yams and the way the Trobriand Islanders distinguish between the most important part of the harvest, that destined for ceremonial use, and that reserved for consumption. While yams in the first category are openly displayed, those to be eaten are moved around in clandestine fashion, almost shamefully, and the quantity a person sets aside for himself is a carefully kept secret (Breton 1989, 50). In chapter 6 of Argonauts of the Western Pacific (192,2), Malinowski attempts to classify the different sorts of offerings practiced by the Trobriand Islanders, from those that seem to him the most disinterested and the least subject to the law of equivalence, to the most self-interested and closest to simple barter and to mercantile exchange. He distinguishes between seven kinds of offerings. Kula comes sixth in line, just before the pure and simple barter (gimwali] and on the same level as wasi, a kind of kula specific to each island that involves foodstuffs while maintaining the characteristics of ceremonial exchange. In a recent article, Annette Weiner (1989)4 describes in detail the deliberations of Trobriand Islanders trying to decide whether they should, and if so when, introduce into the kula circle precious family belongings that are inalienable in principle (the kitomu) and therefore extremely precious and likely to stimulate desire and attract many superb vaygu'a. In an earlier text Reo Fortune (1972.) relates how the sorcerers of Dobu, the most fearsome of all practitioners of the kula, used increasingly strong magic formulas to force their partners to offer them their most valuable possessions and to conquer the most unattainable women. In these cases, it is certainly true that there are no "free" gifts (Douglas 1990). But what we want to emphasize is that even where everyone competes with everyone else in order to obtain the most coveted goods, it is nonetheless true that nothing is acquired


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

that has not been given. At the very most one can attempt to force someone, through cunning, magic, or rhetoric, to make a gift. One cannot, strictly speaking, extort through violence, nor take advantage of a rational bilateral exchange. If the men of the kula oppose each other, notes Weiner, it is, in the last analysis, "to acquire from specific partners or from 'friends', as they're often called" (Weiner 1989, 38). It is therefore even more legitimate to say of kula what a Skagit Indian said of the potlatch, "It's like a bodiless handshake" (Schulte-Tenckoff 1986, 264). Kula is the gift's visible hand. It forges a network of relationships between people, where the invisible hand that is assumed to be ruling the market in Western society governs the relationship between things. A feminist critic might point out that if the men of the kula are able to strike flattering poses, this is thanks to the work of women who, while producing the goods for the ceremonial system, are completely shut out of it. To discuss such criticism would take a great deal of time, space, and attention since it would involve an assessment of Claude LeviStrauss's theory according to which women not only produce the goods that are offered as gifts but constitute themselves the primary gift, the quintessential gift. We will come back to this. Moreover, it would appear that within the territory of New Guinea alone, the relative status of men and women is eminently variable. To generalize would be risky, especially if we were to include other geographical locations. The most complete treatment of this question at the present time is that of Marilyn Strathern (i988). 5 She tries to show that, while the feminist critique has a certain legitimacy, it is unfounded because it is too Eurocentrist. On the one hand there can be no question of exploitation of labour in a society that does not recognize work and where things are acquired only through the gift; on the other hand, and most important, we cannot talk of the exploitation of the work of women by men because sexual identity is not defined as it is in the West and human beings are not expected to have a sexual identity that is predetermined, fixed, and allocated ne varietur.6 Whatever the case, where the Trobriand Islands are concerned Weiner (1983) has shown brilliantly that Malinowski simply did not recognize that a ceremonial oblational system exists, which is controlled exclusively by women and assures them, as a complement to the kula rituals that structure social and political life, the control of those symbolic operations - deaths, births - by which society enters into contact with the cosmic order.7 As well, women are the only true, if not necessarily symbolic, donors of children. So one cannot assert that, in the archaic and traditional social order, men always monopolize the role of donor, relegating women to the role of recipient at best and of breeders stripped of their possessions

The Archaic Gift


at worst.8 The example of the Trobriand Islanders shows that the importance of the struggle, not only between men but equally between men and women, is not in acquiring things but in acquiring the power to giv.e, as Georges Bataille (1967) has already convincingly shown. The Traditional Gift and the Market All writings on the gift that aim at some sort of general theory begin, as this chapter did, with a review of early studies and an outline of recent analyses of the potlatch and the kula. Potlatch and kula represent the "compulsory figures" for any "presentation" on the gift, and for good reason. When we look at non-compulsory examples, the choice is much more vast. Recent anthropological exploration of New Guinea, in particular, has yielded rich material. But we would prefer to focus on a third continent, Africa, and to assess the status of the gift in a relatively complex society which, unlike that of the Kwakiutl or the Trobriand Islanders, has been aware of the market for a long time. The example will also bear on the relationship of the gift to commodities. Let us take for our guide Guy Nicolas's book Don rituel et echange marchand [Ritual Gift and Mercantile Exchange] (1986), which is the account of a study undertaken between 1950 and 1970 on the oblational system in the Maradi region in the south of Niger. In our opinion it is the best and the most complete ethnological work on the question that has ever appeared. In 1960 the Maradi region, one of the most densely populated in Niger, had 141,500 inhabitants, of whom more than 2.0,000 lived in Maradi itself. The non-nomads lived in large villages of a thousand people. Economic activity included subsistence agriculture, growing peanuts for the world market, and an important traditional production of cotton fabric and indigo that the region had exported for a long time. The population was composed of Peuls natives, who for the most part worked on the land, and a dominant class of Hausa who were both mercantile and aristocratic. The Hausa, grouped into states in the eleventh century, are the merchants of Central Africa, where they formed a population of 25 million in 1960. They set the tone and establish the dominant ethos in Maradi, which is clearly mercantile. Everyone is involved in commerce and makes commerce out of everything. Everyone heads a small personal business, or produces and sells cloth, leather, furniture, blankets, and so on. The basic social unit is the polygamous family (gida), rivalled in importance by the village (gari), which has the upper hand as a result of its symbolic influence on the clan. In this society, where inherited private property on a small scale has long been the order of the day, there is great individual autonomy,

no 110

From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

but exercising it means choosing from among a number of allegiances. The religious system is extremely complex, since it consists of a combination of agrarian polytheistic religions; a cult of the city, also polytheistic and of Hausa origin; and an Islamism that is ubiquitous but superficial. Power resides, traditionally, in the aristocratic Hausa. The Maradi region is divided into two provinces, themselves divided into cantons, whose chiefs boast the royal title of farki. Each village, finally, is governed by a chief who is a primus inter pares chosen from among the heads of compounds, who are often members of the village's founding family. What makes Nicolas's book especially interesting is that he provides an analysis of all the oblationary systems that structure the life of the Maradi and give it its distinctive meaning and tone. Through his exhaustive attention to detail he makes it clear that the gift is found everywhere in a society that, from another perspective, could be considered a mercantile society. The gift ritual is observed in four important areas of social activity: the major stages in life, religious life, youth festivals and jousting, and the exercise of power. There is no question of our reproducing Nicolas's study in detail, but we do want to give something of its gist. The important landmarks in the life of a resident of Maradi are the conferring of his name, circumcision, marriage, and the funeral ceremony. We will talk here only of marriages, and that very briefly - just enough to give some sense of the complexities, which make it clear that the dowry offered by the fiance to the father of the bride (bridewealth or sadaki) cannot be regarded in the same light as the price paid for a piece of merchandise. In Maradi the matrimonial offering is relatively modest compared to the sums we see in many other African societies. The marital process involves three stages: the engagement, the marriage, and the transporting of the bride to the dwelling of her husband. There are complex rituals involved in each of these steps but we will limit ourselves to an account of the picturesque names for the various gifts that are made on these occasions. The engagement period begins with a first gift, called "money to see the lineage" (of the future bride), a sort of opening gift. The reply to this is a gift offered by the parents of the future bride. This gift is acknowledged by work done in the field of the father-in-law, called "a reciprocal agricultural outing in guise of thanks." Many interlocking gifts follow, involving animals, salt coconuts, betel nuts, etc. During the marriage ceremony itself, besides the offering of the sadaki, there is a "gift of theft money" which evokes marriage by abduction, a "gift that kills the godmother," a "gift of money for the swing" and, offered by the husband, a very important marriage basket, whose composition has been carefully determined in advance. When the bride enters her hus-

The Archaic Gift


band's compound, some days later, her companions are presented with "the money for the bringing of the bride," to which is added, to defuse the scorn they display towards the husband's compound, "the money for we-disdain"; there follows the payment of "money for the gathering" and that of "slave money," whose purpose is to buy out of makebelieve slavery the younger sister of the bride. The groom's mother offers a "gift of thanks" to the parents of the bride. The husband, for his part, must give his wife a new present so that she will agree to talk to him and to come close to him. The days that follow are the occasion for many other gifts. Given that the inhabitants of Maradi are polygamous, and the goal of any man is to have as many wives as possible, it is clear that with marriage ceremonies alone one can have a full life that is very much beholden to the gift. All the more so in that even before the engagement the man must court his wife-to-be, and this requires many more gifts. During this period, just as with the marriage, the independence of women comes very much to the fore. At the time of the marriage, in fact, the family of the bride offers a gift of compensation, called a he ("increase"); once quite modest, the he tends today to outstrip in importance the gifts presented by the groom's party, despite the objections of the father of the bride but at the instigation of the bride and her mother. The very name of this practice ("increase") is reminiscent of the workings of the potlatch. And in fact, the logic of oblational rivalry permeates all of Maradi life, especially since the griots, the ubiquitous African troubadours, live off the spin-offs from the general oblational generosity, and praise, on every notable occasion, the munificence of the great donors, while censuring the stinginess of those who do not give enough. Through the he, mother and daughter work to crush their rivals. From a very early age, and sometimes without even informing her mother, the young woman takes pains to put together her he, doing whatever she can to improve her financial situation. Her principal strategy is to encourage competition between several suitors by raising the stakes and generally, choosing the highest offer. The rejected suitors can eventually demand compensation from the chosen one. But even without this the "gifts to seek a wife" are very costly. According to Nicolas's calculations, they represent 72, percent of all the expenses accruing to a marriage. The only way for young men to reduce expenses is to court widows, who may even supplement the groom's starting capital, if it is too meagre, with their own hes. There are a thousand-and-one other occasions described by Guy Nicolas for giving gifts: gifts to women dancers who are close to the spirits of the voodoo cult; gifts of wives to austere holy men; the dubu,


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

a potlatch in which young people compete for the title of master of the harvest by overcoming the envy, hatred, and sorcery of their rivals; or the "dubu of women" (kan kwarya), open to all women who show an interest and who try to attain the position of chieftain (tambara) by challenging all other women with their wealth. The capacity to offer such a challenge, duly commented on by the griots, presupposes, according to Nicolas, "virtues that not everyone can boast, of asceticism, energy in one's work, and foresight" (1986, 90). Like the savage warriors analysed by Pierre Clastres (1974), the career of the tambara never ends. Opportunities continue to arise to force the new tambara to be ever more generous. Those who do not know how to be spontaneously generous find themselves under permanent threat of a gukun, a gift of work undertaken secretly at night by the young people of the village, which obliges the laggards to make a particularly expensive counter-gift if they do not want to lose face forever. From the sociological point of view, there are drawbacks to focusing discussion too strictly on the classic examples of the potlatch or the kula: do they not take us back to a stage of human development long surpassed, that no longer concerns us very much? It is true that their analysis has been left to anthropologists. Maradi society is less foreign to us and Nicolas's investigation of that society permits us to draw some immediate tentative conclusions. It shows that the pertinent dichotomy is not that which opposes calculation to the absence of calculation, self-interest to disinterestedness. Calculation was already there, clearly, in the potlatch and the kula. In Maradi everyone calculates, everyone buys and sells. But what emerges just as clearly is that the ultimate goal of the overall process, the moment of final accomplishment, is to find oneself in the position of a donor. As Nicolas has rightly observed, investment in the gift and investment in commodities go side by side and complement each other. The latter, however, seems hierarchically subordinate to the first, which "gives" it its final meaning. "The oblational order obliges the merchant to subscribe to its laws and obliges the donor to participate in the market in order to acquire these goods" (1986, 178). The market, while omnipresent, tends to be instrumental where the gift is concerned. We know that Marx made a distinction between "simple small mercantile production" and capitalism, asserting that with the former it was the commodity and its use value that constituted the point of departure and the goal of the process, whereas with capitalism, money became the precondition and aim of the whole exercise. He summed up this opposition with two rival formulas: C-M-C on the one hand, and M-C-M on the other (C=commodities and M = money). If we add G=gift to describe a traditional society still governed by the gift despite the important role

The Archaic Gift


played by commodities, we get G-C-M-C-G. The same thing can be said in a different way. The consumption of goods in Maradi is first and foremost public consumption, consumption made in public and for the public. This leads us to suggest, along with Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood (1979), that consumption is first and foremost a ritual act. Or, which amounts to the same thing, that in Maradi the logic based on the value of things still seems subordinate to that based on the value of people. Before asking ourselves how the archaic gift compares to the modern gift described in the first part of this book, we must complete our examination of the archaic gift by looking at a problem as classic as the potlatch and the kula: the role of money in these societies. ON THE NATURE OF PRIMITIVE MONEY

Hegel said of money that "it is touched with freedom." He also wrote that "logic is the money of the mind." We could quote many more metaphors of this sort,9 all of which would indicate the extent to which money is an essential part of modernity. As well, for those interested in the resemblances and discrepancies between archaic and modern societies, there is no subject more pertinent and sensitive than that of the nature of archaic money. Without desire for money, there is no modern economic system and no market system is possible. Without desire for the precious archaic goods that Mauss proposed considering as forms of money, without the intersecting and mirror-image desires for the vaygu'a, the taonga, or the heraldic copper shields of the Kwakiutl, there would be no kula or potlatch. Are these modern and archaic desires comparable? And are the objects of desire of the same sort? Are the archaic goods of value the direct ancestors of modern money, easy to classify under the generic concept of money, or do they belong to another species, at least as different from the money of economists as Neanderthals are from Homo sapiens? On the question of archaic money's congruence with modern currency, the French author who is probably most knowledgeable on the subject, Jean-Michel Servet (1982), gives a cautious and qualified answer. He calls archaic money "paleomoney," to indicate that goods that served as archaic money often functioned subsequently as modern currency, but underwent a transformation in doing so. We, however, would opt for a thesis of discontinuity between money and archaic objects. Certainly every known society seems to have made use of precious objects that could be added up - or at least that is the conclusion reached a few years ago by a number of anthropologists, including Daniel de Coppet and J.-M. Servet, during a conference that took place


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

at the Thomas More Centre Arbresle. It is therefore tempting to conclude that there is a universal need to measure the value of goods. It takes only one more step to endorse a dominant economic evolutionism, where the gift and ceremonial exchange are no more than a kind of exotic, hypocritical luxury, a thin veil masking a pervading economic reality. This economic reality is there in the perenniality of barter and of tit-for-tat exchange, which are quickly rationalized and transformed once money - the intermediary that makes it possible for exchanges to proliferate - appears on the scene. But this economic hypothesis does not hold water. Just as barter, and even the market, are not unknown in archaic societies but are kept very much on the periphery, so these societies use various kinds of money, but for a different end than we use money today. Our money, according to economists, fulfills at least three functions: it measures the value of goods, it facilitates their circulation, and it serves, finally, to settle "material" debts. Primitive moneys contributed, in their way, to fulfilling these three functions but, as Karl Polanyi has noted (1944, 1957, 1977), no archaic money fulfilled them all at the same time. In his opinion, these moneys were always specific to one purpose, while modern money is in some sense multipurpose. The monetary system of Russell Island, for example, includes two monetary spheres, that of the Ndap system, and that of the Nko system. We will briefly discuss the former. The Ndap system is divided into twenty-two classes of shell money. A particular piece of goods can only be obtained through the exchange of a Ndap shell of a specific rank, which the potential buyer very often does not have. This example alone is evidence of the crucial fact that archaic "moneys" do not form a homogeneous whole, with additive and substitutive properties. No piece of money may automatically be substituted for another in a simple numerical relationship. The inhabitants of the Pallau Islands (in the Carolinas) have sometimes been regarded as financial capitalists before their time. Indeed, they are passionately devoted to their "moneys." These moneys are divided into nine basic groups and 282 different types. The most expert of these primitive "bankers" know the names of 3,000 different pieces, as well as their present and past owners and the complex paths they have traced. According to Mauss, what justifies our speaking of this type of precious object as money is its wide circulation. But this circulation is in fact strictly limited. Looking at Paul Bohannan's (1955, 1967) detailed observations of the Tiv in Nigeria helps show this. He demonstrates the existence of three types of goods belonging to three different spheres of circulation that in principle have no contact with each other: that of subsistence goods, of luxury goods, and of prestige goods.10 No

The Archaic Gift


means exist, no universal money in particular, that would enable one to convert, officially at least, subsistence goods into livestock, women, or children. The universality of the circulation is therefore very relative and primitive money circulates only in combination with a number of very restricted goods and between a certain number of specific partners. It cannot follow just any path. What is more, and this ought to have led him to abandon his thesis regarding the monetary character of primitive money, Mauss himself observed that the value of "pieces" of money is never fixed: it varies according to the number of hands it has passed through, the prestige of the owners, and the circumstances surrounding the transactions in which they have been instrumental. More generally, primitive prices for the same goods vary according to the social status of those making the exchange. To the inhabitants of one island, one gives a fish for a taro or a yam; to those of another, perhaps ten fish. Equal treatment and arithmetical reciprocity are obviously not priorities. In New Guinea, the Baruya give, in the form of bars of salt, one day of work to their Yaoundanyi neighbors, who give them back two and a half in the guise of bark peelings. This is well-known and is considered normal, given the superiority in magic of the Baruya over the Yaoundanyi (see Godelier 1973). All these remarks lead us to a simple conclusion: primitive money's primary function is not to measure the value of things but the value of people.11 If it measures the value of things, it does so only indirectly, by association with the worth of individuals. Archaic money cannot be used to buy anything. How can one buy, when it is impossible to acquire anything that is not given, except for residual barter where no money changes hands? Archaic money is not there to buy but to pay, and not principally for things but for people, the price for a bride or for blood. It is not at the core of a non-existent economic system but at the centre of a system that is matrimonial or vindicatory (Coppet and Iteanu 1970). Modern money only made its appearance once the value of things broke free from that of individuals: when Greek tyrants, brought to power by the first failures of democracy, had the possessions of aristocratic families melted down to make stamped coins whose value, guaranteed by the city, was unaffected by the status of their former owners. Before it embodied freedom, modern money represented equality,12- which derived from the state. In the beginning it guaranteed that in principle one equalled one and that everyone, whatever their social standing, had the right of equal access to goods, even if many concrete inequities eventually arose from this abstract egalitarian principle enshrined by the invention of money. Archaic society, on the


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

other hand, assumed that people and things had different values a priori, and it was the responsibility of the gift to effect redistribution and to establish parity on the assumption that each individual was unique. The significance of archaic money is therefore not found in its relationship to things but in, much more general and complex, the relationship it forges between persons living, dead, or to be reborn, with animals, and with the cosmos. It is nothing less than life itself. "They are," says Servet of the paleomoneys: the site for speech and touching ... They follow the word, women, children, other wealth both given and received. To hold on to them would be both absurd and dangerous. In Kanak, the term for "life" and "debt" is the same word. He who is in debt has simply surrendered a small part of his energy to his creditor; he will regain it once he has paid off what he owes; when the creditor dies, the debtor settles his debt so as not to leave his life in the hands of the deceased. Kanuk paleomonies are the breath of children, the children that of a clan; navigating the waters of kinship, the paleomonies follow the flow of life. Totem and kinship are essential to acquire paleomonies, while on the other hand, without the "mie," groups and clans cannot relate to other people and have no social life ... We see them circulating as matrimonial compensation or as a result of murder or giving offence, as a means to forging a political alliance between groups, as the sole object of sacrifice ... these are the means of social exchange." (Servet 1982, 196-7, zoy)

In a society without writing, money is the privileged record-keeper that helps shore up the collective memory. Because each piece is unique, and by definition cannot be substituted for any other, it constantly calls to mind, through its presence alone, its origins and the trajectory it has followed. It embodies and makes visible an entire sequence of intersecting debts and obligations, linking each individual to all. Thus Ann Almond can say of certain nephrite Tonga Maoris that are particularly precious and in theory inalienable: "Each Tonga treasure was a fixed point in the tribal network of names, stories and relationships. It was associated with specific ancestors, was identified with specific lines of descent, had its own history and was exchanged on certain momentous occasions. This is how the Tonga got a grip on history and held it up to the living, echoing the models of the past, from the beginnings of creation to the present time" (quoted by Weiner 1988, 147). But it is perhaps among the Maenge of New Britain, whose paleomoneys are called pages, that the primordial equation is most clearly spelled out: one page = one life (Panoff 1980).

The Archaic Gift


We now have the information we need. Archaic money represents the actualization of people in societies where there are no individuals, but only people. Let us keep this equation in mind as we attempt to interpret the archaic gift.


Classic Interpretations of the Archaic Gift

Why does one give? Why must we accept gifts and presents? Why can we not refuse to reciprocate? These are the three questions Marcel Mauss asks at the beginning of The Gift. The Gift proposes, partly explicitly and partly implicitly, three sorts of answers to these questions, which correspond to what we might call the classic interpretations of the gift: the economic interpretation, the "indigenous" interpretation, and the structuralist-exchangist interpretation. The first and the third, by trying to relate the gift to a truth outside it, unfortunately tend to invalidate it. The second, to which Mauss himself was most attracted, remains enigmatic and incomplete. A rapid survey of these three major types of interpretations will help us to chart the territory where this theoretical debate unfolds, before we give some idea of our own approach. THE ECONOMIC INTERPRETATION

The economic interpretation of the gift is the one most amenable to the modern mind. And so it is not surprising that it is by far the most popular among theories of the gift. Mauss makes reference to this at the beginning of his book, when he speaks of the "character of these ... services, apparently free and disinterested but nevertheless constrained and self-interested. Almost always such services have taken the form of the gift, the present generously given even when ... there is only a polite fiction, formalism, and social deceit, and where really there is obligation and economic self-interest" (1990, 3). "The market," he adds, "is a human phenomenon that, in our view, is not foreign to any known society" (ibid., 4). These statements seem to contradict others that he puts forward elsewhere, along with his contention that "Homo oeconomicus is not behind us, but lies ahead ... For a very long time man was some-

Classic Interpretations of the Archaic Gift


thing different, and he has not been a machine, made complicated by an adding machine, for very long" (ibid., 76). A contradiction of the same order lies behind all American culturalist anthropology, as Isabelle Schulte-Tenckhoff demonstrates perfectly. On the one hand, culturalism systematically puts the emphasis on the inexhaustible and irresistible diversity of human cultures, all organized around values that are supposedly arbitrary. On the other hand, it thinks it can routinely detect the ubiquitous presence of strictly economic motives. Thus Franz Boas, who both discovered the potlatch and founded cultural anthropology, wrote: "The Indians consider the potlatch a way to assure the well-being of their children, should they become orphans at an early age. It is, to employ one of our own terms, their life insurance."1 Similarly, emphasizing the "usurious rates" common in the potlatch, he affirms that the basic principle at work is "to invest wealth that returns interest. "z Paul Radin calls the North-West Coast Indians the "capitalists of the North" and describes the potlatch as a "veritable auction of names, privileges and goods."3 Later, two of the most important representatives of the "formalist" current of thought in economic anthropology, Raymond Firth (1972) and Melville Herskovits (1965), both endorsed the idea that is still a commonplace in the scholarly literature, whereby oblational practices represent "material investment with a view to social profit." After reading this kind of explanation, one might wonder whether Mauss was seeing things, and whether anything like the offering of gifts ever existed. In the case of potlatch, we are tempted to doubt that it did, as the interpretation of the potlatch, as we have seen, is itself uncertain. Experts now agree that a part of its exaggerated character stems from the special situation in which Kwakiutl society found itself at the end of the nineteenth century. Its exceptional wealth may be explained in part by its long-standing and profitable commercial relations with the Whites. What is more, by around 1890 the Kwakiutl population had declined considerably, while the number of honorific positions had remained stable (at around 600), and the frequent absence of obvious and legitimate heirs provided ample room for competition between distant relatives whose lineage was often unclear. Peter Drucker (1967) proposed that a distinction be made between ordinary potlatch, which conformed to the original institution, and the potlatch of rivalry, which, in his opinion, corresponded to a pathological state. The word potlatch, he noted, only means "to give." Ordinary potlatch simply implied a celebration to mark an important event and was designed to symbolize and make public a shift in rights. It had nothing to do with "usurious rates" or rivalry. (That, however, is going a bit far, as we have seen that an element of rivalry is never entirely absent from the archaic gift system.)

i zo

From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

This distinction opened the way to hard-line economic interpretations, which characterized all elements of "strangeness" in the potlatch as anomalies and concentrated exclusively on its economic role. In the context of Julian Seward's cultural ecology, and the cultural materialism represented by a Melvin Harris, many authors gave priority to the strictly utilitarian functions of the potlatch. On this interpretation, what was important was the maximization of energy or the calories produced or distributed. Stuart Piddocke (1965) sees the potlatch as a fund designed to balance things out between tribes temporarily in the red and those temporarily in the black. Similarly, Marvin Harris, the ardent defender of a very eighteenth-century brand of radical materialism, claims that the real reason for the potlatch resided in the fact that it assured "the production and distribution of wealth among peoples who have not yet fully acquired a ruling class" and "functioned aboriginally to transfer food and other valuables from centers of high productivity to less fortunate villages." And he adds, more generally and in opposition to the interpretations favored by the culturalists, "The economic system of the Kwakiutl was not bent to the service of status rivalry; rather, status rivalry was bent to the service of the economic system" (Harris 1979, 116, 118, 119). In France, Marxist economic anthropology, which was important during the 19705 because of such figures as Maurice Godelier, Claude Meillassoux, Emmanuel Terray, and Pierre-Philippe Rey, tried its hand at a more sophisticated materialism. But the result was rather ambiguous and vague, as they were never able to make clear whether economics, which they claimed was "in the last analysis the deciding factor," was to be understood as involving productive forces and the "process of production," which would have risked tilting it towards crude materialism, or whether the crucial element was to be found in "production relationships," in which case it would be hard distinguish these from social or political or family relationships. They set out to assimilate the mode of exchange to the mode of production, which meant, for the gift, bringing it under the aegis of the superstructure or the ideology. There is little doubt that the gift can be manipulated, more or less consciously, and can serve to mask or veil relationships of domination and exploitation. It remains to be demonstrated, however, that it can be totally reduced to serving ideological purposes. It is the absence of such a demonstration that undermines, in our estimation, the most ambitious attempt to construct a general sociological theory based on an economic interpretation of the gift - Pierre Bourdieu's Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977).4 Bourdieu's work has the merit of presenting, in a context influenced by Marxist thought, a theoretical analysis that is much less dismissive than others of the strictly symbolic motivation for human conduct. His Trois Etudes d'ethnologie kabyle (Studies in Kabyl

Classic Interpretations of the Archaic Gift


Ethnology) (Bourdieu 1972.) make an invaluable contribution to the study of the logic of honour. However, in the last analysis Bourdieu seems to think it impossible to account for such non-material factors other than by suggesting that the dialectic involving the different sorts of capital that he studies with such precision - symbolic, cultural, social, etc. - is finally there only because it's required for the accumulation of economic capital. He explains that "economics-in-itself," or objective material self-interest, is always present. Archaic traditional societies would then be characterized by the absence of "economics-foritself," in other words, an incomplete awareness or dissimulation of material self-interest - which agrees with the idea of the gift as nothing more than "formalism and social deceit" (Mauss 1990, 3). It would be absurd to attempt here, in a few lines, a rebuttal of these economic readings of the gift. If the present book is convincing to the reader, at least in part, we will have attained this goal. Let us simply note, for the moment, that archaic societies were not obsessed by material scarcity (Sahlins 1976, and Caille 1984) and that material accretion was not their primary concern. Besides, the obligation to give runs counter to what accumulation demands. Economic interpretations of the gift necessarily imply either a lack of awareness or hypocrisy on the part of primitive people. We should remember that neither the Kwakiutl nor the Trobriand Islanders were strangers to barter, and that the African society studied by Nicolas was an out-and-out mercantile society. We cannot very well say that they were ignorant of "economics-initself. " It would be more accurate to say that economics was contained, that the mercantile order was not allowed to assert itself independent of the overall social context. Archaic society is thus "against the economy and the market," just as, if we can believe Pierre Clastres (1974), it is "against the state." As for hypocrisy, one can always accuse any individual or society of that. But if we agree to recognize the presence of the "ideology of the gift" everywhere in archaic societies, the charge of hypocrisy becomes very weak. If all these societies and all their members are hypocritical, then who is not? Let us assume for the moment that until the advent of capitalism - since that is what we are talking about - all human groups lived a life of total hypocrisy. Those who make such an argument would still have to explain why societies were structured this way and show why it was advantageous.

THE "INDIGENOUS" INTERPRETATION Despite those passages we have quoted that might give the opposite impression, the economic interpretation of the gift did not really find favour with Mauss. He seems to have given it some credence in passing in order to guard against the pitfalls of idealism and to avoid lapsing

1izz 22

From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

into an ideology of disinterestedness that would only be the mirrorimage of the economicist utilitarianism he was battling. Of the three obligations he mentions, reciprocating would appear to be the one he found most mysterious and intriguing. One might well ask how a primitive society sets about ensuring that contracts that are purely tacit and implicit are respected and honoured when there are no written texts, no bailiffs, no police. We know that Mauss thought he had found the key to this problem in the words of a Maori sage called Ranapiri to a missionary ethnologist, Elsdon Best: Ranapiri explained that if Best gave Ranapiri a precious object (a taonga) and Ranapiri, in turn, made a gift to a third person, then if this third person gave another taonga to Ranapiri, Ranapiri would absolutely have to offer the new taonga to Best, because it would be the spirit - the hau - of Best's gift. "If I kept this other taonga for myself, serious harm might befall me, even death. This is the nature of the hau, the hau of personal property" (Mauss 1990, n). Thus, according to Mauss, what makes us reciprocate is the "spirit of the thing given," the equivalent of the mana that inhabits personal possessions. However, not all things, but only those that belong to a clan, a lineage, to people, are invested with spiritual force. These are just those objects that elude the utilitarian domain and serve as support for the gift. They are alienated because they are by definition inalienable (Weiner 1985). Such goods belong forever to their first owners. It follows, concludes Mauss, that "to make a gift of something to someone is to make a present of part of oneself ... One clearly and logically realizes that one must give back to another person what is really part and parcel of his nature and substance" (12.). Mauss here expresses in a few choice words what the gift is all about. And we could leave it at that, were it not for the fact that his theory had been systematically rejected and stigmatized. Perhaps, as Weiner notes (1988), this is because critics have not paid adequate attention to the idea of inalienable goods, to the dialectic of inalienability, or to the inalienability to which personal possessions are subject. We must therefore continue our theoretical debate. We will not deal with the vast scholarly literature devoted to the very idea of the hau, and its exegesis, although we will have something to say about it later on. We must, however, face up to the debate occasioned by Claude Levi-Strauss, who founded his school of structural anthropology by both laying claim to Mauss's legacy and rejecting his indigenous interpretation of the gift. THE EXCHANGIST-STRUCTURALIST INTERPRETATION

In his introduction to the collection of texts by Mauss published under the title Sociologie et Anthropologie (1950), which contains Mauss's

Classic Interpretations of the Archaic Gift


The Gift, Levi-Strauss reproaches Mauss, as many other authors have done,5 for having allowed himself to be misled by a Maori jurist and accepting without question an animist explanation for the gift, something which may be sufficient for primitive minds that believe in spiritual forces but which is not acceptable to science. Moreover, he adds, Mauss was mistaken in making a distinction between three obligations - to give, to receive, to reciprocate - when actually there is only one: to exchange. We know that in The Elementary Structures of Kinship LeviStrauss explained that exchange was first the exchange of women6 and the other side of the universal prohibition of incest. This prohibition, which forbids one to take a woman "among one's own," obliges one to look elsewhere and, in so doing, to forge alliances with strangers who are then transformed, more or less precariously, into relatives. Levi-Strauss's theory may be understood in two ways, one more empirical and concrete, the other more abstract. In its concrete sense, the exchange of women, the corollary of the prohibition of incest, is there to substitute peace for war. This line of reasoning was already present in Mauss's work when he wrote that "presents and gifts ... are strictly compulsory, on pain of private or public warfare" (1990, 5), that the level of generosity is proportional to the fear and hostility felt, and that "it is by opposing reason to feeling ... that peoples succeed in substituting alliance, gifts, and trade for war, isolation, and stagnation" (ibid, 82). For "there is no middle way: one trusts completely or one mistrusts completely; one lays down one's arms and gives up magic, or one gives everything, from fleeting acts of hospitality to one's daughter and one's goods" (ibid., 81). According to Sahlins (1976), the gift represents the true primitive social contract. This is plausible, although it requires that the dialectic between war and peace be clarified, since this dialectic is also the basis of a social relationship. What is disturbing, however, in the structuralist reading is the way it relies on the concept of exchange to provide support for its abstract, almost esoteric, inclinations. If the prohibition of incest is universal, Levi-Strauss explains, it's because it is situated where Nature and Culture intersect and because, by subjecting societies to the law, it transforms them into properly cultural entities. Individuals, in other words, become human only in submitting themselves to the law. We know how Jacques Lacan (1977) will build on this theme to reinterpret Freud's Oedipus theory, at the risk of hypostatizing Law and being a bit quick to identify the law that prohibits incest with the law of economic exchange. Why talk of exchange? The whole problem is there, for it seems hard to use this term without, nolens volens, consciously or not, entering the realm of political economy, without identifying exchange with the exchange of goods and the entire system of exchange with the market.


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

That is the basis of the criticism levelled at Levi-Strauss by feminists, who accuse him, with some justification,7 of asserting that all societies treated women as commodities. Certainly Levi-Strauss makes a distinction between what he calls the limited bilateral exchange of women and general exchange. In the latter, clan A gives a woman to clan B, which gives one to clan C, etc. It is therefore clear that in general exchange, contrary to what feminists assert, Levi-Strauss recognized that we are not dealing with the logic of the market, since it is never the recipient of an offering who makes the counter-offering. Nevertheless, by not making a clear distinction between gift and commodity, between ceremonial and market exchange, he prevents us from seeing what is most important, i.e., the reasons why archaic societies have so stubbornly resisted any attempt to transform gifts into commodities. We have been arguing that the idea of exchange as such cannot be applied across the board, but to talk of exchange at all immediately and inevitably involves us in an economic interpretation of the gift. Mauss was therefore right to be wary and to talk of "what we refer to so inadequately as exchange" or to "barter" since, if we are not to lapse into that economicism that structuralism claimed to transcend, we still have to explore why, at least where important matters are concerned, men in archaic societies do not exchange, but give. The same ambiguity, insofar as it is grounded in Levi-Strauss's structuralism, compromises the Lacanian reworking of Freudianism. It is this Lacanian rereading that inspired three of the authors who have written with the greatest insight about the gift in archaic societies: Jean Baudrillard, in Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993), Stephane Breton (1989), and Guy Nicolas (1986). The best treatment of the Lacanian doctrine on the gift is that by Nicolas (178 ff.). Based primarily on Lacan's The Function and Field of Speach and Language in Psychoanalysis (1977), it has a clarity and coherence that is not nearly so present in the original. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920-22), Freud tells of having seen a baby throw a spool of thread and then reel it in, emitting the onomatopoeic noises "o," "a." Freud explains that in German these mean fort, over there, da, here. Through the game with the spool, the young child is symbolically re-enacting the real separation from the mother. The spool represents the lost object. Symbol of presence and absence, Lacan suggests that it signifies a little piece of the subject that breaks away while still remaining very much a part of himself. By playing with it, the child learns that in and through the symbolic he can find again and control what he cannot help losing in real life. The spool is an illustration of what Lacan called the object a, "the signifier of any loss experienced by the subject in his accession to social order and exchange" (ibid., 180). Access to the symbolic, to

Classic Interpretations of the Archaic Gift


game-playing, enables the subject to transcend his dependence on the image other subjects reflect back at him, in that imaginative realm associated with the mirror stage. This helps him escape a never-ending dead-end rivalry. Conversely, the unconscious is made up of all that could not be exchanged, symbolized, given and returned, and that psychoanalysis is determined to shift from the realm of the imaginary to that of symbolism, speech, and exchange. This interpretation gives rise to Baudrillard's thesis, picked up in part by Breton, which states that there is no unconscious in archaic societies, since everything there circulates in deference to the law of reversibility. We can immediately see how this theory harmonizes with The Gift and with The Elementary Structures of Kinship. This "little piece of the subject that breaks away while remaining very much a part of himself" is strongly reminiscent of the taonga of Ranapiri, and the explanation we have already encountered of why reciprocity is essential. What is problematical, however, to return to Lacan's own text, is the disturbing uncertainty and variability in his conception of the symbolic. Does he mean to include in this the law of the gift? Some statements in The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis would seem to suggest it, but they are not much developed and it is not the dominant interpretation of his work within the Lacan school. Is he referring to game-playing? Or perhaps, as his kinship with Levi-Strauss would seem to indicate, to exchange, which he suggests should be considered with the help of game theory, which is not clearly distinguished from economic theory? Or is the reference to the formal logic of mathematics? There are many candidates for the Lacanian notion of symbolism, which Lacan argues would do what absolute knowledge was supposed to do for Hegel: put an end to the mirror-image dialectic of master and slave.8 Anthropologists or sociologists of the Lacan school seem to have taken only the idea of reversibility from his work. Reversibility has the advantage of being present in the gift, in game-playing, in exchange, in language, and in mathematics, but it has the corresponding drawback of not making a clear enough distinction between these areas. As a result, as soon as the idea of reversibility is built in, the three phases of giving, receiving, and reciprocating cease to stand out separately, to the point where one can easily forget that it's the gift that is at stake. Finally, let us consider the work of Rene Girard and his disciples. While Girard would certainly have rejected any association with an approach inspired by structuralism, considering him here is not completely illegitimate, since his theory of mimetic desire is closer to that of Lacan, and therefore to that of Hegel, particularly as reinterpreted by Alexander Kojeve, than he is willing to admit. The resemblances are


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

more obvious than the differences, since, like Lacan (and Hegel), Girard suggests that desire is not desire for the object but desire for a connection with the subject and therefore is not located on the level of need and the utilitarian but rather on that of the relationship with another. This, then, leads directly to the gift and ceremonial exchange, if it is true that, as we have suggested, these develop in concert with the setting aside, the denial, or the rejection of material usefulness. Girard's point is that desire is not the desire for the other and for recognition, as with Hegel, but desire according to the other. The human subject desires only those objects which are desired by someone he considers prestigious, whom Girard calls the "mediator." This makes for a dialectic not of master and slave but of master and disciple, which leads to a confusion of the desires and identities of the master and the disciple. If we are to believe Girard, for all human societies up to the advent of Christianity the resolution of conflicting desires was achieved through the collective putting-to-death of a scapegoat, a chosen victim charged with all the evils to which the communities were subject. Myths and religions would have been based on human sacrifice. What has this to do with the gift? A talented young American anthropologist, Mark Anspach, has reread the material assembled by Mauss and his successors from the viewpoint of Girard (Anspach, 19843 and 1984^. According to him, the gift for Girard represents an attenuation, a sort of introjection of the sacrificial logic. Lucien Scubla (1988) asserts that the system of revenge - of the "gifts" of death - can only be managed through sacrifice. If that were the case, this book would fall short of its goal, since the gift would not be the fundamental and universal phenomenon that we are arguing it is. As the reader might suspect, our thesis, unlike that of these Girardian readings, is that one should think of revenge, sorcery, and sacrifice as sub-categories for the logic of the gift. We cannot here explore in depth the validity of the Girardian hypothesis.9 Let us simply note what seems to be its principal ambiguity, which is implicit in the latent (and sophisticated) methodological individualism at the heart of his project. And what is this project, in the last analysis? Is it not to infer societal connections from hypotheses dealing with the nature of individual subjects' desires? Now, if this desire is always and everywhere the same, how is it possible to obtain from it a primitive archaic society, on the one hand, and an industrial market society on the other? At the very least some steps in the argument are missing. Inversely, if the desire is a desire to imitate a privileged other, one would have to explain what makes certain subjects especially desirable and valuable in the eyes of those in diverse societies: in one case the generous and spendthrift primitive chief and in the other the puritan capitalist who hordes his wealth. It is not possible, at any

Classic Interpretations of the Archaic Gift


historical moment, to break down actual societies into their hypothetical basic units, pure subjects of desire apprehended in their pure universal abstraction. And more generally and fundamentally, nothing permits us to confidently proclaim that all human subjects are identical and therefore theoretically interchangeable. At a symposium dedicated to Rene Girard, Lucien Scubla noted correctly that Girard's description of the conflict between rival brothers omits the fact that they also had a sister, that their fight was polarized by their relationship to menstrual blood and to the desire to control procreation. Isn't religion, almost everywhere, monopolized by the male sex (Scubla 1985), suggesting again that the difference between the sexes, at least, cannot be easily reduced to pure, abstract, and interchangeable individuals? The Girardian theory seems unable to explain what makes objects precious in primitive society. It is not enough to say that they are desired because everyone desires them. No mathematical model based on this theory, however elegant (although necessarily speculative in every sense), will ever succeed in producing the archaic gift, the vaygu 'a and the taonga, from a process of deduction, nor in explaining how they are different from commodities. Scubla's theory, to which we have just referred, and which a number of anthropologists endorse, suggests another path: desirability is associated with procreation and women's capacities in that area. We must keep this in mind in developing our own approach. THE ECONOMICISM OF CLASSICAL INTERPRETATIONS

Anthropologists inspired by psychoanalysis, such as those influenced by Girard, seem able to avoid reducing the gift to a commodity. Nicolas (1986) is quite explicit on the subject when he affirms that "the oblational order forces the merchant to submit to its law" (178). What is more, he recognizes the importance of the pain that results from the loss of the maternal breast, suggesting that accepting the gift signifies accession to a symbolic universe where this loss is assumed by the subject: "The gift to the other 'represents' the loss of self" (186). But he also affirms, basing his entire argument on the Freudian example of the child who plays with the spool attached to a thread, that "the loss does away with itself, to the degree that the same object serves indefinitely to embody both positions" (187), that there is guaranteed return in "an unbroken cycle" (187), and that "the true goal consists in the closing of the circuit" (189) (a quote from Lacan). The author seems to hesitate between acknowledging a real loss, or at the very least its real possibility, and a model close to that of equivalence, even if it is not binary. Like the child's spool, the author goes back and


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

forth between these two positions, without making it clear whether he thinks there is a real loss and an acceptance of this loss by the subject or, on the contrary, a guaranteed return, which would represent a refinement of the mercantile model and a concern with equivalence. Does the reference to the child and the spool really symbolize loss or does it indicate instead, the pain of loss and its overcoming through the immediate return of the spool, a return entirely controlled by the child ? In Freud's famous example there is as yet no access to loss, and even less to its acceptance, nor to the pleasure of the gift, embodying as it does the possibility and often the hope of return, though not, like the spool, its guarantee and certainly not the subject's control over the operation. There is no transition from the dual system proper to the mother-child relationship and the mercantile bond to the triangle, the triad, the transitive chain that is the model of the gift. The spool, and its immediate return, represent the mercantile relationship much more than the gift, in the sense that the return is immediate and direct. However, even in the mercantile relationship something is lost, sacrificed to obtain something else, and so there is an experience of loss. The stage of the spool therefore precedes both the mercantile experience and, even more, that of the gift, which is a loss with no guarantee of return, although a sublimated loss. With the exception of Mauss's indigenous interpretation, an economic bias seems to effect all interpretations of the archaic gift, even by those whose understanding of it is greatest and whether it's a LeviStraussian, Lacanian, or Girardian interpretation. Is the modern mind, then, condemned to always think in terms of the economic paradigm and to apply it, willy-nilly, even to societies that have opted for a different world vision? Is there such a gulf between them and us that the only alternatives are the distorting projection of our own Weltanschauung or the uncomprehending adhesion to the indigenous vision? To begin to answer this question we compare the archaic gift with what we have already seen of the modern gift in the first part of the book.


The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


If what has preceded has been clear, then it's easy to see why what we call the classic theories of the gift leave a feeling of incompleteness and dissatisfaction in their wake. None of them, as we have seen, except for the "indigenous" interpretation of Marcel Mauss, recognize the distinctiveness of the archaic gift vis-a-vis mercantile exchange. They all downplay the uniqueness of the archaic gift, on the pretext that in order to understand it we must see it as an expression of constraints or motivations that are universal in themselves: economic interest, the prohibition of incest, the obligation to exchange, substitution of peace for war through the social contract, the necessary subordination of the imaginary to the symbolic, or the sacrifice of a scapegoat in order to reestablish order among all members of society. They all deliberate over the "functions" of the archaic gift. But these functions are not what make the archaic gift distinctive. Every sort of. social system, in theory, serves a number of purposes. None of those imputed to the archaic gift is, a priori, false. But those same functions could just as well be assigned, for example, to the market, because like the gift, and actually more than the gift, the market promotes the satisfaction of economic interests, establishes universal exchange, substitutes "doux commerce" or the gentle practice of trade for war, and imposes one law, that of supply and demand, on the imagination of all consumers. Focusing only on the functions of the archaic gift hides its uniqueness. But if such uniqueness exists, how are we to detect it? It appears that we must approach it from outside, seeking ways in which the gift differs from the market. In fact, the gift is antiutilitarian, anti-accumulative, and anti-equivalence. It is anti-utilitarian because it seems to thrive on the squandering and sacrifice of useful


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

goods, or, at the very least, to turn its back on them. It is anti-equivalence because the first gift creates an imbalance whose correction must be put off indefinitely, for to settle all debts would be to interrupt the obligational cycle. Finally, it is anti-accumulative because the wealthiest must not enrich themselves to the point that they have violated the social obligation to be a spendthrift and to return in kind. THE SPIRAL


But it is clear that to define the primitive gift solely in terms of its external uniqueness is too restrictive and misleading. It leads us to look at it as in a mirror, to seek an inverted reflection of the image we have of ourselves and of the market, and to give in, subtly, to the temptation of seeing the gift as a kind of economic exchange. What we must ask ourselves is how the gift forms a system with its own coherence, one that cannot be reduced to anything but itself, just as the market is a phenomenon sui generis, one whose nature would be violated if we tried to think of it in terms of something else. The first thing this requires is that we take seriously Marcel Mauss's view of the archaic gift as a complete social phenomenon and remove it from the shadow cast by modern economics. Until this is done, we cannot hope to study what lies behind the obligation to reciprocate without seeing a primitive form of the law of book-balancing equivalence, a prefiguring of mercantile reciprocity governed by the law of tit-for-tat, or the first rough versions of contracts that bind two individuals in accordance with their specific and specified interests. This leads us, inexorably, to think of the gift's great need for growth and development - one must give and return ever more - in terms of usury and as a first incarnation of that desire common to all mortals, to receive a good rate of interest on the "capital" they've put into circulation. Looked at this way, the obligation to give, like that to receive, eludes us and, as a result, we hardly talk about it. Let us go back for a moment to the meaning of the hau, that spirit of the thing given, seen by Ranapiri as the force which impels the Maori to return precious goods (taonga). As could be inferred from Ranapiri 's words, and as Pauline Ta'ieb (1984) has shown, not all returned goods are considered to be a hau of the initial gift: they may only be a counter-gift arising from the counter-gift of a third party. In other words, the hau is not involved in bilateral relationships - here, the counter-gift is an utu and not a hau - but only in those where there are many partners in a chain, creating a complex path. Claude LeviStrauss would have said that the hau is coextensive with generalized exchange. We would prefer to say, rather, that it is coextensive with the

The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


generalized gift. Mauss's error, if there is one, was in not having dealt sufficiently with this plethora of protagonists and therefore having inadequately protected his readers from the temptation to try to understand a global social relationship, a network, in terms of the logic appropriate to a simple bilateral exchange. Recent studies have provided new insights into the nature of the hau. R. Guidieri, for example, translates Ranapiri's words as follows: "To keep it for myself would be to lose my strength ... Death awaits me because the unspeakable horrors of makutu (sorcery) would be unleashed upon me" (Guidieri 1984). The dictionary of the Maori language (Williams 1921) notes that "the object that serves as an instrument of sorcery is a hau." And Johansen says that "it is only when an utu is immobilized and does not circulate that it becomes a hau ... It can then be used for sorcery" (Guidieri 1984, 97). It is necessary to go beyond the mysticism that Levi-Strauss reproaches Mauss for having succumbed to to see that the spirit of what is given does not act alone. The hau kills insofar as it comes to embody the hatred resulting from an interruption in the flow of generosity, and then serves to support practices of sorcery that involve particular techniques. And so we glimpse a hidden facet of the gift, its dark side, that of sorcery,1 which is a consequence of the gift having been short-circuited. Sorcery is a kind of war at a distance, an invisible war waged with invisible arms. It is also a kind of revenge. Finally, it is the polar opposite of positive magic, the magic that brings all things into the world and enables them to flourish according to a logic of cooperative gameplaying. Sorcery sets in place a zero-sum gamex that results in loss and death. Given all of this, we can better understand why it is a serious mistake to think of ceremonial exchange as first and foremost a kind of economic exchange, a sort of affected and euphemistic barter. Instead, it should be thought of in connection with other systems of social relations that are transmutations of the gift, systems the gift itself transforms by actualizing and bringing to light their underlying logic: family and marriage, sorcery, revenge, war, magic, sacrifice, and the link to gods and spirits. We should, however, go even further and try to isolate the common element, the pervasive medium that all these systems share. It is not something that can be reduced to ceremonial exchange but manifests itself in a special way there because there it is embodied and enacted in a virtually pure state. This medium, in our opinion, is the imaginative construct of the gift. Saying this is to assert that the entire world, whether social or animal or cosmic, can only become and organize itself as a result of gifts made between people, between vital principles or powers that are essentially antagonistic but that the gift succeeds in


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

transforming into allies. It is the refusal of the gift or its return to sender that risks unleashing that potential for evil common to every power and every being, bringing on chaos, sterility, and death. The authors inspired by Jacques Lacan have been very successful in isolating one of the corollaries of the fact that the gift's imaginative world is present everywhere in archaic society: the universality of the law of reversibility. Because within the world of the gift time is circular and cyclic, positions are infinitely reversible and interchangeable. The Papous, as Mauss observed, have only a single word to designate what we think of as the opposites buying and selling. Emile Benveniste (1966) has shown that the Indo-European root "-do-", depending on the language, usually refers to the gift but can also refer to the countergift and even acquisition or taking possession of. For when time is not linear, what comes afterwards was already there before. The only drawback to this concept of reversibility is that, as we have already noted, it remains too abstract. On one hand, it blurs the divisions between giving, receiving, and reciprocating. More fundamentally, it ignores the fact that in a perceived world of personalized powers, a world of paganism, totemism, and animism, each being is invested with a specific force, great or small but in any event distinct from other forces and no more interchangeable, in principle, than are primitive pieces of currency. Unlike mercantile exchange, the gift does not link entities that are equal a priori and by right, or whose equivalence may be calculated. On the contrary, in a universe seen as totally heterogeneous and made up of irreducible particularities, it produces equality - or more correctly, parity - only a posteriori, ex post, and then only after having acknowledged and drawn attention to basic initial differences. Because it describes the circular trajectory of gifts as though it existed in a sort of weightless state or vacuum, the concept of reversibility can see the protagonists of the gift as being equal or identical to one another. It glosses over the rough edges, the irreversibilities and eccentricities that are bound to surface, given the deeply rooted dissimilarities of the powers that are bound together in a precarious alliance by the gift. The metaphor of the circle is also deceptive, because it puts the three phases of the obligational cycle on the same footing. A much better metaphor would be the spiral. The most important phase is clearly the first, that of the gift as such. It introduces something that was not there before, an effect with no cause and without which, strictly speaking, nothing would exist. It could be said that the reason there is something rather than nothing is that this something given is the gift, the true and unique first cause proposed by primitive metaphysics. "Without the initiative of a graceful gesture," as Aristotle

The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


would say, nothing can exist. The obligation to accept, for its part, becomes one with that of receiving life, that spark of organization issuing from chaos. But the most serious risk of misinterpretation concerns the obligation to reciprocate. The mercantile perspective encourages us to see this as an expression of the need to settle one's debts and to put an end to all debt. But that cannot explain why the true obligation is not just to give back but to give back even more. In fact, as Claude Lefort (1978) has justly observed, the obligation to give back more amounts to our becoming donors in our turn, not in order to do away with the debt but to permanently (re)fuel it. The famous primitive "interest rate," whose anticipated benefits a number of anthropologists want to have us believe is what motivates the initial gift, is in no way a reward for that gift. On the contrary, it enables the recipient to take the initiative in his turn and to assume the role of donor. People in the archaic world are not interchangeable, as the pure and formal logic of reversibility would imply. Nor are they indiscriminately donor or recipient. The key fact, masked by the discussions of reversibility, is that all are donors, insofar as they possess and embody a unique and irreducible power. And in the archaic world that, of course, is true not only or even principally of men, but of animals, plants, minerals, ancestors, spirits, and gods. Previously, we referred to the connection between sorcery and the Maori's gifts of precious objects. The hau is what makes sorcery possible. But Ranapiri's text, reproduced by Mauss in The Gift, represents only a fragment of his much more elaborate and intricate argument, which is devoted mainly to his explanation of how the priests place certain precious goods (taonga) in the forest, and how the gift of the taonga is necessary for the forest to teem with birds for the Maori beginning with their priests, to eat. These birds, Ranapiri explains, are the hau of the forest, which itself replies to the bau of the taonga. Only if the priests give to the forest will it be able to give in return. The concept of the hau here takes the form of positive magic. It embodies the life force - breath - that which brings into the world and nurtures, the source of all growth and ripening. "What we have here is another fundamental theme: the gift is the condition sine qua non of all fertility. In a world populated only by autonomous powers that cannot be subjugated, except perhaps by trickery or seduction, nothing is produced, everything must be given. One can only eat birds if one has persuaded the forest to make a gift of them in sufficient quantity. Women do not produce children. And children are not thought to stem from them. Women are their provisional custodians and must be convinced to give them away, in other words to put them into general circulation.


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

These acts of persuasion do not exclude certain forms of violence, but they are limited by the fact that what results from a period of gestation and assumes the form of a gift cannot purely and simply be obtained by force. For this reason, and also because fertility is contingent on the gift so that as long as the gift is in circulation more and more beings and principles imbued with life are brought into the world, the image of the ever-reversible circle is misleading and the metaphor of the spiral is preferable. THE STRANGE LAW OF ALTERNATION

It is only after having recognized this transversal principle that orders the different facets of archaic society, this principle according to which the gift brings together autonomous and irreducible individuals, donors part voluntary and part involuntary who are encouraged to give so that the world might exist, that it is possible to deduce what may be another feature of the ritual archaic gift, one that is complementary to the principle of spiral reversibility and might be called the law of alternation. This law, lucidly expounded by Huizinga (1949), establishes a close parallel between the archaic gift and agonistic games. Other than in a gift of transmission, a "vertical" gift of lineage and generational succession, the partners in a gift relationship are both antagonists and allies. Implicit in the ritual gift, as in sorcery, revenge, alliances, and probably also in war and sacrifice, is a curious law which decrees that it is impossible to give, or to play, except by taking turns. One blow each, one gift or counter-gift each, one spell, one death, or one woman each. As in chess, checkers, card games, or all games of this type, you cannot make two moves in succession. If the member of a clan has killed a member of another clan, there is no getting ahead of the game; you have to await the revenge. Only after you have yourself experienced a death can you avenge yourself in turn, and so on until the end of time, unless some external factor puts an end to the process.3 What status should we accord this law of alternation ? Is it to be understood as the incarnation of a primitive democratic requirement? 4 If such is the case, it would certainly not be the sort of democracy that has laid the foundation for human rights, for a democracy based on the principle of equal rights for individuals, naked individuals, unskilled and bereft of speech. If there exists a primitive democratic requirement, it is founded on the fear and respect felt towards individuals who are so indestructible and irreducible that, if one set out to exterminate or eliminate them, fertility and life itself would disappear as well. You cannot both eat the forest and hope that its hau will continue to populate it with birds. We

The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


must confess that we have no answer to the question surrounding the status and origin of the law of alternation. No doubt ethnographic elements that have not yet been made apparent will eventually help us understand how symbolic debts, how pathways of the gift dry up and close off. 5 And how death, decrepitude, and the extinguishing of old debts come to counterbalance new debts, new claims, and new life. We now, however, have sufficient elements at our disposal to appreciate the uniqueness of the archaic gift. What remains is to bring them all together, to try one last time to get a bird's-eye view of them, so they can serve as a basis of comparison with the modern gift. THE SYSTEMATISM



The gift in archaic society is not merely an economic relationship of a certain sort between two or several individuals. Much more than a simple exchange of goods, the gift represents the overall complex of relationships that brings together, positively or negatively, for better or for worse, all the personalized powers that inhabit the primitive cosmos: human, animal, vegetable, mineral, or divine. Goldman writes The obligation to reciprocate in exchange is not in response to the specific powers in the objects but to a cosmological conception that postulates an eternal circulation of forms of being. The obligations to give and the obligations to repay are obligations to participate in this vital circulation ... the total system of circulation encompassed a universe of men, of ancestral spirits, of supernatural beings, and, through the properties that circulated, of animal and vegetable forms of life (Goldman 1975, 12,4).6

We would not go so far as to claim, however, that archaic society organized itself entirely on the basis of a kind of metaphysical principle, a priori obligational, for it is precisely the preeminence and omnipresence of this principle that requires explanation. The clearest and most satisfying attempt to provide such an explanation seems to us to be that of Chris Gregory (1982). His work is based on a fresh rereading of history, combined with political economy and anthropology. In economics, Gregory tells us, there are two ways of thinking, two types of scientific approach, that are radically and irrevocably different: on the one hand there is classical British economics, built on by Karl Marx and more recently by Piero Sraffa; on the other hand there is neo-classical economics. The true disciples of classical economics, according to Gregory, are not the neo-classical economists but L.H. Morgan, Marcel Mauss, and Claude Levi-Strauss. These anthropologists, like classical economists, study the laws that preside over the


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

functioning of an overall social system, while neo-classical economists are interested only in the subjective relationships between individuals and things. What distinguishes the classical economists from the above-mentioned anthropologists is not the nature of their scientific undertaking but the fact that the former try to determine the laws governing the functioning of a society regulated by production and the exchange of commodities, while the latter study societies ruled not by production but by consumption, where this is carried out according to the logic of the gift. To simplify: the market economy aims to produce things out of things. It will even produce people themselves as though they were things.7 The archaic society favors relationships between people over relationships between things. Thus it is first and foremost concerned with the "production" of people and produces things as though they were people, making them instruments, through the gift, of the production of people and the establishment of their social ties. C.A. Gregory writes: Commodity exchange is an exchange of alienable objects between people who are in a state of reciprocal independence that establishes a quantitative relationship between the objects exchanged ... Gift exchange is an exchange of inalienable objects between people who are in a state of reciprocal dependence that establishes a qualitative relationship between the transactors. This relationship springs from the methods of consumption and consumptive production, which means that the principles governing the production and exchange of things as gifts are to be explained with reference to control over births, marriages and deaths. (Gregory 1982,, 100)

Because that privileged object, the gift, is not produced by things but by people, by women, the "equivalent" of mercantile values at the heart of the gift economy must not be sought in quantitative relationships between goods, which are in any case variable, as we have seen, but in "classificatory kinship terms" (ibid., 67). The great historical divide is that which opposes clan societies, based on the gift and kinship, to class societies, organized in varying degrees in terms of the market. Within each of these two great blocks there is, of course, much diversity. In the second, Gregory distinguishes between the slave society that practices barter, the feudal mercantile society which obeys Marx's capital —> money —> capital (CMC) cycle - and th strictly capitalist society, which obeys the MCM cycle. In the same way, in the world of the clan we can find three main forms or stages: societies organized into couples and phratries practice the limited

The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


exchange of women (A—>B—»A) and the balanced exchange of goods. Power belongs to the elders. The obligation to reciprocate ("incremental exchange of things - gifts") makes its appearance along with the organization into tribes and nations. It is associated with the delayed exchange of women (A—>B—>C, C—»B—>A) and the institution of chiefs. Finally, in those chieftancies and confederations grounded in the clan, a generalized exchange of women evolves (A—»B—>C—»A) and a tributary exchange of goods (ibid., 69, 70). It is all the more important to note these distinctions because, as we indicated in our general introduction, the main reason moderns refuse to hear of the gift is that they associate it inextricably with mechanisms of exploitation and domination and, in particular, with the domination and exploitation of women, who are considered to be the principal victims of obligational ideology. Gregory's typology (whose pertinence may be disputed in one or another specific detail but which seems, overall, accurate and enlightening) has the virtue of showing in which ways such views are both right and wrong. Right because the extreme sophistication and ritualization of the gift seems to go along with the establishment of hierarchies and the emergence of an aristocratizing logic. Wrong because in and of itself the gift can no more be reduced to its use in the service of symbolic and real domination than a commodity can by definition be reduced to capital. The gift between equals gives rise to equality, the gift between those who are unequal gives rise to inequality. R E P R O D U C T I O N , GIFT, I N D I V I D U A L AND PRIMARY SOCIALITY

One possible rendering of Gregory's point of view would be that the gift constitutes the preeminent type of relationship between people insofar as they consider themselves and declare themselves as people. It is what transforms beings and individuals into people. A corollary: the gift puts in place the sphere of "primary sociality" and forms its very fabric. Here we are introducing two new interdependent ideas: "person" and "primary sociality." Each deserves extended commentary. Where the former is concerned we should bear in mind that, despite what has been suggested by the different modes of utilitarianism and modern methodological individualism, subjects are not just atoms whose existence precedes their involvement in specific social relationships. Given a viewpoint that is neither individualistic nor holistic but interactionist, the concept of the person becomes one where subjects are caught in a crossfire of rights and obligations, debts and claims,


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

that punctuate their existence. Primary sociality is the site of immediate and tangible knowledge of one another, whether it be actual (face to face) or virtual. From a phenomenological point of view, we could say that primary sociality provides an arena for intersubjectivity and that the gift is its concrete manifestation. What we might call "secondary sociality" belongs to the sphere of "intermediation." In this second sphere people do not interact as total entities but as supports for partial and, at least at the outset, instrumental functions. The main areas of primary sociality are kinship, marriage, neighbourliness, partnership, friendship, and camaraderie. Secondary sociality, on the other hand, is found in the theologico-political domain, in war, and in commercial exchange. If we look at the four spheres outlined in the first section of this book, the state and the market are part of secondary sociality, the domestic sphere is part of primary sociality, and the gift between strangers is sometimes part of one and sometimes of the other. The concepts of "person" and of "primary sociality" are transhistorical and universal. They tell us nothing special about archaic society. For this, we will draw on Gregory's (1982) hypothesis whereby thing-gifts are symbolic substitutes for women-gifts, rather than women-gifts being symbols for thing-gifts. The reason the gift of women is so important in clan society, as we have already suggested, is that its principal preoccupation is the "production" of living beings. But the word production is inadequate. Only modern society produces (and consumes) after a period of work. In clan society nothing is born or obtained other than through generation and parturition.8 The only conceivable "work" is that which helps shorten the period of gestation and bring on the birth; work that contributes, in other words, to precipitating the gift. We can generalize from this statement to postulate that modern market society thinks about everything in the language of production and work, so that birth is conceived of in terms of re-production, a process compatible with production. Clan society, on the other hand, thinks in metaphors of arrival, and of begetting identified with the fulfillment of the gift. Let us follow the second path in order to show how archaic society organized itself around a two-fold generative requirement: the birth of beings and biological individuals and, subsequently, the symbolic rebirth of social persons.9 The Birth of Biological Beings It is not as certain as Rene Girard would have us think that all myths speak of the murder of a sacrificial victim. Even where they speak of this, they do not speak only of it but also of sex, rape, and incest. This

The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


is not because primitive people are uncouth sexual obsessives, responsible for the sort of pornographic or scatological tide that has swept over the West in the wake of sexual liberation, but, more credibly, because they know no other all-encompassing metaphor for the origin of all things; for the quintessential, and the quintessential mystery, which is the emergence of life in all its forms. It is not surprising that the power to give life, in other words the power of women, should be considered that which is most fascinating, desirable, and dangerous. It is not surprising, either, that this power should be kept at bay: tamed, denied, and domesticated. It seems intolerable that only women can be the authentic donors of the only things that really matter. As well, according to a number of primitive mythologies, it is women who in the beginning possessed all the practical know-how, and who invented all human institutions. Through trickery and treachery, or out of a sense of duty and profiting from their negligence, men stripped the women of their fabulous powers and convinced them that power really belongs to males. It is crucial for men to affirm that they play a role in procreation at least as important, if not more so, than the role of women. For the fundamental law of archaic societies is clear: nothing exists that does not come from two sources.10 In other words, nothing can be born that does not result from an exchange of gifts and counter-gifts. And so men award themselves women who bring forth children given to them by their spouses - or, rather, children who are born and thrive thanks to the gifts conferred by spouses or certain prominent men. Everything is a matter of interconnected gifts, of sperm, milk, and blood. The Symbolic Rebirth of People Initiation rites, as we know, enact a social and symbolic parturition. Playing the role of cultural mothers to initiates, fathers and uncles assure their definitive transformation from biological individuals cared for by their mothers and restricted to the world of women into social persons endowed with one or several names and with their own rights and obligations.11 These initiation rituals lie within the more general framework of religious, magical, and sacrificial rituals. As Arthur Hocart (1978) has shown, the primary goal of all such rituals is to assure fecundity. All imply the subdivision of the clan, the horde, or the tribe of those officiating at the ritual into two groups, one that gives and the other that receives. Might the true origin of the division of labour be found in this division? The principle of alternance that we mentioned earlier can be linked to the universal division of society into halves, and to the equally


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

universal principle that affirms that although you cannot be at once donor and recipient, the two positions must be occupied in turn. In The Savage Mind Levi-Strauss (1974) provides an admirable demonstration of how the totemic operator generates prescriptions and proscriptions that create an essentially imaginary division, stripped of all true functional content, in anything resembling work. The members of the clan of the sea tortoise, for example, are the only ones allowed to hunt it and, because they cannot consume their eponymous animal, the only ones to give it away. Love, according to Jacques Lacan, consists in offering someone something he doesn't have and that he doesn't need. The whole undertaking of archaic society, rooted in an attempt to create a system that recognizes the individuality of its donors, consists in the attempt to surmount this pessimism by giving each one something that he or she alone can give away in turn. It is the role of initiation to consecrate access to certain positions, rights, goods, prerogatives, and ensuing obligations. Until his initiation, or initiations (since each new stage in life involves a renewed initiation), the new social person is content to receive. He benefits from what one might call the system of vertical gifts, which corresponds to the logic of transmission. These gifts, gifts between nonequals, of elders to the youngest, require no reciprocation other than the obligation on the part of recipients to transmit in their turn at a later date. And so the gifts are untouched by the principle of alternance that characterizes most horizontal gifts. Once the initiation is complete, ceremonial exchanges can begin, exchanges that involve and symbolize the gift. This is the horizontal gift, of which the potlatch and kula are examples. They fall into the category of what Marshall Sahlins (1972.) calls balanced reciprocity. In principle they are exchanged only between equals, creating parity. Parity, however, is continually threatened by the desire to attain superiority, which the need to reciprocate curbs and reverses. Those who donate women are superior to those who receive them, although the reverse is true in exceptional cases. To dream, as Mauss said, that a gift can be so impressive that it cannot be reciprocated - of, as Leonard Cohen wrote in The Stranger Song, a card "so high and wild" that one will never have to play again - is to dream of transforming the horizontal gift into a vertical gift. The law of ever more, manifested in the hau, reflects the desire to attain a position of mastery akin to that of the ancients, the elders, or parents, for whom the gift of transmission - a gift with no reply requires no reciprocation. The hierarchical drive that produces chiefs and aristocrats, singling them out from the common mortal who does not have the means to reciprocate in kind, cuts a wide swathe through this dialectic of the horizontal gift between equals and the vertical gift

The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


of transmission - a dialectic implicit in most reciprocal gifts. The gift between sexes produces children, animals, plants, stones, stars, winds, and spirits. The ceremonial gift brings renown, honour, prestige, and face.11 The vertical gift preserves the world of kinship, the horizontal gift opens up that of matrimonial or political alliance. It transforms the enemies of yesterday or tomorrow into allies. It turns strangers into friends, leaving unexplained the question of how to deal with strangers and those with whom one does not forge bonds of exchange and alliance. This description of the archaic gift makes possible a first comparison with the modern gift. THE ARCHAIC "BETWEEN


Archaic society is much more concerned with "reproduction" than with the production of things. It cares much more about reproducing biological beings, the relations between them, and, through gifts to the gods, the reproduction of society itself. The moment of reproduction or, better, of re-engendering is one of sacredness and ritual. There is no doubt that it occupies a far more important place than does the time spent on profane activities, which it encompasses and permeates. Everything, always, must have an overall and coherent meaning. Nothing may exist at the heart of one practice that does not also have meaning within the other, and that does not make sense in the overall context. Everything must be permanently and indefinitely recontextualized. This predilection for the ahistorical, this passion for a constant return to beginnings, to maintaining the point of departure, undoubtedly has technical and economic roots - the techniques of hunting and gathering permit only a few people to survive on a large territory. But other, more fundamental, factors inherent in the very nature of this symbolic operant, the gift, seem to play a role as well. Because the gift forges concrete ties between real people, its,power is limited by this very concreteness. It cannot reach out to too many individuals without altering its nature and turning people into impersonal abstractions. Levi-Strauss speaks of the balm that must always be refused to humans, that of living everlastingly among one's own. It is the dream often, of course, something of a nightmare - that the primitive society nevertheless pursues. It wants to remain a society unto itself, a society of relatives and allies woven together by the concrete ties of a concrete gift. The noblest and most exalted of Trobriand Islanders cannot have many more than two hundred friends, two hundred partners for the kula. Beyond that number, the operant-gift loses its power. It becomes mute and sterile. The archaic gift, like its modern counterpart, must


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

respect the logic of its networks. But in the archaic world the networks must remain dense, must intersect and further the reproduction, faithful to the original, of the societal unit that has chosen to function only with reference to itself, to commit itself wholeheartedly to primary sociality alone. Let us put it more bluntly. It can only deal with a stranger who can be transformed into an ally. If, to quote Mary Douglas (1990), archaic society knows nothing of the disinterested gift, it is not because primitive people are incurably egoistic. They are no more and no less egoistic than we are. The problem does not lie in the idealistic dialectic between egoism and altruism. To say that clan society does not recognize the free gift is only to acknowledge that it does not want to undertake a relationship with strangers, those who are not the stuff of which allies are made. We can always do something for the occasional stranger passing through: we can offer him/her hospitality. With some strangers we can initiate a commercial relationship in the form of silent bargaining, while permitting ourselves all the deception and manoeuvering that rules of honour forbid us from applying to those with whom we are close. But this relationship with strangers must remain peripheral, must be kept as far as possible from the community, where the stranger can have no true status. When we first undertook our exploration of those territories governed by the archaic gift, we armed ourselves with a quote from Aristotle that explained why spontaneity is essential. Therein, of course, lies the central paradox of the gift in general. Nothing can happen, no power can be exercised, except through the gift. Nothing has value unless it is imbued with that spontaneity that goes along with giving. The gift is spontaneous by definition. But it is so important to society that society, fearing that it will not continue to be given, will always tend to make it obligatory. But to make it obligatory is to eliminate spontaneity and thus to deny the gift. We have seen that it is when goods, inalienable by their very nature, are circulated and transferred that the desire for them and the interest shown in them increases, while the tension between spontaneity and constraint moves towards the breaking point, as though the paradox has been in some way heightened. Contrary to the old theories of primitive communism and to Cheal's communal model (1988), everyone in archaic society owns something but conforms to a strange right of property that forbids keeping what one owns to oneself. In the same way the gift introduces equality and parity to a world that was first thought of as fundamentally unequal and heterogeneous, a world of warring powers and personal principles that are always unequal in terms of the life force they possess. Just as war tends to make all warriors equal through the blows they exchange in the light of a common death, so the gift creates a kind

The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


of equality, bringing a modicum of balance to bear on a relationship that was at the outset totally unequal (see for example Berthoud 1982). All these paradoxes serve to maintain the unity of the social body and resolve themselves into the equally paradoxical relationship that primitive society entertains with the Law, which enables it to stay in the realm of primary sociality. As has been clearly shown by P. Clastres (1974), M. Gauchet and C. Lefort (1971), and M. Gauchet (1977), primitive society is able to preserve its authentic unity and to ward off the emergence of a separate power - and, we should add, a separate economy - by distancing from itself the symbolic origins of the Law. The Law is asserted to have been bestowed once and for all from the outside, by cultural heroes or ancestors. Men do not see themselves as inventors of the Law (nor as inventors of anything else). The primitive chief does not make the law, he only expresses a law that everyone knows and that everyone considers radically transcendental and external to concrete social relations. It is by affirming their absolute symbolic heteronomy that archaic societies are able to see themselves as united and are able to protect their real autonomy. And it is by tracking down, mercilessly, anything in their midst that risks breaking free such as uncontrollable power or wealth so great it threatens to accumulate while avoiding the imposition of reversibility - that they prohibit anyone laying hands on the nomos and making it his own by shifting it from its symbolic pole to that of the real. This is why ritual work is so important, as is the time devoted exclusively to the symbolic reproduction of society. Ritual in all its forms - sacrificial, magic, ecstatic - constantly sweeps away and eliminates hubris and brings everyone back to the demands of the gift. To summarize: archaic society preserves its real collective autonomy by reining in the autonomy of individuals and imposing on itself an absolute symbolic heteronomy. It ensures the predominance of what is primary and personalized by subordinating itself to the realm of the secondary. The price paid for maintaining its equilibrium is that it may have no permanent and structured relationship with a stranger, for if it cannot turn him into an ally, no concrete and personal gift relationship is possible. By submitting to the symbolic Other, it hopes to avoid submission to real others, to the many strangers and potential enemies. It is within the strict limits accruing to this symbolic construct that the archaic gift, a concrete operant for concrete relationships between people, may be effective. With the concrete emergence of these others, conquerors, and the help of merchants, another story begins. A place will have to be made for all these strangers and ties forged with them that will, at the very least, no longer be those designed and fashioned by the archaic gift, which will, just like the societies where it reigned supreme, have to historicize itself, becoming abstract and spiritualized,


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

all the while surrendering more and more territory to the strictly secondary logic of domination and the mercantile. The other history that begins in this way is that of historicity. THE MODERN "BETWEEN OURSELVES"

We must note that there is another side to the coin where this closing off of the archaic gift, and the everlasting repetition which is its destiny, is concerned. If it is true that archaic society is ignorant of the gift to strangers, one can also say that, on the other hand, it is open to all of nature, to the cosmos of which it is part. The priority accorded the vertical gift, with its ties to fecundity, tends to set limits on the horizontal gift and to favour the family - as is evident, for example, in the refusal to give blood to strangers. But this closing off is compensated for in some sense by the unlimited extension of kinship relationships. Talking of the Australian aborigines, Chatwin (1988) claims that "the structures of kinship reach out to all living men, to all his fellow creatures, and to the rivers, the rocks and the trees" (70). In this light it is the modern gift that seems closed off, since it limits its constituency to human beings and ends up restricting kinship to the nuclear family and the gift to the personal sphere (Cheal 1988). And so we have two systems that are both closed and open, depending on the aspect being considered and the viewpoint adopted. The openness proper to the archaic gift explains how in this system anything can be goods, anything can be a bond, and anything can represent a term13 for the gift, in other words a subject to whom the gift is addressed. The interchangeability for the gift of the terms (its destination), the ties, and the goods (what circulates) is complete. In other words, all can be given to all. Most significantly, this explains why women can be gifts without being objects.14 This extension of the personalization of beings to all of the cosmos means that archaic society does not recognize the world of objects, a category specific to modern society. While in modern society everything tends to be produced, in archaic society nothing is produced, except marginally; everything appears and disappears, is born and dies, "rises up from the interior of things" (Simmel 1987, 441). "Above all, [there is] that mixture of spiritual ties between things that to some degree appertain to the soul, and individuals, and groups that to some extent treat one another as things" (Mauss 1990, 14). In "that coming and going of souls and things that are all intermingled with one another" (ibid., 48), there is neither soul nor thing, the distinction is no longer relevant. That is what makes possible the generalized interchangeability between all beings. Modernity, on the other hand, has caused a radical rupture between the world of person-subjects and the rest of the cosmos, which is seen

The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


as object. Even animals are increasingly treated as objects subservient to the world of production. Everything tends to be produced, even birth, which comes to be seen as a production of human beings or a reproduction. But the gift cannot be a pure object, for that would mean that it was totally alienable, that it is a commodity, that it is stripped of all traces of the people involved with it. Product or object, it comes to exactly the same thing. The market "objectivizes" the world - nature, animals, trees - and reduces the circulation of the gift to what remains, to those who retain the status of subject, and then only when they have this status (in other words, outside the market and the state). The product is a fundamental category of modern society, born of the first exchanges with a stranger and the emergence of the stranger as a social category. Modern society then projects this category onto any interpretation of the archaic gift. Such a distinction between object and subject marks the end of archaic interchangeability, for a subject can no longer be a gift, and we do not offer gifts to objects. For the "between ourselves" of small open societies that are open to the cosmos - as much a part of the kinship as the kinship is a part of it - modern society substitutes the "among ourselves" of human beings closed to nature. Nature must be tamed in order for us to escape its implacable laws, the laws of a world of objects over which humans have no control, unlike archaic individuals, who could pray for rain. (And if they prayed long enough, rain did indeed appear ...) The archaic gift passed between groups;15 the "natural" sphere of the modern gift is intimate, often between individuals. The gift is there to remind each individual that he is unique in this personal network, that he exists in a network made up of unique beings, in contrast to the setting where he works, or when he is dealing with merchants, where he often fills an interchangeable role. In a society where one is always unique, where one is never an instrument, where one's ability to work is not for sale, there is no reason for such individual networks to exist or for the gift to recognize the uniqueness of human beings. Every rational industrial and bureaucratic organization is founded on the principle of denying what is unique, of repetition and the endless reproduction of a likeness. Nothing must seem to be unforeseen, for the unforeseen is considered an imperfection, an anomaly, in that perfect chain of identical reproduction. The principle of the gift is, on the contrary, to embody the unforeseen, that "something extra" (Cheal 1988) that is elusive, coming from who knows where, that is born, that breaks the chain of identical reproduction, whose symbol is birth, not the assembly line. The environment in which the modern gift occurs helps explain why it reaches back to individual, intimate, personalized networks. The giftgiver is reacting to a radically heterogeneous world governed by the


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

laws of physics, the market, and an instrumental and linear rationality. With the gift, something else emerges, a grace that we badly need. Each modern gift offered to a recipient serves to individualize that person from society and not, like the archaic gift, to reinforce his individuation within society. Cut off from a system that encompasses the universe and regimented into systems where we are not unique but are multiples of each other, endlessly interchangeable clones, the only way we can forge a uniqueness for ourselves socially is to become part of a network of other unique people. The network is put together by unique individuals, and the gift plots out and maintains the trajectories, the paths, that link these unique individuals. That is why, with the modern gift, the person for whom the gift is destined is the most important factor in explaining the choice of the present (Cheal 1988, 145). In the archaic gift, everything, not just the gift, confirms our uniqueness in a universe where all is unique and different. Modern differentiation must be constructed, while archaic differentiation is already there, immanent, because the world of interchangeable objects, the world of products, does not exist. Because it is "entirely steeped in the subjectivity of its relation with the object, every exchange with nature or other people which involves an objectivation of things and their value, appears [to archaic man] impossible. It is truly as though one's first awareness of the object carried with it a feeling of anxiety, as if one were tearing away a piece of one's self" (Simmel 1987, 77). That explains the absence in archaic societies of what Cheal calls the intimate gift. Obviously the vertical gift is present. But no equivalent for ritual personal gifts (Christmas, birthdays, Valentine's Day, Easter ...) seems to exist in archaic societies, where a gift is made publicly and among groups. The only gift ritual that is easily compared between the two types of society - where we feel we are comparing comparable things - is that which accompanies marriage, described by Cheal (1988). Birth, engendering, is really the foundation of every gift, whatever the society. And all the differences between modern and archaic society are explained by modern societies' indifference to the appearance of life, this source of everything, and to creation, which has been replaced by production, the primary undertaking of industrial civilization. The aim is to produce everything so that nothing will be created, nothing emerge, nothing come into the world that is not produced, including human life - while for hunter-gatherers nothing is produced, everything is born, appears, is engendered. This goal makes all the difference. From the vantage point of archaic culture, this obsession with production amounts to a desire to eliminate all life, all surplus, all extras, all visions, all grace from the universe. Modern society tends to invest entirely in horizontal circulation

The Archaic Gift and the Modern Gift


that involves the entire planet through the free exchange of everything by all while taking no interest in vertical transmission, to the point of destroying the planet and reproduction by behaving as though it constituted the last generation. Levi-Strauss has shown that the incest taboo breaks the line of vertical circulation and opens the world to horizontal circulation and the potential it offers to society. On the other hand, the modern experience reveals the danger of a society that gives itself over entirely to horizontal circulation. The relationship that society establishes between these two types of circulation is crucial. Birth today takes place in an intimate setting, in that protective enclosure invented by modern society to ward off the graceless world of production. As birth is the ultimate gift, the gift is thus part of a personal sphere unknown in archaic societies. Other gift-giving follows birth and the flow of life, revolving around the family and kinship in both types of society. Women are at the centre of gift systems in both types of society. The woman is even a present in the archaic gift. With the modern gift, she is the primary actor in the gift ritual, whether personal or communal, and in the gift to strangers - in all types of gift. That is why Cheal ends The Gift Economy by affirming that it is not social classes, the patriarchy, or the fact that the woman is at home or at work that determines the characteristics of the modern gift but sexual difference. The modern gift is a history of women: "It has been within these female relational cultures that the modern meanings of gifts have evolved." (Cheal 1988, 183). The gift follows birth. That is why today it makes its home in intimacy and may be extinguished with test-tube babies, once we are able to plan the infant's sex, its IQ, its size, and so on - once there are no more surprises. When, in other words, the baby is a product, and birth is production. The rupture between humanity and the cosmos is the rupture through which the world of objects enters, eventually spreading through the world and engulfing everyone. That explains the differences between the modern and archaic gift. Claude Levi-Strauss recognized the importance of this modern quarantine in his Structural Anthropology: We began by cutting man off from nature and by making him sovereign over all; we thought in so doing we could wipe away his most incontestable trait, that he is first and foremost a living being. And by remaining blind to this common property, we gave free rein to all manner of abuse ... By assuming the right to radically separate humanity from animality, by giving to one everything taken from the other, Western man initiated a vicious cycle. The same frontier, constantly pushed back, has served to alienate men from other men


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

and to reserve for an ever-more limited minority the benefits of a humanism that was corrupt from the moment of its birth, because it derived its motorforce from arrogance. (Levi-Strauss 1973, 53)

The modern gift creates networks that are sheltered from this pervasive alienation by objects, that give things back their meaning, a return made necessary by the rupture from the world brought about by the surfeit of objects. But where did this rupture begin?


The Passage to the Modern Gift

There is no question here of tracing the objectivation of the world back to its origins. We would like, however, to reflect on recent developments that have led to the gift itself being considered as an object and to its being thought of in the context of mercantile circulation. The goal of this chapter is to clarify how the flourishing of the market leads to a particular paradigm of growth and tends to free members of society from all obligations linked to social relationships, on the assumption that any obligatory tie may be replaced by goods. But it is clear that the market cannot free us from certain bonds, and that goods cannot take the place of all ties. Authors such as Mauss and Titmuss think that the intervention of the state and its redistributive social policies can reinforce the older gift system, allowing individuals to protect themselves from the advance of the market and guaranteeing them the right and freedom to create obligations for themselves - in other words, that it can guarantee them the freedom to give that the market tends to take away. We contend, on the contrary, that the state is, to say the least, ambiguous in its support of the gift and its resistance to the market and that, historically, it has done much to transmit a type of mercantile relationship to sectors that the market alone would not touch. Once we have made it clear that the modern gift does not derive directly from the archaic gift, we will outline the consequences of the emergence of the market and the state. We will analyse the most important result of this transformation - the separation and isolation of the realm of the gift - and then discuss the resistance to this objectivation of the world. THE A R C H A I C S T R A N G E R AND THE FEUDAL STRANGER

To begin with a self-evident observation: current international exchanges are a far cry from the kulal They are governed by the market, not the gift


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

- and yet important traces of the gift remain, even in relationships with strangers, for the mercantile relationship must first be authorized by a gift relationship. In areas where the market has not yet established its "automatic" rules, or where relationships count, we still offer presents. Thus gifts are exchanged between the chiefs of state of two countries at the start of a meeting that will result in a commercial treaty whose "modes of application" will be left to bureaucrats and whose actual putting into effect will be consigned to merchants. The gift acts to authorize what follows it: a founding act, it establishes the level of confidence required for the mercantile exchange that ensues. In an exchange where an "opening gift" is offered, there is an obligation to reciprocate but no contract or constraint. A modicum of confidence is needed to offer a gift. And when it is apparent that the gift has been reciprocated, that the gifts both given and reciprocated are beautiful, that they represent the past, the soul of the nations with which one will be dealing, then mercantile exchanges can proceed. Of course, the official act today is primarily symbolic and everything is arranged prior to, the act itself, in the many "protocol" exchanges that precede and make possible the "official" exchange of gifts. The gift is the act that establishes that feeling of confidence which enables the two societies and their members to "give themselves over" to the rules of the market. But the gift is itself a non-mercantile exchange, an exchange of "presents" that are guarantors for a (mercantile) future. It differs from the kula in that, in the latter case, there is no transition to the market. The market's penetration of international relations is not unique to the modern gift. Polanyi (Polanyi and Arensberg 1957) has demonstrated the importance of mercantile relationships in a number of nonmodern societies. What is most characteristic of modern society is the market's infiltration of the relationships between members of the same society. That did not occur in archaic societies, although it happened in Medieval feudal societies in Europe, where local communities were controlled by those higher in the feudal structure or were part of a much vaster whole from which they were freed by the market and by democracy. This point is crucial: the market freed people from control by others within the feudal system, not from their "primary" social obligations, as is always claimed by those who confuse archaic societies with feudal communities, which were part of a larger entity. The starting point for the modern gift and the market is our past societies, traditional, feudal, rural, etc. What we call them is not important. What we must retain is that the origin of the current status of the gift in our societies was the introduction of the gift into social relationships as a substitute for relationships within the society, rather than as a means of establishing relationships with strangers. We must, however, emphasize that in the first instances the market did not supplant relationships

The Passage to the Modern Gift


within the community itself but instead relationships that were neither completely foreign nor completely a part of the community, authority relationships that represented the feudal tie to the lord and the kingdom. It is from this sort of relationship that the market (and the state) liberated the members of those communities that, unlike archaic societies, were integrated into larger wholes where they were subject to a certain domination. It is this submissive bond that the arrival of the market modifies first, pending the radical transformation of that bond into today's representative democracy. At the origins of the modern gift we do not find the archaic gift but feudal society. We cannot elaborate on all the differences between the two here; it is enough to recognize that the members of feudal communities were in a subordinate position and that the market freed both individuals and the community itself from such submissive relationships. Failure to acknowledge these origins creates serious confusion between constraint and social obligations, a confusion that then pervades the entire approach. The market and representative democracy first freed people from external constraints on their community; such constraints are different from the obligations imposed by relations within the community, which are commonly found in archaic societies that are free vis-a-vis the outside world. Only much later do the market and the welfare state take it upon themselves to unravel community obligations. This distinction is basic. We use the terms "obligation" and "constraint" to distinguish between a moral obligation, whose extreme manifestation is an obligation arising from love, and constraint, which comes from outside and at its extreme is embodied in physical force. Somewhere in the middle is the contract, which provides a space that separates the gift from constraint, a space that the market will enlarge, an intermediate type of social constraint that cannot, however, exist unless it is grounded in a prior gift relationship, as we saw in our discussion of international exchanges. Let us examine the origins of this state of affairs, the emergence and growth of both the mercantile relationship and the state as forms of circulation for goods and services within a society. This change in the relationship to goods and things underlies the role and the status of the gift today. For this rupture between individuals and objects, once introduced into society, enables objects to "fly with their own wings," to transcend social relations; everything unfolds "as though things reciprocally determined their own values among themselves" (Simmel 1987, 47). Subsequently, as though from a boomerang effect, this objectivation tends to affect social relations themselves: it results in an entirely negative view of any relationship that implies an "attachment" and ultimately in a Utopian society where there are no relationships at all (at least none in a pure state).


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

FIRST RUPTURE: THE MARKET The basis, the origins, for the reversal are to be found in the market's incursion into the very heart of social relations. What does that signify? What does the market replace? What does it replace it with? To ensure the circulation of things, their passage from a producer to a consumer, the market introduces mechanisms that enable the establishment of depersonalized relationships between individuals, who become neutral agents. The market stakes out a territory that constitutes, literally, a "no man's land," a place with no personal ties, where things are exchanged through a pricing mechanism, a mechanism established independent of agents. The expression "I'm going to make you a price" bears this out, affirming that a privilege has been accorded someone - a privilege that flies in the face of the general rule stipulating that there is no such thing as a price for just one person, only a price arrived at independent of individual agents, who are strangers to each other. The price is related only to things as commodities. The market, as Simmel says, "need not fear any detour due to the imponderables of human relationships that arise when the producer and buyer know each other" (1979, 64) and when every product is more or less "made to measure," personalized. What does the market replace ? In feudal society, as in archaic society, things circulate in the context of individual relationships and direct community ties. They are personalized, governed by social norms. There are two types of relationship: community relationships as such (family, neighbourhood, village, etc.), and obligatory relationships that, while equally personal, have a subordinate and dependent connotation vis-a-vis the members of another social group (Simmel 1987, 416). The market has little effect on the first type of relationship, influencing primarily the second type, which does not exist in archaic societies. While in the archaic model of hunter-gatherers nothing is, strictly speaking, produced, in feudal society the serf does produce something, and it is not produced only for himself or the members of his family or immediate community. On the other hand, unlike what takes place in the market, the serf knows perfectly well for whom it is produced, and the outward signs of this personalized relationship between the lord and his serfs, and even between the king and his subjects, are abundant and recognized. Everything that is produced is destined for someone. Everything is produced for a reason, part of a social purpose that is instantly recognized and obvious, implicit in the fact that the act of production cannot be separated from the person for which the product is intended. This fundamental fact of social relationships changes with the advent of the market. The mercantile society began the day it was decided to make something not because its user "demanded" it or "had need" of

The Passage to the Modern Gift


it, not because producing it might be useful to the user, but because it might indirectly be "useful" to the producer, as long as he could succeed, of course, in selling what was produced. The day the relationship between maker and user was reversed, the day a cobbler, instead of making a pair of shoes someone had ordered, made a hundred pairs and then concentrated on creating the "demand," was the day surplus was invented; "Man, living in society, does not produce a surplus unless he names it as such" (Pearson 1957, 32.6). By dealing with something produced for strangers, the market does away with personal subordination. But then the appropriateness of what the producer makes to what the user wants becomes fundamentally uncertain. An intermediary, whose job is to manage this uncertainty, is required. This is the merchant, who becomes the centre of the system because he assumes the risk previously run by those responsible for production, the permanent risk of overproduction. The market brings into play the permanent threat of insufficient demand, as Keynes demonstrated. "In a market economy the central problem is possible 'overproduction,' for production is a changing, often fluctuating group of relatively unknown and uncontrollable consumers" (Gouldner 1970, 65). That is what the depersonalization of the act of production means, its decontextualization, the transformation of a social act inscribed in a relationship between two real people into an economic act divorced from this relationship and integrated only into a production context. Soon the shoemaker is selling his production only to an intermediary, the merchant, who becomes responsible for finding users, soon to be known as consumers. The merchant assumes the uncertainty generated by the primacy of production. And so we arrive at the social construct of that couple, the producer-consumer, and it is the producer who comes first in this relationship. The import of the relationship has been reversed. Society is now "utilitarian"; it must seek utility, because utility can no longer be taken for granted. It has consecrated utility and cut it off from use by reducing it to the act of buying on the part of a consumer. And so there appear the two recurring and complementary themes of the fear of surplus and its opposite, the fear of scarcity. The great paradox of this society is that the aim of any producer is to produce something for which there is no need because the economy and its agents are all intent on producing surplus. And what is surplus if not, by definition, something that is not necessary to the producer, something for which one has to find a use that can no longer be taken for granted. Surplus is something seeking a use.1 And this use is the result of a merchant's calculation. Not only does production come to exist independently of use, but it comes first. From a means, it becomes an end. From now on, the producer " does not know the final destination and ultimate purpose of his


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

activities ... His purpose is no longer to try to adapt his product to the desires of his consignee, but rather to sell at the best price possible, as large a quantity as he can. By force of circumstance ... he must take the measures necessary to achieve his ends."2 Products - these strange things with no affiliation, bereft of meaning and unthinkable, as we have seen, in the archaic world - will overrun society, which will, bit by bit and more and more, submit to them. The tendency to create needs artificially in order to sell production becomes an enduring and inherent part of the system. That is why, several centuries later, we have come to find it normal and desirable to have a hole dug by one person and then filled in by another in order to "create" employment, in other words, producers. Why? To give a boost to the system, to create buying power that will generate a demand that can kick-start the producing machine, which will then run all on its own. And so we pay people to dig and fill in holes simply in order to inject money into the economic system. But then, we might ask naively, why not just pass out money? Perhaps in the time not spent digging and filling holes, the recipients of the money might do something else that's useful and everyone would be better off. There would appear to be no purely economic reason for subjecting members of society to production as a precondition for access to consumption. There is, however, a moral postulate involved in having to produce even if there is no resulting utility in the sense of usefulness - as long as the GNP is enhanced. Production has become the measure of utility within the system and now constitutes the basis for determining the value of people. Utility comes to be defined as any production having monetary value, and whether what is produced is useful to someone or not is unimportant. In the last analysis the system no longer gives any weight to the value of usefulness. It is the merchant who must contend with society's greatest problem, that of forging what was once an automatic link between producer and user. He is the one who must deal with the society's greatest area of uncertainty, that of products that find no takers. What interests the merchant is perpetual growth in production. If she could find a solution that dispensed with the user become consumer, she would be just as happy. This has occurred, at least in part, in the armaments industry. Arms are not there to be used but to exist as products until they are declared obsolete. That allows one to continue producing ad infinitum without sitting around waiting for someone to use them, particularly since no one complains that the weapons are not being used. Gouldner put it well: "Utility or imputation of utility thus tends to become an historical ballast that may be dropped" (1970, 74). Use, and therefore the user, no longer provides the impetus to someone who makes things, as was assumed, for example, in Greece.

The Passage to the Modern Gift


For Plato "there are three sorts of art for everything that exists: that of its use, its fabrication, and its imitation. They belong to the user, the artisan, the painter. The painter, like all other imitators, knows nothing of the thing but its external appearance, on which he will play through 'artifice,' to give the illusion of reality. The artisan makes the thing, but without knowing perfectly, as an artisan, its eidos^ or its final purpose. Only the user has this competence" (Vernant 1985, 293). The introduction of the market totally reverses this sequence. The producer comes first, and the user is no more than an instrument required to sell off the production. With the transformation of the user into a consumer, the roles are reversed. The inversion of the means-end order goes along with the radical split between producer and user. What circulates no longer carries social ties with it. It is dissociated from them; it is freed from the gift. The social bond must "find refuge" elsewhere, in the "rest" of society. Production has become society's goal, and it is through the merchant that utility enters the system, because the product, through him, acquires a monetary value that often has nothing to do with usefulness but is linked only to the fact that someone is willing to pay it. Is there another society with such a relationship to utility, gratuitousness, the superfluous? Looked at in this way, modern society does not try to be useful. It only wants to produce - anything at all, from empty holes to holes filled in. Or, which comes to the same thing, it has its own definition of utility: the maximum production of everything that can be cornmodified. And its greatest problem, where the market is concerned, is that "selling" what is produced depends on the consumer, on the members of society, who will always be inclined to resist this universal transformation of their world into products, into objects divorced from any social tie and all meaning, into unidentified social objects. The consumer remains drawn to a different, "backward-looking," conception of a utility that cannot be reduced to the selling, to the consumption (Bataille 1967) of the product. The individual wants some purpose to be served, wants to ground things in another system of values. As Corbusier said, referring to the user, " unfortunately ... he always wants to do what he pleases" (quoted by Raymond 1984, 2.45). All publicity is designed to convince people that they are wrong, that they should not see themselves as users or as part of a network of persons but only as consumers of objects, and that they should rid themselves of the last vestiges of archaic mentality! The market system is prepared to deal with the basic uncertainty caused by the gulf between producer and consumer, and by the depersonalization of social relations in production. That willingness sets it apart from the socialist system, which transforms society into a system


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

of pure production, into a community of producers, and does away with the market, the sole mechanism linking the producer and consumer, the two agents at opposite poles of the system. Even if the market tends to continually create needs, it includes a control mechanism that is no longer there in a society where the market has been done away with, or in sectors, such as the state, which are controlled neither by the market nor by the community. THE S E C O N D R U P T U R E : THE STATE

Once established, for a long time the mercantile relationship goes no further than the production of things and, for a number of reasons, has little effect on the exchange of services, which continues to be governed by personalized community ties. For a long period the market frees people primarily from personal bonds of economic dependence. It opens up the circulation of things and provokes a producer-consumer split but, despite that, does not alter other social relationships. It is important to emphasize this point. The market has little influence on the system of primary relationships: the family, kinship, the village. It sets one free from subservience to the lord but at the outset it barely affects community ties. These will be transformed later by industrialization and the physical dismantling of communities. Fortunately communities have a tendency to reconstitute themselves in an urban environment. As well, the mercantile relationship and money can sometimes work to bolster community relationships. They can never supplant these directly, because by definition they strip away all personal ties, all personalization of that which circulates in concert with the gift relationship. To the degree that mercantile freedom is entirely negative, devoid of personal content, purely "object" (Simmel 1987, 504-17), it can help things circulate between communities without, however, supplanting the direct community ties between producers and users. In this sense market and community are not in competition. Simmel shows this very well (1987, 42.8 ff) when he describes the first federated associations supported entirely by contributions from member groups, whose goal was to defend common interests without infringing on the much-prized primary allegiance to the member association itself. Simmel demonstrates that money alone (which is here a symbol of the market) can make it possible for such groupings to exist without influencing the nature of the member organizations and the individual members' ties with "their" association. "That their common interest takes a monetary form is what enables the associations to federate and form a larger entity without anyone being obliged to sacrifice his independence and his uniqueness" (429-30).3

The Passage to the Modern Gift


But the spread of modernity does not stop here. The state, both democratic and welfare, supersedes the market in the area of services, taking charge of an important part of those gift exchanges "left on the sidelines" by the market and transforming them, in their turn, into variants of the mercantile relationship. It changes the service field by introducing a rupture between those of its agents that are producers of services and those that are, depending on the circumstances, users, beneficiaries, taxpayers, and so on. The state was, of course, present from the beginning of the process of modernization and played a crucial role in the establishment of the market itself. The democratization of the state, which is necessary for development of a market economy of the sort under discussion here, was closely linked to the gifts made to the king by his subjects, a process that culminated in the famous "no taxation without representation." "Initially ... it was the people - in the large, vague, sense of the word - that decided to supply, to give subsidies to the king" (Guery 1983, 27). As with the market, it is important to remind ourselves that the point of departure towards modernity is not an archaic society, one that, as Jean Baechler puts it is "naturally" democratic, but a state of affairs where the communities are part of kingdoms or empires and so are "governed" from outside. Neither Greek democracy (Baechler 1985, 87) nor archaic democracy are at the origin of modern democracy. Modern democracy is representative, not direct, and results from the gradual transformation of a government external to the society, which is appropriated bit by bit rather than rejected or, to be more exact, a government from which one has freed oneself by appropriating it, at least in part, with the gift playing a role in the process. Alain Guery (1983) has shown this very well in his analysis of the transition "from the gift to taxes." Concurrently, a whole collection of "service" relationships between people (services to children, to the elderly, to all those - which includes all of us - who sooner or later have need of the services of others) are also "removed" from the gift system and taken over, primarily, by the state apparatus with its professionals and employees. All the services that cannot be assured by the market tend to be offered by the state, which picks up where the market left off. With the advent of representative democracy, the producer-user duality spreads beyond the market and the production of goods. The citizen becomes both a taxpayer and a consumer of political goods produced by another category of intermediaries, separate from the merchants, appointees who mediate between the elected and the citizens. Representative democracy thus creates yet another rupture, this time between the governing and the governed. As with the market in its


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

economic relationships, it introduces the stranger into political relations. This new relationship was unknown in both direct archaic democracy and Athenian democracy. The latter, founded on philia, makes no distinction between producer and user. In representative democracy, an intermediary slips in between the elected representative and the citizen: the appointee, the bureaucrat, who occupies the space left vacant by the fracturing of the community tie between the governing and the governed. This leads to a situation that is typical of the welfare state, the emergence of a second process that runs parallel to that of the market. The proliferation of merchants - intermediaries between the producer and consumer - is soon joined by the proliferation of appointees in the political relationship - intermediaries between the elected representatives and the citizens. The first sector supports the second, since the number of political appointees grows in proportion to the taxes levied on monetary mercantile exchanges. Both systems are nourished by money. These two processes, by fostering a rupture, a growing gulf, at the centre of the relationship, gradually separate the producer from the user, the supply from the demand, all the while integrating the separated elements into distinct and opposed systems. By universalizing the recourse to intermediaries, they tend in the long run to transform every social relationship into a bond between strangers. In the public sector, access to an intermediary involves a process whereby services are professionalized and bureaucratized. This time, however, the change doesn't replace the link with a dominating force external to the community but directly affects community ties. We can illustrate this process with an example taken from what is called "social work." Responsibility for this complex of services - which was previously assumed by families, neighbours, and friends, by direct personal ties (those of the community) - gradually shifted to employees in the public sector or to organizations specializing in these services and funded by the state. This transfer took place in the name of equality and universality but also in response to a desire for freedom from obligatory social ties. The process of liberation from these social ties has tended to transform democracy into a quasi-mercantile mechanism: we pay individuals, either through our taxes or directly, to do a job - "social work" - which consists essentially of forging social ties. For some this is seen as a great "advance" because women, who before took care of their children and their parents "for free," now tend to the children and parents of others and are paid to do so. To avoid exploitation, these employees seek to professionalize themselves - which brings us to the producer-user relationship that is typical of modernity. We are rarely conscious of the profound change in rela-

The Passage to the Modern Gift


tions that is implicit in this transition from the intimate to the stranger through the medium of money: it is the universalization of a noncompetitive mercantile relationship. To understand the meaning of this relationship, we must move beyond the producer-user duality and try to imagine it from the outside. Let us look at the same example from the vantage point of the gift; in other words, by questioning the quality of the social bond. What does this transfer from the intimate to the stranger signify? What does it mean that women (who hold the vast majority of these positions) are now paid (or pay each other, as these services are financed through taxes which are deducted from their revenue) to "dispense" services to strangers, rather than "rendering" such services to their intimates? On a macro-social scale, everything happens as though one woman had said to another: "You take care of my aged mother, and I will pay you; I'll take care of your children, and you pay me. Now we're both free. We're no longer exploited, we're paid." But what have they been freed from? Essentially, from social ties, because of the dissociation between the service rendered and the personal connection with the "beneficiary." There is, of course, always the risk that this connection will re-emerge - that one will become attached to the person to whom one dispenses the service. That is why one quickly goes beyond this stage by specializing, by breaking down the service rendered, so that instead of having all the services provided by a single person, each employee only provides a fraction of the services to a large number of "clients," thus minimizing the probability that a social bond will be recreated and prejudice the hard-won freedom. Seen through the lens of the mercantile model, the introduction of social work does not change things. The market is only interested in the points of departure and arrival and only wants to know if goods or services have been produced and dispensed. It is not the least bit interested in what goes on in between, in what links the producer and the receiver or in the quality of the delivery, a task it tends in any event to place in the hands of specialists (equivalent to the intermediaries in mercantile circulation). This new way of providing services is therefore exactly the same in mercantile terms - and in technocratic terms it is actually superior - to what existed before, since it has instituted specialization and therefore a supposed improvement in the quality of services. But in terms of social ties there is an enormous difference. The two women we talked about now have ties with strangers, and this is precisely what creates their liberation. They can love their children or their parents without being obliged to provide them with any services: their love can be pure.


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

And so we are left with this "Utopia" and its strange disinterested emotional bond - disinterested in that it has been stripped of all material or utilitarian content, in that it involves nothing except feelings. The rupture between these feelings and what is in circulation is total. In this Utopia, we will all be transformed into producers of certain goods and services on the one hand, and users of certain services on the other. But we will no longer produce (make, create) anything or render any service that transcends this framework and this status. Outside these service institutions, we will continue to love, to hate, to experience all those feelings essential to our day-to-day relationships, but we will do all that in a pure state, without any goods or services circulating in response to these feelings. After first being condemned as behaviour leading to exploitation (for it is being "produced" for free), any act viewed as a service will in the long run be prohibited unless produced by those people with the requisite competence, backed up by diplomas. To render a service on a personal basis will be seen as an anti-social act as it amounts to stealing work from those who are specialized in this type of activity. That, taken to its absurd conclusion, is the outcome of the modern project of liberating us totally from social ties. To liberate us, for what? THE FREEDOM TO PRODUCE MORE

The state and the market are both dependent on intermediaries: appointees and merchants. These two systems free us from the gift relationship, but they subject us to the law of production. Production comes first, the product takes over the world. Production first of goods, then of services. These two movements are at the source of the great adventure that liberates us from all social bonds but also delivers us into the hands of the requirement of constant growth in production and the dominance of commodities, chiefly in the form of money. This is the other side of the coin. The modern individual, thanks to the goods she or he accumulates or squanders, is free of all ties - but not free to stop producing, since a permanent surplus is necessary (Pearson 1957). This is the defining feature of modernization. Thus an author like Belshaw (1965), who tries very hard to define modernization in a neutral, rather than Western-centrist, fashion, asserts that we in the West do not have to define what product, what mode of production, a particular society decides to expand in ... as long as it decides to expand in something! That is the minimum requirement for any individual or society that wants to hew to the principle of modernization. A society can decide "to train witch doctors rather than psychiatrists" (146) and still qualify as a modern society. The market is neutral. It does not interfere with

The Passage to the Modern Gift


what a society produces, as long as it produces something and continues to produce more of it. For "we do demand as a condition for modernization ... an achievement orientation directed toward expansion"(ibid.). In other words, "a modern economy does not expect to reach the static equilibrium between demand and supply which is typical of most primitive societies" (no). Everything else in a society may remain static, if need be, but not the equilibrium between supply and demand. Any society content with the level of monetarized goods it has attained, and whose members decide to apply themselves to something else (music, meditation, festivals, discussions, or ... nothing at all) would not be modern, would revert to a primitive state characterized by a "static equilibrium" between supply and demand. A modern society does not have that option. This is intimately linked to the producer-user split and to that negation of the gift relationship that is the basis of archaic societies' connection to the world. Why? Let us pursue this train of thought. A modern society could in a pinch approve of its members devoting themselves primarily to music, or even meditation, rather than to the production of more efficient computers, or of airplanes that can fly from Montreal to Paris twelve minutes faster than previously. As Belshaw says, we don't have to decide what the product must be, as long as we produce more and more of it. Therefore a society could be modern and still dedicate itself to music or meditation. What is produced is not the fundamental problem. The problem resides in the way we do things, not in the nature of the activity. Modern society can "invest" in any activity whether goods or services - but on one condition: that of fostering a professionalization of the activity, with an expertise, specialized sites, a sophisticated material infrastructure, and a method of developing producers, sellers, and consumers of meditation; on condition that the activity show a quantitative monetary growth that can be measured by the GNP and not content itself with a "static equilibrium." On the conditions, in other words, that the activity perpetuate the producerconsumer split, that it not proceed in an "informal" fashion, that it not be placed in the hands of amateurs (who like to give of themselves), and that it not be transmitted through the gift's networks of reciprocity - that it not be pursued in the context of the gift but in that of the mercantile or bureaucratic order. Bureaucracy and market are, from this point of view, equivalent, as both require the producer-intermediaryclient model and both deny the gift relationship. Perpetual growth, the producer-user split, and the negation of the social bond (which is not founded on this split) are all part of the same process, and we are beginning to see in what way their universalization constitutes a negation of the gift. The archaic gift plays itself out


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

against the "background" of social obligation, and it is just this obligation from which modernity wants to free us. Modern culture, instead of concerning itself primarily with what binds us to each other, aims to free us from others, to emancipate us from social ties, which it views as unacceptable constraints. The end result of this process is that any social tie must become voluntary. This great gift of modernity is the exit, universalized: our personal relationships are freely chosen, while all other relationships are transferred to the market and the state and assumed by them. (And, of course, by us in our capacities as workers ... but that doesn't enter our thoughts.) THE DISSOCIATION OF THE UTILITARIAN AND THE DISINTERESTED

It is this evolution through the market to the state that, in the long run, has led us to the hypothesis that the gift, almost totally purged from modern society, has been replaced by a dual system that isolates the producer from the user and encourages the proliferation of intermediaries. The "natural" tendency of this two-pronged movement is to eliminate the gift, while, paradoxically, benefitting from it and taking it for granted. Thus studies of the family have often shown to what point the economic system has need of the gift network and is dependent on it (Sgritta 1983). What we have here is the separation of two worlds for fear they might mutually corrupt each other. On the one hand, things and services must be able to circulate without having "to risk any detours due to the imponderables of personal relationships" (Simmel 1979, 64). On the other hand, emotional ties, as Francois de Singly (1987) has argued, must not be corrupted by mercantile considerations. As the gift circulates while closely associated with social ties, the complete separation of the sphere of goods and services and that of social ties does away with it. And doing away with the gift is modernity's Utopia, a pervasive illusion dear to the modern mind. What characterizes modernity is not so much the negation of ties (an extreme position held by few people, even among economists) as the constant temptation to reduce them, in practice, to mercantile status, or to think of ties and the market as isolated from each other, two discrete worlds where the first, if in contact with the second, is bound to be tainted by it and, in the long run, subordinated to it. We cannot bring ourselves to think of them together. That leaves the impression that the world is divided in two: on one side science, production, business - real and serious matters ruled by utilitarianism; on the other poetry - song, art, religion, love, friendship matters governed by feelings. These two worlds send us unending

The Passage to the Modern Gift


contradictory messages, the Western "double bind." Thus, Alain Touraine, speaking of Latin America, asserts: "I think ... that modernity is not a matter of rationality but rather a more and more complex and complete reflection of the human person, which is both reason and feeling, and that in contrast to a Western world obsessed by its selfinterest and its pleasures ... Latin America is embarked, with more strength and imagination than any other part of the world, on a quest for a new modernity" (1988, 157-8). But he then concludes, in the same book, that "as long as Latin America remains a traditional society where appearance counts more than accomplishment and personal relationships more than rational calculation, ... it will know no alternative to an overall underdevelopment or a growing dualism" (468, our emphasis). Is modern thought capable of conceiving of the two spheres together? The only way for modernity to "rescue" ties from their subjection to mercantile production seems to be to bar them from all circulation of goods, to restrict them to ties in their pure state. Mauss, on the contrary, ends his essay on the gift by suggesting that a combination of self-interest and disinterestedness characterizes most of our non-mercantile acts of exchange (1990, 65 ff.). That might once have seemed a commonplace. Now by making such a claim Mauss sets himself up in direct opposition to that ideology which would separate the spheres that are most prominent in modern society. This inability to think in terms of goods in the service of ties results in emotional ties being stripped from all circulation of goods. The separation into two impermeable spheres is also reflected in our everyday thinking. Many people, for instance, are offended when mercantile language (debt, exchange) is used in the area of the gift. And, conversely, do we not say that feelings should not intrude in business? When all circulation of things must be governed by the principle of self-interest alone, such a separation of the two spheres is inevitable. Without this radical separation, it is believed that the social bond would necessarily fall under the jurisdiction of the circulation of goods, as in the mercantile model. Simmel has expressed this logic of extreme autonomization better than anyone else: "By driving a wedge between the person and the thing, money begins by ripping away bonds that are beneficial and useful, but it introduces the autonomization of one vis-avis the other, whereby each of the two can develop completely and fully, to its satisfaction, without being hindered by the other" (1987, 420). "Life in general becomes more and more objective, impersonal, while what is not reifiable in life becomes ever more personalized" (602). As we observed at the end of the last chapter, everything becomes an object and social ties find themselves surrounded by a world


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

of products that are believed to contaminate them, ineluctably, on contact. Social ties can now only exist in their "pure state," where there is no circulation of things! (The gift finds shelter elsewhere, with what remains of the non-modern, in a separate world.) But even this world of pure ties tends to be seen as a product, as goods. The mercantile model always has a double status: that of being only one of two models, but also that of encompassing them both, of being the meta-model of reference, for even when we speak of that pure realm of emotional ties where no goods can circulate, we still tend to describe the bond as though it were goods. Thus, Singly, on a number of occasions, uses the concept "emotional goods," even when referring to a model where "all services are excluded except the emotional or sexual" (1988a, 137). The other side of the coin is that all relationships that are nonvoluntary and unfree are relegated to the world of work and are "produced" by the market or the state, by the individual in his capacity as an employee and a producer. These relationships are then held to be free in modern terminology because what they produce (goods and services) is destined for strangers, people to whom we are in no way obliged as a consequence of personal ties. If this process were absolute, the modern gift would become totally free, open to any tie depending on the elective affinities of the moment. All obligations would be assumed by the market and the state. What was tightly bound into archaic society would become "ideally" (both in the Weberian sense and also in the sense of a society's ideals) completely separate. If this model were realizable, the rupture would be complete and the community principle would be eradicated insofar as it entails obligations. We would have the total emancipation of all ties and their transfer to a sector where the relationships between people are carried on between strangers, between the "unengaged," where there is no surprise, nothing unforeseen. Where, unlike in the world of the gift, there is no room for obligations, which are anathema. But this state of affairs is a dot on the horizon, an asymptote, a goal never achieved. Modern society maintains a hard core of social relationships that are still bound up in a system of obligations, of social ties. No one actually wants to be released from these ties. Even if we allow ourselves to yearn for release when we find the burden too encumbering, having this actually happen is absolutely rejected by the majority. The relationship to children is the foundation for all gift relationships and their epitome, akin to the "rock" of which Mauss spoke, on which any movement or initiative whose aim is the total "liberation" of all social relationships breaks, only to fall back like a wave (Simmel 1987, 443). If it is true that in the Middle Ages a vassal was considered more privileged than a serf because he could change his lord

The Passage to the Modern Gift


(ibid.), and that the progress introduced by the market consisted in freeing everyone from this type of obligation, we hesitate, even today, to carry liberty's progress as far as the possibility of changing parents. But the relationship to children is perhaps threatened in another way, by test-tube babies and all the techniques that result in a child being less and less given and more and more produced, while we become less and less procreators and more and more coproducers. To the degree that this occurs, it becomes increasingly futile to advocate charters of rights for children. For a right has meaning only for someone who is able to defend it. For those who cannot, we can only impose duties and obligations on those who already have rights, and who will be charged with the responsibility of protecting those who do not. But who feels truly obliged vis-a-vis a product, a commodity? "Money (or the market) creates relationships between people, while excluding the people themselves" (Simmel 1987, 373). An artist is hired for a concert and we must pay to attend. The bond between artist and spectator is, it would seem, entirely quantified. But neither one is satisfied. Both want more than an objectified relationship. The artist wants to be applauded, the spectator wants to applaud; both want to establish a tie that is non-quantifiable, disinterested, that cannot be absorbed by the market. And so the gift slips through the cracks everywhere, spills over, finds its way, adds something to what the utilitarian relationship tries to reduce to its simplest expression, a monetary expression, whose identifying feature is "not to possess any qualities other than quantity" (Simmel 1988, 43). R E S I S T A N C E AND


Let us sum up. The market does not free us from everything. That is why we have resorted to the welfare state to pursue that great enterprise of cutting us loose from our obligations. Picking up where the market left off, the state aims to free individuals from all their social obligations by transforming these into contractual pecuniary obligations that are quasi-mercantile. The user pays, the producer is paid: this exchange supplants social obligations. But the state is subject to the same drawbacks as the market in depersonalizing relationships and imposing on them an irresponsibility typical of bureaucratic structures. This has been studied at length, and there is no need to dwell on it here. But above and beyond the crisis of the market, we have a crisis of the welfare state: the reaction of the user against the drawbacks of the system, which generates a revival of social networks (or their resurfacing, since often they have not in fact disappeared). We had accustomed ourselves to seeing society without them,


From the Archaic to the Modern Gift

and to thinking about it as though we could dispense with them. The resistance of members of society to this objectivation, however, was constant, even if we are only becoming aware of it now. Social ties, whose study has become extremely popular in academic conferences, did not sit around waiting for the social sciences to rediscover them in order to go about their business. The resistance to these two systems becomes overt when the individual, in relations with one or the other, refuses to play the exclusive role of a consumer of a product or a service rendered by a professional when she or he defines him or herself as a user. This resistance manifests itself most frequently as a kind of passive resistance, as found in the analysis of producer-user relationships (Godbout 1987). As citizens, users have frequently demanded more democracy. They have been invited instead to participate in production - as coproducers4 of services - for reasons we can now understand. But in developing the idea of coproduction the radical split between the world of producers and that of users was not taken into account. This makes any direct social bond between the members of the two universes difficult. The growth of democracy through the introduction of participation schemes is an interesting approach to improving relationships between citizens and the state. But it is woefully inadequate, for it does not enable us to escape a logic, coextensive with the producer-user split, that is destructive of the social ties on which representative democracy is founded. An opposite path must be taken: it is only when social networks are taken into consideration at the outset that we can eventually increase democratization and transform the producer-user relationship. It is only when we stop thinking of users as isolated individuals whose status is that of clients for professional apparatus and see them for what they are, in the context of their network of elective affinities, of the gift and counter-gift, that the binary utilitarian relationship will change. To change, it must give way to social ties, community ties, to what lies beyond the producer-user relationship, where utilitarian distinctions do not exist: in the family, social networks, everywhere there is a way of working that rejects the producer-user distinction itself, everywhere that the circulation of things is beholden to social ties, and not the other way round.5 The "public," as defined in public institutions, is in fact an ensemble of members linked through networks in many different ways. Such networks operate according to rules that are not those of the public institution and differ from it essentially in not making a distinction between "them" and "us," in not creating that radical split that always exists between a public and an institution, or a producer and a consumer. This is what we can call the community model, whose main feature, relative

The Passage to the Modern Gift


to the state and the market, is the negation of the producer-user split that underlies the market and professional relationships. A whole series of different rules flow from this negation. There is also an indirect resistance that stems from the fact that, concretely, the user, as a person, continues to act, to forge social ties not based on this split. Users, to the great displeasure of producers in the mercantile system and appointees in the political system, continue, as Le Corbusier said glumly, "to do only what they please" (Raymond 1984, 2,45). The stubborn user who continues to communicate with other "members" of society without utilizing the "systems" set up for that purpose; the network member who, like a spider, starts spinning new threads as fast as the institution rationalizes and merchants monetarize the old ones: these are the people we are interested in in this book. We are trying to explore what Balzac called the "reverse side of modern history," those areas where things continue to have a soul and to live in harmony with social ties. We want to call into question that rupture which constitutes the foundations for modern society. It is not a matter of denying its existence or its importance but of contesting its pretensions to establish the matrix of social ties. In the first section we described, in somewhat unsystematic fashion for purposes of illustration, the four different spheres where the gift circulates in modern society. The comparison with the archaic gift revealed the need to reflect on the sources of that duality typical of the mercantile and state systems, which results in a split with the gift cycle and the fostering of an increasingly influential world of objects. We can now return to the modern gift to try to understand its distinctive properties and its rules of conduct, beginning with that feature ascribed to it by both common sense and analytic thought: disinterestedness.

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The Strange Loop of the Gift

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Gift, Market, Disinterestedness1 The more exchange is equal, the more we tire of it. The gift ensures time's survival by undoing the equilibrium between the offer and its response. Henri Raymond, personal correspondence

The biologists Margulis and Sagan assert that "at the core of being alive is a memory, the physical survival of the past in the present" (1989, 64). Like life, the gift preserves the traces of past relationships, those beyond the current transaction. It remembers them, unlike the market, which retains nothing of the past but the price, the memory of a bond between things, not people. While the dynamics of the gift and its deployment are temporal and vertical, the market tends to do away with the past. That is the "price" of the unlimited, spatial deployment of relationships between strangers, and it leads to an objectivation of the world, resulting from the split between producer and consumer introduced by the market. The market is a sort of splintered gift, and mercantile language reflects that. In archaic societies, ideas such as those of buying and selling were often contained in a single word. Mercantile vocabulary embodies one kind of meaning only - economic - at the expense of more universal types of signification (religious, moral, political, etc.). But what has been noted less frequently is that it systematically diminishes the versatility of terms that describe the circulation of things in everyday language. There is a transition from the "poly-valent" to the "equi-valent." We might ask ourselves if the market, seen analytically in the context of social ties, does not reflect the same change: it is a system that isolates the act of giving from the act of receiving, that generates two distinct operations, creating a tension between them and a desire for equivalence. The whole question of equivalence is implicit in the social construct of the market. And the entire exchange vocabulary is subject to the same treatment: reduction and separation. Let us look at a few examples involving commonly used words and expressions that illustrate the split at the heart of modernity.


The Strange Loop of the Gift

• Reconnaissance In everyday language, the French word has two meanings: it refers to the "recognition" one receives from others, and the "gratitude" one feels towards someone else. There is a reciprocal movement, as in all words associated with the gift system. The market reduces this word to a single, unequivocal meaning, as in the expression reconnaissance de dette: "acknowledgment of a debt." • Hospitality The vocabulary of hospitality is permeated with the same ambiguity. "To be hospitable" certainly means to welcome someone into one's home, but also, just as important, it refers to the act of giving, of offering something: hospitality, a meal, and so on. As well, the French word hote can, depending on the context, refer to the person who receives (the host) or the person who is received (the guest). • To have confidence in someone means to lend one's confidence, to give it away and not to keep it for one's self ... (Benveniste 1969, 117). • / owe him a lot. Beyond the economic context, this sentence means: he has given me a lot. This implies non-monetary obligations in response to non-monetary gifts, which is not a debt as we understand it today but a return to the original meaning of the word debt (Benveniste 1969, 183). I owe him a lot: thanks to this person I live better, I have resolved certain important problems, and so on. The words reflect what we have received from someone, not what we owe him, unlike the meaning of the word debt in the mercantile context. "I owe him a lot" means the opposite of "I owe him ten dollars." The word "debt" in the latter phrase has been co-opted by mercantile thought and, once again, the dual reference has been obliterated in favour of an unequivocal and unilateral concept, in order to put in place accountable equivalences. • Emprunter (to borrow) in Old French meant both preter (to lend) and se faire preter (to have something lent to one) (Benveniste 1969, 189). In Latin, praestare means, primarily, to graciously put something at someone's disposition, with no thought of return (ibid., 181). This meaning survives today: Tu me le pretest (Can I borrow it?) We could continue in this vein for a long time. Thus the word prix (price) in mercantile language refers to what we must pay to achieve monetary equivalence. But in everyday use it also means the opposite, "prize": something we receive either by chance or as a reward for special achievement. In the same way, the market could be defined as one part of a divided gift. Even if a gift is always part of a much larger gift system in whose context it must be seen in order to be completely

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


understood (Mauss's cycle of give-receive-reciprocate remains the best approximation of how the system works), we must never forget that, unlike the market, the gift in itself is a total act that must be understood as such before we view it as part of the gift system. This crucial distinction between gift and market stems from a split in the giftgiving act, a split that sacrifices the non-monetary attributes to supplyand-demand and the search for an equivalence between these two elements. By dividing up the act of giving, the mercantile model dooms itself to never being able to account for the gift, just as Zeno's Paradox, in dividing up movement, can never explain how an arrow reaches its target. This does not stop the arrow from doing just that, nor the gift from existing. THE VALUE OF TIES

The shrinking value of words has gone so far that the word "value" itself has been reduced to quantitative status. This phenomenon has been noted often and is most evident, obviously, when values are reduced to their supposed quantitative equivalent, which is represented by a sum of money. We call that exchange value, and commonly oppose it to use value. Use value is unique in each case and cannot be represented by a quantity of any kind. The mercantile relationship tends to reject use value as expressed by a user, transforming users into consumers, as we saw in the last chapter. What sort of value is embodied in the gift? It is obviously not the value of mercantile exchange. But is it use value? This "use" of things implicit in the gift - the use of goods in the service of ties - is in fact rarely included in the concept of use value, which tends to recognize only the immediate utilization of something and not to take into consideration that it may also serve to create a bond. This peculiar "use" of things is sufficiently different from other uses that it deserves to be clearly distinguished from them. To this end, we propose a third type of value, the "bonding-value": this is what an object, a service, a particular act, is worth in the world of ties and in their reinforcement. This phenomenon is the polar opposite of accounting value and is completely glossed over by economic discourse, for which ties are synonymous only with exchange. Exchange value, like that of the gift, tends to be totally relational. But what it expresses is the relationship between things exchanged, as represented by money. The value of things as a function of the bond between people also tends to be denied by the concept of use value, which concentrates on material use and the way things work. However, beyond their exchange value and use value, and relatively independent of either, things


The Strange Loop of the Gift

take on different values according to their capacity to express, to facilitate, to foster social ties. This value is not determined by comparison with other things but primarily in relation to people. The same object will have a very different bonding value, depending on the sort of relationships in which it is found. Here we rediscover, where we least expected it, exactly what is expressed by archaic money. We have seen that its value varied according to the number of its holders and their prestige and that it represented the memory of bonding value, just as price represents the memory of exchange value. To the traditional exchange-use opposition, we ought then to add bonding value. The gift always contains something beyond itself, a supplement, which is the value of the bond. The bonding value is distinct from exchange value and use value, which perhaps explains the gift's discomfort where money is concerned. Such unease seems strange to economic thinking for, in theory, money ought to be the perfect gift, as it enables the individual to buy whatever he chooses (Camerer 1988). In fact, when a present is offered, the goal is not to access a system that would allow an exact correspondence with the recipient's preferences. The point of the present is to give the donor an opportunity to demonstrate that he knows what the recipient likes. That is more important than the "mercantile" satisfaction of the recipient, for it is the bond that counts, and the gift is there to serve the bond, as Camerer acknowledges: "A close friend must guess at my tastes" (194, Camerer's emphasis). He comes close to the truth, since he proposes "that gifts are signals of some characteristic of the gift-giver" (ibid.). But he does not go on to relate the gift to the bond, even though he quotes Caplow, who fully recognizes the bond's value: "A Christmas gift should ... be scaled in economic value to the emotional value of the relationship" (ibid.). But no economic scale is possible, for the value of the bond depends on the nature of people and on variables that economic value, in order to become purely quantitative, has had to eliminate. Bonding value cannot be calculated, but that does not mean it does not exist. Bonding value is in part the value of time, for which the market substitutes an infinitely extendible immediacy in space by removing the object in question from the temporal network. The more things are isolated from their bonding value, the more they become mobile, cold (frozen), pure objects outside time. By expressing the bonding value, the gift proves to us that we are not objects. "Men who give provide confirmation for each other that they are not things. "z And so we are back to the archaic gift and the bau of the Maori sage as interpreted by Marcel Mauss. For Mauss, the hau is the spirit of that which is in circulation. But what is that spirit if not what it contains of the person

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


who made a gift of it, what Mauss describes as the value of feeling? It is the bonding value (which is also referred to as symbolic exchange, although this is too general a concept) and can be part of any communication between people. Bonding value is the symbolic value that relates to the gift, to whatever circulates in the guise of a gift. NO


"There are no free gifts ... [and] there should not be any free gifts," writes Mary Douglas in her forward to the English version of Mauss's The Gift (1990, vii). Can a gift be free and disinterested? Benveniste thinks that it can: "The to-and-fro of benefits and payment may be voluntarily interrupted: service without return, a free offering, a pure favour, leading to a new reciprocity. Over and above the normal circuit of exchanges, of what one gives in order to receive, there is a second network of kindness and gratitude, where what is given is given without thought of return, where what is offered is in order to 'give thanks'" (1969, 2oz). Gift, disinterestedness, generosity. We cannot overlook generosity when we speak of the gift. We find it at every turn, expressed in terms that appear ambiguous when compared to unequivocal mercantile terminology, since what is given in return is often more significant than what was first offered. But just because a gift is reciprocated doesn't mean that it is only a mercantile exchange in disguise. If we want to deny the existence of disinterestedness and generosity, that is not the route to take. Having established the reductiveness of the economicist vocabulary and introduced the concept of bonding value, we must now make room for the idea of disinterestedness, a term that represents, more than any other, something that is utterly unilateral and thus foreign to a mercantile vocabulary. It is also at the centre of debates concerning the feasibility of a disinterested gift (Douglas 1990). According to Benveniste, the ambivalence about whether disinterestedness is possible is present from the outset. Gratuite, the French term for disinterestedness, derives from the Latin gratia. It applies to two parties, faceto-face: "he who accepts with gratitude" and "he who is accepted with gratitude, which is pleasant" (Benveniste 1969, 199); Benveniste speaks also of "reciprocal value" (ibid.). The meaning then evolves towards the religious connotation of grace, of being received "graciously," which leads on to gratitude and then encompasses the phenomenon of giving for pleasure, followed by the current notion of disinterestedness, or gratuite, which is subject to various interpretations:


The Strange Loop of the Gift

• In the mercantile context, "gratis" means getting something for nothing, without paying, with no cost attached. Gratuit, or free, here means that there is no exchange value. • It also applies to something one does " for nothing," with no obvious usefulness, something done "freely," such as the wrapping of presents. "Free," or gratuit, here means that there is no use value. • Gratuit, or "gratuitous," means something done for no reason, as in "this is a gratuitous claim," unfounded, unproven. • For the donor, gratuit also means free, with no obligation imposed and no reciprocation required; this is the meaning that is most hotly contested and is viewed often as a "social lie." • Finally, gratuit still harbours a hint of grace, of what is gracious, of what makes it possible for something unexpected to appear out of nowhere, something generous, associated with birth, with begetting. (The first four meanings all sin against utilitarian reason, but the last moves entirely beyond the pale of a system where nothing can exist that has not been produced.) These different meanings contain a great deal of ambiguity, and even contradiction, for mercantile thought claims simultaneously that the gift is free and disinterested (otherwise it is not a gift) and that disinterestedness does not exist, that the recipient always ends up paying (there is no free lunch). Where the donor is concerned, to be disinterested simply means "being had," unless of course the "gift" is used as an instrument to obtain more. The framework of mercantile thought makes disinterestedness an impossibility a priori. So, is it enough to put disinterestedness back into the gift system, in order to resolve the contradiction? It would seem not. The paradox still seems just as great. It expresses itself in the following way: • The gift expects nothing in return; to give a gift is to be disinterested. • But there is reciprocation in any gift system. That is what Mauss observed, to his great astonishment, and it has been at the core of studies of the gift ever since. • Therefore, either the gift is not disinterested or it does not exist. What is the source, then, of that ubiquitous disinterestedness that all observers have found in those involved with the gift? The idea of nonreciprocity seems implicit in the gift and any return that may occur is unexpected and bizarre. This fundamental contradiction, in which any discussion pitting the gift against the market bogs down, always leads

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


to the problem of the goodness (or malice) of primitives (who are the specialists in the gift among contemporary humankind) and of humanity in general. And it pits the camp of nasty realists (the cynics) against that of the nice idealists (the na'ifs). In this debate cognitive and normative categories are mixed together and it seems impossible to separate them. If there is no free gift, as Mary Douglas claims, then how does the gift differ from the market? What sets it apart? Can our analysis of the modern gift in the first part of this book help us shed light on the paradox of disinterestedness? Let us first review those features that led us to distinguish the gift from the market. First, of course, there is the universally agreed upon importance of the disinterestedness and spontaneity of the gift, even when in practice it is reciprocated. Second, there is the real unilateralness of a significant number of gifts, and even the existence of unilateral gift systems. A large percentage of gifts are not reciprocated, something we tend to forget when we focus on reciprocation and try to understand why and how gifts often involve a return. How can we explain the many situations where the gift is not reciprocated and not only is there no penalty as a result but the social bond is not even broken? The importance of the unilateral gift cannot be denied, as we have seen in the preceding chapter. There are "truly" disinterested gifts, in the specific sense of their being unilateral (Parry 1986). What is their significance? The student of the gift seems to be caught in a strange dilemma. Either the gift is reciprocated and we wonder what the force is that obliges it to be returned (note that to pose the question in this way is tantamount to postulating that it is normal for the gift not to be reciprocated, that social forces, ordinarily, would not require such reciprocation) or the gift does not provoke a response and then we turn to the donor and seek the hidden self-interest in giving such a gift. We adopt the postulate that it is natural that the gift be reciprocated! The gift is a special case for researchers because expectations concerning it do not seem to conform to the observer's implicit beliefs. This is another way of expressing the paradox of disinterestedness. Certainly there is no need to resort to the hypothesis of disinterestedness immediately in order to account for unilateralness. Several other explanations are conceivable. Three possibilities may be envisaged: • The gift involves the partners in a state of indebtedness that characterizes any intense social bond. The amplitude of the cycles of gift and counter-gift prior to our observations has established a permanent state of mutual indebtedness such that each partner considers that


The Strange Loop of the Gift

he owes a great deal to the other. (That is what we mean by bonds that tend to become unconditional: we can ask anything at all.) The observer encounters an already existing phenomenon. The explanation for unilateralness resides in the history of the relationship between the two partners, although the observer only sees one temporal sequence. • The gift circulates in a chain that is circular or endless. This is indirect or universal exchange, which Levi-Strauss contrasts with direct or restricted binary exchange (1967, 508). Thus most people who do volunteer work claim to have received so much from life that it is normal that they would want to give something back. The observer who sees unilateralness in fact only sees one spatial sequence. He isolates two people who in reality are part of a much vaster chain. We must fit every gift sequence into its spatio-temporal chain before making a premature judgment of unilateralness. • What remain are the cases that are genuinely unilateral. Even if the phenomenon is much rarer than it might at first sight appear, unilateral gifts do exist: blood donations, organ donations, contributions to those affected by natural disasters, for example. But we suspect that these cases should be included in the more general context of all gifts, including the majority where unilateralness is much more relative, for it is not clear that even in these cases the donor does not feel that some reciprocation has been received. Have we then virtually eliminated the unilateral gift and by doing so resolved the paradox of disinterestedness by showing that, in an expanded framework, what appears to be a disinterested gift is actually part of a reciprocal system? This might appear to be the case, but in fact nothing has been resolved, for now it is the obligation to reciprocate that must be explained. We can still claim that the gift is disinterested because absolutely nothing constrains or even obliges the donor to reciprocate(especially where volunteer work is concerned). It is this generous, altruistic freedom to give that presents the problem and for which there is no explanation. We must find an explanation for this sort of "free obligation," as Mauss came to realize increasingly in the course of his work on The Gift. Having from the outset placed his emphasis on obligation, he progressively reintroduced the notion of freedom and ended by resorting almost systematically to two phrases: "to give, freely and obligatorily" (Mauss 1990, 71), "in a form that is both disinterested and obligatory." (33). Third, we have observed the importance of disinterestedness on the part of donors and the fact that disinterestedness does not imply an

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


absence of reciprocity. We must now compare the features of this reciprocity with those of mercantile returns. First, there is inequality or mercantile non-equivalence. In the market, as Simmel says, there is the "psychological necessity [to obtain something] whose value is equal to the sacrificed goods" (1987, 62). But a gift's debt is never "paid off"; instead it is reduced or reversed (inverted) by a gift greater than the debt. If nature abhors a vacuum, the gift abhors equilibrium, though it cannot distance itself from it beyond a certain threshold, without risking the disruption of a relationship or a chain of giving. This abhorrence of equilibrium is not generally taken into consideration in theories dealing with typologies of the gift. They are almost all founded, at least implicitly, on the postulate of the quest for equivalence. But equivalence represents the death of the gift. It is a way to "put to an end" the chain of the gift, to strip it of that tension which is its dynamic. By the same token, the absence of equilibrium spells the end of a mercantile relationship. One service "attracts" another. We must understand the law of gravity as it applies to exchanges in terms other than the overall law of mercantile equilibrium. With the gift, it is the intention that counts. Everything is in the style, in the gesture. With the market, it is the opposite: "it's the result that counts." That is why the gift has no price. This is not to say that its price can only be infinite. It has none. The idea of price does not apply to the gift, and it is dangerous to endow it with a price; it is contra-indicated, as the gift is allergic to being priced for a price implies a quest for mercantile equivalence, one-to-one, with another object that costs the same, while the gift calls forth a countergift whose value depends on the relationship between two people, on the sequence of relationships within which the gift is to be found. The value of an object's ties has no monetary equivalent. The idea of disinterestedness helps pinpoint this fundamental difference: the gift seeks neither equality nor equivalence. And we may ask ourselves whether the modern passion for equality is not one of the most insidious incursions of the market into social relations. It is why the welfare state, as we have seen, is not a gift system: the quest for equality interrupts and kills off the gift. Here again we come across the theme of the stranger. From the moment when a relationship is no longer one between pure strangers, equality, measured out and restricted to a comparison between those objects being exchanged, consists in a denial of the uniqueness of an established relationship, a relationship unique in that it takes into account the partners' individual features. The quest for equality can only be legitimate in the realm of abstract bureaucratic relationships. In personal relationships, it is


The Strange Loop of the Gift

an insult and tends to deny the bond. Equality brings rivalry into play, something that the gift does away with, by making the partners alternately "superiors" and "inferiors." We can illustrate this claim with reference to spousal relationships. A couple that seeks equality, that seeks to balance the books in its exchanges, is a couple whose dynamic leads to permanent rivalry, towards the establishment of a mercantile relationship, and towards rupture. Certainly a phase of this sort can exist in the life of a couple. But this phase must be transcended, and a gift relationship must take its place, one where each considers that she or he benefits from something special and can never give in return everything received from the other, so that both feel they owe more than they reap. Inequality becomes part and parcel of the relationship and drives it forward. A couple that "functions" well lives in a state of constant reciprocal indebtedness that it considers normal and inexhaustible and where there is no sense of egalitarian accounting. "I owe her (or him) so much." This is the basis for a successful relationship between a couple, a relationship that cannot be understood in terms of a mercantile or state egalitarian schema because such a dynamic of indebtedness is not based on things and services in circulation but operates directly between people in a bond that is nourished by the things that circulate. The ideology, shared by a certain number of economists and feminists, that insists that one should apply the notion of equality derived from liberal thought regarding rights to personal relationships leads only to the disintegration of these relationships. There is no question here of denying the many forms of exploitation and domination that may be found within a couple; there are certainly cases where it might be advisable to draw on egalitarian values and an egalitarian system to transform a couple's relationship, or - more likely - to put an end to it. But the dynamic of a couple is fundamentally of another order, its transition to a mercantile system is a sign of crisis, and its ultimate conversion to this system means the end of the relationship. Is non-equivalence specific to the modern gift? We might think so when we read analyses of archaic societies, where it seems to have been compulsory to honour every debt, including debts of blood, with vengeance. Nevertheless non-equivalence also exists in these societies, as we have seen in the second part of this book. But anthropologists who study systems of reciprocity in archaic societies and observe the inequalities of exchange often hasten to add, as does Malinowski, that "in the long term an equilibrium is established, profitable to both parties."3 In the long term, gift exchange is equal, it obeys the rule of equivalence. Modern mercantile exchange can then be seen as replacing the long term with the short term in its quest for equivalence.

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


This assertion of long-term equality reflects something bizarre and "gratuitous." For how does the observer know that in the long term gifts and counter-gifts will balance out? At what theoretical moment does everything become even? No empirical verification is ever made - and this would rarely be possible in any case, unless one were to postulate a whole collection of quantitative criteria (monetary equivalents for exchanges observed over the long term) and exogenous reference points, often non-existent in the system under study. Certainly in exchanges (transmissions) from generation to generation, that is out of the question. As the long term is never defined, and as it can always be prolonged (if the "balance" is not achieved), no proposition of this sort can be refuted. Such theories unfold as though the assertion of long-term equality had no need of verification. It is something postulated so that the explanatory system can function properly. But postulated by whom? Rarely by the protagonists themselves who, in any case, anthropologists feel no need to take into account. And so this postulate is the work of the observer alone, and serves his needs, both ethical and intellectual. If he postulates a long-term equality of exchange, then he can admit to an inequality in the exchanges he observes without having to view one party as unethical. Long-term equality is the anthropologist's myth, the myth that permits him to interpret behaviour that would otherwise have to be imputed to a way of thinking, to tradition, and so on - explanations that only mask our lack of understanding. Laplace had no further need to hypothesize God, but the modern anthropologist always needs to postulate a universal equivalence of things that circulate. He needs to postulate the guarantee of a return, as though he has not transcended certain developmental stages defined by psychoanalysis where the infant has not yet learned to deal with loss. But is this sort of obsession with equivalence anything more than a projection onto the gift of the mercantile model? There is another factor to be taken into account: we give back more than we receive. This is, in mercantile language, the rule of negative equivalence. "We must give back more than we have received" (Mauss 1990, 65) for not only is the gift not a zero sum game like the market but in it, whoever loses, wins, at least according to market standards. "To reciprocate" is totally different from the "to receive" of mercantile exchange. The latter is accumulative in essence, retentionist; we exchange to possess more, to accumulate. It represents a different logic. But, at the same time, what is brought into the transaction is ceded, lost, abandoned, never given back to us. It is sacrificed because we have obtained something else in exchange: a profit, a "yield." The "yielding up" of the gift is bartered for the "yield" of the market which occurs immediately. But to give back, for the gift, presupposes duration, time,4 the "labor of gratitude" (Hyde).


The Strange Loop of the Gift

Finally, there is the relationship between gift and loss. There is an immediate return in the pleasure of the gift, a fact that is often overlooked and that can begin to provide an explanation for disinterestedness. It tells us that a practical return is not desired but arrives as a bonus, because the pleasure of the act is enough to justify the gift for its author. The gift is disinterested in the sense that at the moment it is made it is not the result of a calculation, it is spontaneous. "It's a reflex," said a woman interviewed by Anne Gotman, when asked about an inheritance transmitted to children as soon as it was received (1988, chapter 3)According to utilitarian logic, spontaneity is no different from instinct and operates on a primal level. It is diametrically opposed to modern logic, which is calculating and rational. Simmel's analysis of this problem (1987, especially 554) is acute: the disinterestedness of the gift has something to do with its spontaneous character. It is linked to impulsiveness, to "extravagance," to feeling, to the primal, the primitive, the natural, the impetuous. In that respect the gift is not sophisticated, like monetary exchange. It applies to groups where individuals shift from the gift to violence without passing through any intermediary stage, both states being close to spontaneous animal impulses and typical "of peoples who know no other type of property transfer than theft or gift-giving, [...] the egoistic impulsiveness of theft and the no less impulsive altruism of the gift" (ibid.). And so we slide incrementally from the disinterested to the unilateral, the spontaneous, and the reflexive, all indicative of impulsiveness and primitive behaviour. In fact, these traits simply show that the gift does not belong to the utilitarian world of rational calculation, an observation we have made more than once. But does that mean it is no more than barbarism? Are calculation and barbarism the only alternatives? It is perhaps here that even authors such as Mauss, Simmel, and Titmuss betray their evolutionist and even utilitarian tendencies (in the sense of rational calculation as the basis for any "civilized" decision). This postulate leads them to view systems of social security as a normal evolution of the gift in modern society, since here the gift is rationalized and integrated into a "rational-legal" world. The disinterestedness of the spontaneous gift, in this context, either does not exist or else is a residue attributable to a primitive reflex. To assert this is to deny the existence of learned spontaneity, which is clearly present in, for example, organ donation. In organ donation there is no calculation. Economic thought excludes this possibility and only recognizes two options: animal, instinctive spontaneity or rational calculation. Trapped in this false duality, utilitarian thought overlooks an essential characteristic of the gift, obvious in organ donation and present in

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


all types of gift we have encountered: the spontaneous movement of one soul5 towards another. This act (and not the gift) is disinterested in the precise sense that it is not performed with a return in mind, even if this return almost always exists in one form or another, even if the gift "pays off." These two apparently contradictory facts must both be accepted at this stage; there is no way of eliminating one in favour of the other. And so disinterestedness is taken to mean, on the one hand, sacrifice and loss, and on the other, spontaneity explained by impulsiveness and irrationality, it being understood that the evolved, rational individual calculates and so does not (cannot, must not) make disinterested gifts. In both instances, we overlook the pleasure of the gift, of the loss wished for and assumed. Here loss is not perceived as loss - in the market because one object is acquired in exchange for another; in the gift because the loss is compensated on another level. The donor has gone beyond the stage of the spool and assumes the risk of losing. The gift is the transcendence of the experience of loss. The greater the pleasure in giving, the smaller the obligation imposed by the gift; it is for that reason that it is polite to say please when asking for something. "Only if it pleases you, if it gives you pleasure." Recognizing the donor's pleasure diminishes the recipient's obligation. It doesn't, of course, prevent the recipient from saying thank you afterwards, from putting herself at the donor's "mercy," from being "obliged" after all, which exorcises the equality that is the source of rivalry. And so we might begin to resolve the paradox of disinterestedness by saying that the gift is disinterested not in the sense that there is no return (even if such is often the case depending, as we have seen, on the point of view) but in the sense that what circulates does not conform with the rules of mercantile equivalence. To characterize the gift as disinterested in a mercantile context automatically has negative implications: it is a "bad deal" or a sacrifice; one is being duped. Given this way of thinking, to say that child care by fathers is done without interest in remuneration is the same as saying that fathers are being exploited. We are removing an act from its non-mercantile context and judging it in the light of mercantile standards. Pursuing this logic, we could end up saying that a woman who "gives" her breast to her child is being exploited because she receives nothing in return. Why do we not go that far? Because this act is never absorbed into the mercantile model. It is the integration of an act into the mercantile model that is responsible for the paradox of the disinterested gift in that it leads one to interpret disinterestedness as exploitation or, more neutrally, as an abnormal phenomenon.


The Strange Loop of the Gift

Whenever we study a phenomenon, we construct a model that allows us to determine what will be constant and what will be variable. When we examine the phenomenon of the gift through the lens of the mercantile model, it appears that what was established at the outset as a constant, an externality, - the bonding value - is precisely that which varies. And so it is not surprising that we encounter quite unscientific explanations, some of them far out in left field, such as the universal hypocrisy of the players or the total denial of the phenomenon being analysed. Mercantile thought does away with the pleasure of the gift and retains only what has been lost or sacrificed. We must acknowledge both that the gift is part of an exchange system unlike the market and that it is a gratifying act. The deeper meaning of the word disinterested (gratuit in French) has been misunderstood by mercantile logic. There is an equivalence in the gift precisely because of its disinterestedness: a disinterested gift gratifies the one who gives it as much as the one who receives it. This is the second type of return noted earlier in this book. It is omnipresent in the gift and accounts for the paradox of the disinterested gift. This sort of return is seldom taken into consideration but it is important to recognize this meaning of the word disinterested. There are disinterested gifts in the sense that, for the person who offers them, the act is entirely satisfying in itself and requires no return on the part of the donor (of the first, material, type). Relationships with children are the most obvious example. And so we must reject what is implied by disinterestedness in the mercantile context but retain what is seen as disinterestedness in the notion of the gift. Even some analyses of the archaic gift tend to ignore that dimension, for in archaic societies the gift seems so bound up in rigid rules that the disinterestedness is hidden. That does not mean, obviously, that the enforced, constrained, pleasureless gift - the so-called "conventional" gift - does not exist. In fact, it shows up frequently in our societies, as witnessed by the number of socially created gift-giving occasions such as Mother's Day, Father's Day, Secretary's Day, etc. But such gifts are borderline cases, and we can no longer truly call them gifts if all vestiges of disinterestedness (of freedom) have disappeared. Pleasure is an essential ingredient of the gift, especially in the current context where a number of acts previously seen as duties are carried out freely and where the very suggestion of sacrifice is brushed aside by the givers, even in areas such as volunteer work, traditionally associated with the gift as sacrifice. Given the importance ascribed to this sort of disinterested gift in Christian religion, we might question whether traditional societies were really home to the enforced gift or whether we have not projected this vision onto other societies because in ours the gift was often imposed.

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness

185 187

Disinterestedness finds its explanation in the real pleasure to be found in the gift, in the inescapable reality of all the people who claim to receive more than they give, and who claim this in the very act of giving. It is a kind of bonus that shows that the gift is not founded just in the expectation of a counter-gift. Everyone knows from experience the painful character of a gift one feels compelled to offer, one that is not made "from the heart" but in response to external pressure.6 Pleasure in the gift is in fact crucial to the gift. It is not an added ingredient. It is tied to freedom, it is proof that there is no constraint, it is confirmation of a social bond. In fact, the unilateral gift (or pure gift, see Parry 1986) is rather easy to understand from the viewpoint of the donor. The real problem is to be found on the side of the recipient. The gift creates a debt, a state of dependence; when this is not present, it marks an exclusion from social ties, something we all feel when we give (make a donation) to a beggar in the street. We experience a vague uneasiness, a certain shame, stemming from the fact that, in the very act of giving, we confirm in our eyes, and in the eyes of the panhandler, his/her exclusion from society, for this act cannot establish a social tie (Douglas 1990). We evade the eyes of a beggar and we rapidly move away after having given, thus refusing signs of gratitude usually received with joy. Such situations highlight the advantages of the anonymous avenues of state and legal redistribution, which depersonalize the bond and do not imply an act of exclusion. Our feelings about such anonymous giving alter when we are faced with an emergency, which is temporary by its very nature. Then we feel solidarity in the face of adversity, rather than exclusion, along with the idea that such things can happen to all of us. The great religions also transform this sort of act, especially Christianity, which teaches the donor that the recipient is God himself, to whom he owes everything and from whom he will receive recompense. We hope we have now established the importance of disinterestedness in the gift. It is this that accounts for the major differences between the gift and the market. If we factor in the phenomenon of the second type of return, we can easily reconcile disinterestedness and reciprocation. They both exist and, once we abandon the mercantile system of interpretation, we find that they are not two contradictory phenomena. The error consists in submitting the system of the gift to a model of interpretation - or a vision of the world - that cannot take its subtleties into account. More specifically, it resides in the confusion between the realization that there is a return and the desire for, not to mention the insistence on, a return. To deny disinterestedness is to refuse this distinction. In a recent book, Luc Boltanski makes the case that this problem is at the heart of the gift phenomenon. After having


The Strange Loop of the Gift

reviewed a number of theories regarding the gift, he asks how the contradiction between the calculation implicit in the idea of reciprocation and the necessary negation of premeditation in the gift can be explained. How can we account for "the tension between the obligation to give, which, according to the hypothesis, turns away from calculation and does not seek equivalence, and the obligation to reciprocate, which cannot be imagined without a margin of calculation enabling one to create an equivalence for the counter-gift vis-a-vis the gift?" (1990, 2,20).7 To understand disinterestedness, one must try to answer this question. In order to do so, we must focus our attention on one last characteristic of the gift, neglected up to now. This is that the return and the expectation of a return are neither absent nor unperceived, but they are not made explicit. There is no unawareness or ignorance of calculation, but there is an active disavowal of it on the part of the players. This gives one more argument to those who believe in the hypocrisy of the gift: "The time that [...] separates the gift from the counter-gift serves as justification for ... the collectively maintained and sanctioned self-lie that make it possible for symbolic exchange to function." 8 We have not yet explained this curious aspect of the phenomenon of the gift: its concealment. We have only established that disinterestedness points the way to a crucial dimension of the gift. THE RULE OF THE I M P L I C I T

"Thank you. But you shouldn't have, it's too much, it wasn't necessary." "But no, it's nothing at all!" Seen through the eyes of the mercantile system, the gift appears to be an enormous hypocrisy. In the market, we call a spade a spade. Even if deception is allowed, we know the rules of the game. With the gift, we go so far as to deny not only the return but the gift itself. The rule, for the recipient, is to say that the other shouldn't have given, while the donor replies that what he gave is nothing at all, is of no importance, as in the above exchange which is typical of a gift relationship but that seems to be aimed at denying the gift. This phenomenon still has to be explained. How can we talk about the rules of the gift, when one of them seems to be that they must remain hidden from members of the very society where they are observed, as though their revelation would result in the gift's disappearance, just as exposure to the light erases the image from film. This is a reality that has "the oddity of not being perceivable by the actors who embody it, without risk of its being transformed into its opposite: the toting up of a debt" (Kaufman 1990, 93). Not perceivable, or not

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness

187 187

capable of expression? In fact, the agents are not ignorant of these rules. They are aware of them. They also know that the recipient knows them and knows that the agent knows them, and so on. This is not a problem of ignorance, nor of lack of understanding. We are not in the kind of situation - common in the social sciences - where the subject is presumed not to know what he is doing and the scientist reveals to him the true nature of his actions. Donors and recipients know what they are doing. There is no lack of comprehension, but there is an active and conscious refusal of explicitness on both sides, a hypocrisy that is dual and symmetrical and so, logically, absurd and with no foundation. Even further, not only do we refuse to make the rules explicit but we seem bent on endorsing other rules that imply the opposite of what is "really" happening. We declare that there is no expectation of return, while waiting for the gift to be reciprocated. We talk in terms of the gift, when we are engaged in reciprocity. Mauss saw this in the archaic gift; the gift was accompanied by an abundance of generous rhetoric, while what was observed was reciprocity. But this applies equally to the modern gift. Can we account for this strange phenomenon? Are we left with the utilitarian explanation - no different, it would appear, from Western common sense - that we need to hide from ourselves or, more accurately, not tell ourselves what we know? Does the sad law of selfinterest lurk behind the facade of a generous gift? We all prefer to pretend, even if we all know that it is false. But why? This curious fact only seems to confirm common sense. For common sense makes a distinction between those who offer gifts within the context of known rules, and others. Thus, if someone offers you something "for no apparent reason," a gift that does not enter into a wider gift-giving sequence in which you are a participant, you ask yourself, "What does this person want from me?" It is in this context, when the agents are not integrated into a system of the gift, that common sense spontaneously generates the utilitarian hypothesis. And so there is every reason to propose the hypothesis that the actors have "good reasons" to behave as they do, these good reasons being different from those so far enunciated, such as hypocrisy. To find these reasons, we asked ourselves why we need to mask this rule of the counter-gift when we receive or give. And, after a certain uneasiness that only served to confirm that the rule is implicit, the answer emerged, so simple and so obvious as to be disarming: we avoid mentioning this "duty of reciprocity" to our partner in order to preserve or introduce an element of risk into the appearance of the counter-gift, an uncertainty, an indeterminacy. In other words we want to insinuate "properties of undecidability"9 into the sequence.


The Strange Loop of the Gift

Must we then add masochism to hypocrisy?! No, for there is a simpler, more plausible, and more "economical" explanation: the donor acts in this way in order to maintain as much distance as he can between himself and a contractual engagement. For such an engagement would impose an obligation on the other independent of his "feelings" towards the giver, independent of the bond that exists between them. The idea is to leave the other as free as possible to reciprocate or not, free also to "calculate" what he must give in return, when he should do it, and so on. The idea is to introduce the element of play into the exchange; to oblige, yes, but freely.10 Why is this necessary? Because the more convinced I am that the other is not "really" obliged to reciprocate, the more the fact that he does so has value for me, because it means that he is acting out of concern for the relationship, to foster the ties between us, that he is doing it for ... me. And so it is essential to "free" the other, permanently, through a number of rituals, all the while hoping that the counter-gift will be offered. The more things are made explicit, the closer we get to a contract, the less the act of reciprocation is free, and the less value it has in the context of the relationship. (Of course we are talking here of the bonding value, and not exchange value or use value.) This is what explains that reciprocity is not only not made explicit but must be denied in any way possible. In this way freedom is introduced into the very heart of the gift relationship. We suggest that the need to permanently reanimate the indeterminacy of the social bond is a precondition for the existence of any society. At the same time, we contend that always, in all societies, there is an element of risk attached to the social bond. Social cohesion changes at every moment; it becomes stronger or weaker as a function of the countless decisions on the part of each member of a society to trust another member by taking the risk that a gift will not be reciprocated. For the risk is real, the gift is not always returned, there are always ruptures in the networks of the gift, and violence, and the use of force in all its guises. The gift is at the heart of that uncertainty proper to the social bond. There is, of course, always an element of uncertainty in human exchange, even outside gift relationships, even within the most bureaucratic relationships, as Michel Crozier and his team have shown so well in their studies of organizations (Crozier and Friedberg 1977; Crozier 1987, 1989). It has even been observed that these areas of uncertainty are created in part by the actors themselves. But in such cases the actors' goal is to limit and control this uncertainty where they themselves are concerned in order to increase their power. That is the whole point of the strategies they develop and that strategic analysis reconstitutes.11 This is where the player in the gift system takes a different

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


path. Unlike the actor defined by strategic analysis and the sociology of organizations, the giver of a gift does not aim at the reduction of uncertainty. On the contrary, givers create a permanent zone of uncertainty that applies to themselves. Donors do not first and foremost desire a return; they want the return to be free, and therefore uncertain. The gift is the stage on which the freest social bond is played out. Fundamental social cohesion is founded on this exchange, and it is the basis for "macro-cohesion" and mercantile micro-cohesion. Both the state and mercantile systems are supported by millions of these daily gestures. The more an act is experienced as unreserved by the two partners, the more it is unimposed, the more it reinforces the social bond once it is carried out. That is why it must not only be recreated at every moment but must also be recreated in every generation. This is one reason the gift to a child is important: it represents a basic apprenticeship in the social tie, and in freedom as well. This is borne out by the following account by an interviewee: "Angela greeted us in Paris by telling us that she hoped we would reciprocate in kind when she came to Montreal. That robbed us of the desire to do so. For us, there was no question of our not receiving her, but now it was as though we owed it to her, and also as though she were receiving us not because it would give her pleasure but only so we would receive her in turn - and she was even unsure that we would do so." Making the rule of reciprocity explicit kills the gift, and can even result in non-reciprocity! That is the polar opposite of the dialogue quoted earlier on, which we can now take up once more in order to clarify its meaning. "Thank you, but you shouldn't have, it's too much," says the recipient. This transmits the following message to the donor: "You didn't owe me anything, you were free, it wasn't necessary. Compared to everything I owe you, it's too much. But I very much appreciate that you're doing it, that's why I'm saying thank you, which also expresses my intent to reciprocate." In addition, since every gift puts the donor in a position of potential power over the recipient, the latter says to the donor that he need not have made this gift, that he has therefore truly done so without being obliged to, thus limiting his own obligation resulting from this gift. "But it's nothing at all," replies the donor. Compared to everything I owe you, everything you've given me, it's nothing. It's not like exchanging goods. The mercantile value is minimized and the emphasis is put on the bonding value. As goods it's nothing, this nothing that circulates in the service of the bond. "It's nothing compared to my esteem for you. It's nothing, therefore you owe me nothing in return, you're free not to reciprocate, or to reciprocate as you wish, when you


The Strange Loop of the Gift

wish, etc. Don't feel obliged, above all don't feel imposed upon by what follows from this act, that's not the interpretation you should give it. If you reciprocate, that itself will therefore be a gift." Overall, this implicit dialogue denies a relationship based on equivalence and confirms that the partners remain in a state of debt, that what is going on has nothing to do with the equivalence between what is in circulation, and that the gift is there to serve a bond. Freedom, negation of the mercantile value, negation of equivalence: when we decode what is going on, there are neither lies nor hypocrisy. The code is necessary so that the goods that circulate embody the bond. But this must not be made explicit, because the very fact of doing so means that the message has not been understood! An explicit language for the gift is contradictory.12And so we can now understand the importance, noted by all observers, of the gap in time between the gift and the counter-gift, the fact that in a "tit-for-tat" dialectic there is no return gift. Just as the rituals of disinterestedness provide room for social undecidability, their rhythms and turn-takings provide the time necessary to preserve this same condition. "To have confidence in someone" is the permanent, founding act for any society that operates through the act of the gift. That means accepting a risk or, in formal terms, introducing indeterminacy, posing it as a precondition for any social bond, which explains why all determinist theories run aground on this elementary but primordial phenomenon, basic to freedom. That is why the gift works hand in hand with play. The absence of a contract where the gift is concerned presupposes confidence, but it also recreates it every time around. That is why the gift not only has no need to be made explicit but it would be more accurate to say that it must not be made explicit. What is "said" in the gift can only have one goal: to agree on what is not said. The usual explanations of the gift that resort to custom and selfinterest are thus discredited, both for having subjected the gift to the constraints of tradition on the one hand and calculating, contractual, book-balancing egoism on the other. If it were feasible, we would only have to measure the importance of gifts in a society to assess the degree of liberty it fosters, as much at the micro-social level as at the macrosocial. Each gift is an act that widens the scope of freedom for the members of a society. AND MERCANTILE FREEDOM?

That does not make the freedom arising from the market and typical of modernity any less important, but it does help us to put it in perspective. How does it compare to the gift? Mercantile freedom consists

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


essentially in the possibility of exiting: it allows us to remove ourselves from the social bond, in two ways: • By minimizing the importance of the bond within the transaction, the exchange: we do not have to like each other in order to do business, in order for goods to circulate; this represents a major liberation. We only have to pay the price, if we want to and if we can. • By providing the possibility of abandoning the bond itself. It is the freedom to go elsewhere (Hirschman's exit), a freedom that is outside the social bond and in opposition to it, unlike the gift. This freedom is important. Compared to external constraints, to hierarchy, force, and the sorcery of archaic societies, the market and the gift are both free. But whereas the gift puts in place and supports a free social bond, the market frees us by pulling us out of the social bond; in other words, its freedom consists in freeing us from the social bond itself. This gives rise to the modern individual, without ties but well provided with rights and goods. It is not surprising that this freedom exerts a great deal of fascination and that we are always trying to implant this marvel within social ties themselves, and to apply it to these ties; a contradictory initiative, since such freedom is based on the negation of those ties, is founded on relations between strangers. Thanks to the price mechanism, things can even circulate without people. The market is freed from the personal context. The freedom of the gift, however, includes people and their personal traits. Compared to the market, it is a meta-order. Another way of expressing the same idea is to go back to the distinction between bonding value and mercantile value. The mercantile object is outside the context of the bonding value. The context of mercantile value is the mercantile value of other objects; its context is the world of objects. The bonding value, on the other hand, is connected to social ties. The same object, with the same price, changes bonding value, depending on social context. Bonding value is determined by social context, mercantile value by economic context. The state also frees us from social ties, this time by setting up a hierarchical and bureaucratic apparatus governed by constraint, a constraint assented to by individuals in a democratic regime. Initially the state loosens the bonds of family, neighbourliness, friendship by removing obligations and taking responsibility for some of the services offered in the past by gift networks. But it can reach a point where it destroys the social bond - as can the market - and generates a state of extreme dependency. And so the state and the market complement each other marvelously. The market and the state are "by nature" intent on the common project


The Strange Loop of the Gift

of stripping the social bond of all the dross represented by the circulation of objects and services, leaving it in a pure, gem-like state of feeling. This "utopia" was discussed by Singly, who writes of exchanges "that more and more exclude ... services other than those that are emotional and sexual. Thus, with all other accounts balanced, feelings within the family can achieve that ideal state ... where all traces of selfinterest are eliminated" (Singly 19883, 137.) This is the dream of a social bond that would no longer be an avenue of circulation for objects and services. Such a social bond, where nothing can circulate, does not exist.13 When everything circulates through the market or the state we are not left with a pure social bond but with the absence of a bond, the solitary individual. The bond that lives on nothing, where nothing circulates, dies. There is, however, a whole group of services that can circulate properly only through the medium of social ties. A service is not a product14 and, to cite an obvious example, society is not prepared to find a formula, mercantile or bureaucratic, that will eliminate certain "services" parents render in educating their children. The state and the market do not cross that threshold where the service is the bond, just as "the medium is the message" in the language of McLuhan. Only objects or money circulate well in the mercantile network and the state apparatus. That is why everything tends to take this form. But at what "price"! Only the work of art can circulate in the market without losing its soul, without becoming just an object. And at what price? That of very great rarity, and even then only on the condition that it remain marginal. Amitai Etzioni (1990, 29 and 31) reminds us of Erich Fromm's (1964) famous thesis that freedom acquired by modernity has a cost. It would be more accurate to say that it has its limits, those of the destruction of social ties that it brings in its wake, and that lead the individual to isolation and a loss of freedom. At the end of the road of mercantile and state liberation we do not find a free individual but an individual alone, fragile, dependent, vulnerable, part of an apparatus external to himself and over which he has no control, easy prey to totalitarian ideologies, where the craving for power as well as the gift and altruism know their worst perversions. Why? Because freedom thrives on social bonds. The mercantile approach views social ties only as a form of constraint. But there are two kinds of liberation. There is liberation vis-a-vis social ties, in the sense that one frees oneself from them (that of the neo-classical model), and there is liberation of the social ties themselves. To free the individual from the community is a process that quickly reaches its limit. To free the community itself is

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


certainly much more difficult but also much more basic. And we can ask ourselves if that is not what we see happening now, with the family, for example, and in many social networks that reinvent freedom through social obligation based on a relationship of voluntary indebtedness. Mercantile equivalence, equality and state rights, and the gift: today's society has need of the three systems. We are not recommending the elimination of the state or the market. That would not only be impossible but also very harmful, for a great society (statistically speaking) needs the state and market apparatus. The system of the gift, if it were to replace them, would give rise to instances of personal domination that would be particularly grave, the perverse effects of a populism with which we are all familiar. A large society, by definition, inevitably implies a great number of bonds between strangers and partners unknown to one another. The state and the market are the proper systems for dealing with this kind of relationship, so that objects and services may circulate between strangers. This avoids those instances of domination by the gift, which have often been noted, and rightly, by those who have praised the welfare state as an alternative to private charity. We must not only retain these systems but must see that the state, market, and gift interact and offer each other mutual support. Are we not in the process of (re)discovering that mixed systems are the most effective ? The state increasingly relies on local solidarity to achieve its social aims. As well, we see that a mercantile or state system that cuts itself off from the gift is, in the long term, ineffective, as is shown by the failure of socialist states and the Taylorist model and, by contrast, the success of the Japanese "model." The whole problem resides in the conditions under which this interpenetration takes place. We are of the opinion that the other systems must be secondary to the gift system, because it is the only one that acknowledges the openness of the social bond, the freedom that exists not only outside social ties but within them as well. Without the gift, we find constraints of one sort or another: the socialist systems wanted to subject the gift to state solidarity. Capitalism (like socialism) wanted (and wants) to subject everything to mercantile production. Fortunately, in contrast to the totalitarian state system, the right to opposition remains possible under capitalism, which means, for example, that the ecological problems generated within it are much less serious than in the countries of Eastern Europe, which have been completely dominated by the growth model. If the state is based on equality and the market on equivalence, the principle of the gift is that of a debt voluntarily cultivated, of disequi-


The Strange Loop of the Gift

librium and inequality. But equality, competition, and rivalry are inseparable, as Tocqueville (1838) understood. That is why, even if these principles take on considerable importance in a society, often to the point where they must be circumscribed or controlled (contained) by the market and the state, they still cannot constitute the bedrock for that society. This remains the role of the gift with its unequal bond, a social bond that the other models cannot sustain, despite two hundred years of trying. The introduction of the modern market and state, however, has made it much more difficult for us to understand the contextual functioning of the gift and the logic of its network in terms of the emotional response it evokes. Is it still possible to think of the gift in terms of a non-determinist model? THE GIFT AND DETERMINIST MODELS

Kurt Godel has shown that, even in mathematics, there are always undecidable propositions, that the system is never closed or complete. "The Godel Theorem is a refutation of the mechanical model for science, thought, the world."15 Utilitarianism may be seen as the application of the mechanistic model to society. The mechanism of prices and the bureaucratic apparatuses of modern organizations are theoretically complete models in terms of their logic. Every decision is the outcome of a reasoned and reasonable calculation, susceptible, eventually, to being programmed in advance. And the rule of equivalence is also a law based on completeness: for each product in an economic system, there is a monetary equivalent. In practice, however, prediction is seldom possible, as the number of applications of the utilitarian axiom is infinite. We can always find, a posteriori, something self-serving in any act. Instead of prediction, we explain ex post. We seek self-interest in all behaviour, always find it, and then all that remains is to apply the axiom that once we have found the self-interest, we have explained the behaviour. The complementary postulate is that no other explanation is valid. Belief that this is a complete system is typical of a mechanistic and determinist vision of the world. By contrast, the gift's return is indeterminate, undecidable. From the vantage point of the gift, the rule of equivalence is the very embodiment of circularity and brings the process to an end through its selfreferentiality. Compared to the gift, the market is a weak system according to Godel. " Godel's Incompleteness Theorem says that any system which is 'sufficiently powerful' is, by virtue of its power, incomplete" (Hofstadter 1980, 101). The gift is more powerful because it includes the bond in its system, while the market and the state place

Gift, Market, Disinterestedness


it outside their systems and replace it with a "mechanism"; they regard it either as a constant or as an exogenous variable. Their laws and their systems only apply to relationships between things in circulation and not to social ties. They are simpler systems, more precise, more determined than the gift, which, compared to the market and the state, is a meta-system. We can exit the market, and we do so daily, every time we introduce a bonding value into the circulation of objects; a tip added to the cost of the service, applause added to the ticket price, all the countless "added values of the bond" that are scattered through our social relationships. Each time we voluntarily move out of a mercantile relationship and reintroduce an unexpected, unforeseen "gesture," a note of "grace." The most important actions in our lives, as in the donation of a kidney, are more than the result of rational calculation. They are obedient to something else. The gift is the fifth dimension, the social, rationally ungraspable in a mechanistic system but a dimension in which we are immersed, as much in our daily lives as in the crucial decisions that we make. Through social ties something beyond what we see circulates. It is what the Maori sage called the hau, the spirit of the gift. The West cannot comprehend it within its dominant paradigm, but it is more than obvious once we move away from this paradigm. Is it then futile to try to understand the gift with the aid of modern reason? Must we leave the gift to novelists and poets? In part, certainly. Social ties belong to no discipline, and wonderful stories help us understand the gift better than the social sciences. Because we cannot say everything does not mean that we can say nothing, but we must leave the mechanistic models typical of the social sciences behind. Surprisingly, the field of artificial intelligence and the cognitive sciences can perhaps provide a point of departure, as we set out to develop a model for circulation by means of the gift.


Sketch for a Model of the Gift Relationship

The gift is not accidental. There is a certain disorder, but there is no accident. "Effects of pure chance will never make for a gift, a gift that carries the meaning of a gift, if the semantics of the word gift include the implication that the act of giving involves the intent to give, freely arrived at" (Derrida 1991, 157). The gift is not a game, even if there is an element of play in the gift, even if there is a great deal of gameplaying involved. The gift is not production. To produce excludes the gift. The gift is not an outgrowth of reason, of means-end rationality. "To give reasons for the gift means the end of the gift" (ibid., 187), as we have seen. But the gift has its reasons. Is it possible to conceive of the gift's "compulsory" freedom? According to Derrida, Mauss himself did not talk about the gift: "His The Gift more and more resembles an essay not on the gift but on the word 'gift'"(ibid., 77). More precisely, can we understand how the gift returns? While we may think of the gift, spontaneously, as a straight line, an arrow, a disinterestedness heading proudly and directly towards another without a backward glance, the gift is actually a boomerang. It traces a circle - a kula ring - but a strange circle, as exemplified in The Gift. Mauss moves from the gift to exchange and then returns to the gift. At first he sets himself up in opposition to the idea of the arrow in order to counter the widespread view that the gift involves no return and so is disinterested. He insists that there is an obligatory return. Thus he plunges into the circle of the gift. Then he progressively distances himself from the gift as a type of economic exchange. To do this, he emphasizes the voluntary nature of the return - which leads him back to the arrow. He concludes by enumerating the paradoxical expressions that contain both the words "free" and "obligatory." While the first sentence of The Gift pits these two concepts against each other ("in theory [gifts] are voluntary, in reality they are given and recipro-

Sketch for a Model of the Gift Relationship


cated obligatorily"), the last part places them side by side over and over again: "in a form that is both disinterested and obligatory" (33); "where obligation and liberty intermingle" (65); "to emerge from self, to give, freely and obligatorily" (71). The Gift makes a sort of strange loop, like its object of study. There is a circle and there is not a circle. "There can only be a gift at that moment when there is a break in the circle" (Derrida 1991, zi). The gift interrupts the system. What system? That of the circle of exchange. When the return is "paid back," the circle of the gift comes to an end and becomes a pure circle of exchange. In fact, however, there is no paying back in the act of giving, each gives "in his turn." And even these words go too far: they wrongly assume a kind of alternance that would be automatic, mechanical. But we cannot escape this idea completely, because a certain alternance is present in the gift. The truth, where the circle of the gift is concerned, is that the third term in the famous Maussian trilogy, "to give, to receive, to reciprocate," cannot exist. We give and we receive, while flirting continually with reciprocation, coming dangerously close to it at times, to the point where, in the potlatch for example, we destroy " so as not to give the slightest hint of desiring [our] gift to be reciprocated." (Mauss 1954/1990, 37). But if we falter, then we interrupt the gift's loop and find ourselves in the circle of mercantile circulation, in barter, or at an end point for the circulation of objects, with a settling of scores, an accounting. It is a strange, essentially paradoxical, circle. It is not an economic circle, even if it constantly approaches the economic, even if it's shot through in varying degrees with considerations of self-interest, prestige, and so on that can't fail to have their impact on the donor - for she's no fool and she knows perfectly well that the gift pays off. But she can't let that be the primary motive. How can we provide a theory of a phenomenon that has so many features - free, undecidable, contextual, spontaneous, refusing the subjectobject distinction at the heart of modern thought, lacking explicit rules of conduct - that seem incompatible with any formalization? We can make some progress through the idea of the network, an idea that has already been explored in fields of research, such as artificial intelligence (AI), that have also run aground on determinist models. The recent evolution of AI is in many ways analogous to the problem of the gift, although in its present stage AI is trying to account for phenomena that are elementary compared to the gift, since the latter constitutes a particularly complex social and symbolic phenomenon. We are suggesting AI as a kind of "thought model"1 that might render the gift understandable and meaningful as a system. We need a model or an approach - that can both provide a picture of the gift and make


The Strange Loop of the Gift

clear how it differs from the mercantile and state models. AI, in its recent evolution, has encountered certain problems similar to those involving the gift and the state apparatus, or the gift and mercantile utilitarianism (a book-balancing determinism). THE TWO A P P R O A C H E S TO ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

From its beginnings in the 19505, two different approaches have coexisted in the field of AI. The first model is hierarchical and determinist. Here the computer programming operates out of a centre (the central processing unit) that controls everything. The mechanism consists of a number of linear hierarchical levels (a tree of inclusion). The centre gives orders to passive elements and information is stored in a passive memory. The goal is to arrive at an understanding of the basic logic by which intelligence operates and to develop a theory of intelligence, which is seen as a collection of "context free" universal laws (Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1988, 2.5). These laws are reproduced in a machine that attempts to embody all the rules of rational intelligence. Such an apparatus transmits orders to the different elements of which it is made up, and processes all the information it receives in a predetermined way - every possible solution has first been compiled by the creator of the apparatus. It is a hierarchical system, whose philosophical inspiration is rational calculation arising from the Cartesian tradition and from the postulate that any reasoning may be reduced to calculation - that we can break any concept into its simplest elements and reconstitute it from these elements. The second approach has a different starting point. Rather than present the problem logically and deductively - from the top down an attempt is made to understand how intelligence emerges from the simple connections between neurons. This approach is "bottom-up." 2 It tries to simulate what intelligence does on the basis of current neurological findings. The system is designed to learn, without our knowing how exactly it does so, in the sense of knowing which element influences which other element, either analytically or hierarchically. Networks of possible relationships are developed, and the network is expected to learn, and to grow as it functions. It has even been proposed that such ambiguity in neuronal influence is essential to human intelligence. In the beginning, both approaches had great success and there was no dearth of declarations from either side to the effect that it would soon be possible to build "really" intelligent machines. After the 19605, the second approach was neglected in favour of the first, the hierarchical deductive approach, which we will call "synoptic."3

Sketch for a Model of the Gift Relationship


However, the synoptic approach has had disappointing results and for ten years or so the second approach, today referred to by the expression "neuronal networks" or the term "connectionist," has been increasingly favoured. One of the most important advocates of the synoptic approach, Marvin Minsky (1986), has even begun to describe AI as "a society of mind," one that is not hierarchical but "hierarchical," a "tangled web."4 This approach is based on the fact that intelligence must be able to take context into account. Synoptic models are context-free. They see context as external (or as a constant), and to take it into account requires that the programmer anticipate all possible situations and integrate them into the program, an impossible task. "No amount of anticipation, planning and programming can ever enumerate a priori all the variants of even a routine situation that may occur in daily life. The only way to determine all the responses a system needs to have is to expose it to the world and let it 'run.' Thus each system will be different and fundamentally unprogrammable" (Reeke and Edelman 1988, 152.). The neuronal networks, on the other hand, start from the premise that the context is infinitely variable and that learning is required to take it into account. Such systems are sensitive to context, as noted by many authors.5 Jorion (1989) proposes an analogy between neuronal networks and primitive thought, particularly as described by Levy-Bruhl. Such thought does not function through inclusion but through associations, contextual networks. "What takes the place of classification in primitive thought is a tendency to group ideas according to the kind of emotional responses they evoke" (533). "Plants appear to be related to each other in terms of a complex network of resemblances and affinities, where each species can belong to several categories, rather than through a structure in the form of a tree that organizes the categories into a hierarchy by mutual exclusion" (5^5) 6 Such connections are "simple," without any relationship based on inclusion or any organization into levels. They are "shallow and wide,"7 with no hierarchy. They are made through affinity (530). The analogy with free association in psychology is clear, as is that with the spontaneity of the gift, or with its primary nature, as compared to the reflective secondariness of the market and the state. It is useless to want to eliminate feeling from the analysis of the gift and replace it with calculation and an inclusion relationship. "This inclusion relationship dates [in the West] from the sixteenth century ... But ever since, we've not been able to avoid reading it into other societies" (52.4). We have exactly the same problem with the gift since the introduction of the market and the state: we apply the logic of inclusion to it and are then no longer able to decipher its contextual functioning,


The Strange Loop of the Gift

its logic based on networks and the circulation of things "according to the emotional responses [they] evoke "(ibid.). With an approach that favours neuronal networks, the problem of common sense becomes crucial. While the first approach assumes that common sense is based on an implicit theory that every individual possesses, the second does not make that assumption. It even considers the possibility that such a common theory may be non-existent. This changes the status of the rules completely: the rules are then deduced from the behaviour of the system, rather than the system obeying the rules, as in the deductive approach. "Behaviour may be described in terms of the rules, even if the system contains no rules that govern its operations" (Waltz 1988, 201). "A rule is not something you give to a computer, but a pattern you infer when you observe the machine's behavior" (Turkic 1988, 2.47). This approach now has the wind in its sails. It consists in seeing AI as a relatively indeterminate network, where one no longer tries to pinpoint exactly what is happening. We no longer construct theories of intelligence, we reproduce the network. We can now envisage systems that do not depend on a "tree of inclusion." Certainly, we can say that intelligence has a centre, the "self" that directs all operations. But, as Hofstadter (1980) notes, it is a bizarre centre, which can neither control nor even know what its next thought will be! AI is evolving towards an associative model that Minsky identifies with the term heterarchy, to contrast it with a linear hierarchy, and that Hofstadter calls a "tangled hierarchy" making "strange loops." Doesn't this expression perfectly match the phenomenon that has preoccupied most analysts of the gift: the strange loop of the return of the gift, the strange unanticipated return, often undesired, taking forms incomprehensible in the context of mercantile exchange? The strange loop presupposes not only the return but also that this return be situated within a hierarchy, but a tangled hierarchy. Otherwise, it would be a simple loop. With this in mind, we may characterize the gift, the market, and the state, as follows. THE STATE AND


The state is a hierarchy, but inclusive, not tangled, without a loop8 other than the simple minimal loop of feedback. Its channels run one way only, which eliminates certain problems (chance meetings and accidents, gift relationships based on domination, etc.) but at the same time reduces the flexibility of the system. Everything that circulates passes through a centre before moving off in the other direction, each time leaving behind a part of its contents, which means that what

Sketch for a Model of the Gift Relationship


circulates arrives considerably diminished compared to when it started out. The only possibility of return is feedback: in other words, the system only keeps what it wants from the outside. With the strange loop, on the other hand, the outside imposes things on the system. There is a dynamic interaction. The state apparatus makes no strange loop, for nothing may be imposed on it that has not been foreseen - things take a fixed parallel double route: concentration - redistribution. For the state apparatus, where a single individual is concerned the file is memory. For groups of individuals it is rights and the law. For its part, the market is a tangled network but it is not hierarchical. That is why it also is a simple loop. The market is a boulevard, sometimes a freeway, where circulation is governed by a mechanism that ensures that everywhere, when an object passes by in one direction, an "equivalent" object passes by in the other direction. But on another level it is one-way, as its only goal is to transmit things from producer to consumer, at which point they disappear from the system. The market is a network of freeways that goes off in all directions. It is tangled (Jorion 1989, 44, 68). Unlike the state, it is decentralized. It "chooses" its path, like a telephone network. It is infinitely extensible in space, but on one plane only. It has no depth, for it is flattened by the quest for equal exchange, for perfect equivalence. It is a surface that can cover the entire planet, thanks to the fact that it also constitutes a network from which one has removed "the hazards of human relationships" (Simmel 1987). It is a kind of simple tangling (Hofstadter 1980), a simple connection. What is more, the market has one starting point and one destination, one direction, from the producer to the consumer. Time for the market, its memory, is money. Of its own volition, it only draws on a tiny part of past relationships between people. It sets aside the bond and its personal history. That is both its strong point and its drawback. But it is not surprising that Bateson claims that "of all imaginary organisms [dragons, gods ...], economic man is the dullest ... because his mental processes are all quantitative, and his preferences transitive" (1987, 175). It is this, however, that enables so-called economic man to be universal and to cross cultures. Compared to the state, the market opens onto an infinite, free space. And we can easily understand that if a member of society is faced with a state apparatus that lacks a democratic loop, the mercantile network can appear to be a liberation, with its countless, seemingly endless paths. But we also understand that humans are soon dissatisfied with the absence of social ties the market brings in its wake, that they come to feel they have been shrunken by this shallow network, diminished, a bit like a three-dimensional being flattened into two dimensions, as in Escher's drawing of a dragon: "However much the dragon tries to be


The Strange Loop of the Gift

spatial, he remains completely flat. Two incisions are made in the paper on which he is printed. Then it is folded in such a way as to leave two square openings. But this dragon is an obstinate beast, and in spite of his two dimensions he persists in assuming that he has three; so he sticks his head through one of the holes and his tail through the other" (Escher 1960, 16). He only succeeds in biting his tail, a perfect image of the autoreferentiality of the gift as seen through the mercantile prism. "The more equal the exchange, the more tiresome. The gift ensures the survival of time by unbalancing the offer and its response" (Henri Raymond, personal communication). In the market, only a simple return - monetary equivalence - exists. The individual is deprived of the game of multidimensional returns inherent in the gift: the pleasure of the gift, gratitude, counter-gift. This flattening of the social bond - vertical in the state, horizontal in the market - explains the gift's distrust of monetary relationships. Money symbolizes this diminishment because it is the essence of quantity, because "it possesses no qualities other than quantity" (Simmel 1988, 43). "Money devalues in some way everything for which it is the equivalent" (ibid., 14). Why? Precisely because it situates everything in two dimensions. And so it does away with the multidimensional space that the gift requires to deploy its multiple returns, the space of the bonding value which, literally, "has no price," because it exists outside mercantile space. That does not mean that we will never succeed in buying it off by "going the limit," as it were. But if we succeed, the bonding value will have been sacrificed. THE GIFT

The gift combines the loop of the market and the hierarchy of the state, which makes it a tangled hierarchy. That is why anything seized from the gift by the state or market model represents either a vertical section of the gift-giving system, retaining only its hierarchical aspect with its obligations and constraints, or a horizontal section, retaining only the simple, flat network of the market, which is governed by the single law of equivalence, which neutralizes ties and their contextual variability. Only the gift has a strange loop and a tangled hierarchy. It has the depth and the multiple levels of the state apparatus, but it is a network, with all the density of personal ties and their historic weight. The gift's memory is the totality of the social bond, the mnemonic traces left by past gifts. Unlike the state and the market, it is not divorced from people. That is why every individual, whose history is made up of the totality of bonds from past gifts, is unique compared to every other individual, as we noted in earlier chapters. And such uniqueness is true

Sketch for a Model of the Gift Relationship


as well for the mnemonic networks of intelligent systems. It is, moreover, the basis of life: "The essence of living is a memory, the physical preservation of the past in the present" (Margulis and Sagan 1989, 64). THE GIFT AND INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS

"My belief is that the explanations of 'emergent' phenomena in our brains - for instance, ideas, hopes, images, analogies, and finally consciousness and free will - are based on a kind of Strange Loop, an interaction between levels in which the top level reaches back down towards the bottom level and influences it, while at the same time being itself determined by the bottom level. In other words, a self-reinforcing 'resonance' between different levels" (Hofstadter 1980, 709). We could not provide a better description of the gift, from the potlatch to the modern present; this phenomenon, with its resonance and amplification, that has so astonished those who have studied the archaic gift! The market blocks all resonance by dividing and isolating the "supply" from the "demand," by restricting the going and the coming to two separate parallel lanes. The state prohibits a return and only tolerates the truncated loop of feedback. We can, Hofstadter adds, eliminate the strange loops from a system " only at the cost of introducing an artificial-seeming hierarchy" (ibid., 24) that banishes a host of interesting possibilities from the system. He provides examples from the field of abstract thought, where the elimination of the possibility of paradox results in thought devoid of interest. We can also see the dangers lying in wait for any state apparatus that succeeds in removing itself from the paradoxical loop of democracy: ineffectual bureaucracy and, ultimately, totalitarianism, which is a one-way system, top-down. The gift is to the social system what democracy is to the political system and consciousness is to individuals: an emergent phenomenon that affects all levels and that grows out of the strange loop the different levels create among themselves. The gift system is a social projection of our system of consciousness, of the tangling of hierarchical levels that provides the best model for a mental system. The gift involves a comparable tangling of levels: an immediate return in the pleasure of giving, then the counter-gift, chain reactions, an amplification of the donor's consciousness, reinforcement of the bond - everything that comes to pass with a gift occurs at many interacting levels, in a tangled hierarchy, forming strange loops that the model of the market can view only as a paradox, and founding the social bond just as the strange loop of democracy founds our political systems, as the strange loop of intelligence founds individual consciousness. All these systems are reflections of each other. They are isomorphic. They are undecidable, in the sense


The Strange Loop of the Gift

that they cannot be reduced to a mechanical law and a closed system.9 The closed system can only approximate the functioning of a single level, such as that of the circulation of things and the law of mercantile equivalence, or the vertical one-dimensional level of the state and its principle of equality when isolated from the democratic loop. The gift takes place at the "crossroads" of these two systems. It is a system of debts in resonance. It is the basic medium for the circulation of objects and services, out of which the market and the state have emerged. ONE M O R E LOOP, OR ONE LOOP TOO M A N Y ?

• For Hofstadter, as for most philosophers, the intelligence of the human species involves one loop in addition to those that animals have, the loop that is responsible for the fact that we know that we know, for the self-awareness that has defined humans since the Greeks. • For some theorists in modern democracy, the difference between those in primitive societies and ourselves also resides in our having one additional loop, that which endows us with autonomy, something not available in primitive societies. • For utilitarian liberals, the superiority of the market over the gift also implies an extra loop, the self-knowledge that teaches us that every gift is an unconscious exchange and that the donor is selfinterested. On this theory, this is the loop of lucidity that enables us to move away from primitive spontaneity and naivete and accede to rationality - or rather to the consciousness of rationality, since every human is utilitarian, even if they don't know it or refuse to acknowledge it. • The gift represents still another level: the awareness that to make the exchange explicit is one level too much, which freezes the exchange and transforms it, making it lose its flexibility by lessening the uncertainty and undetermination, thus relegating it to a lower level. The mercantile loop, for the gift, rather than being an additional loop, is a perverse loop. To refuse this loop is to create a level superior to it. This is the level of language, of creation, of the vagueness needed to reflect the indetermination and radical incompleteness of these systems and their irreducibility to determinist systems such as those embodied in the models for bureaucratic apparatus and the market. The gift is a conscious abandonment to the absence of calculation, a spontaneous meta-level that can be described as "behaviour that results from an effect of self-organization" (Jorion 1990, 117). If we follow the rules, we do not know how to give, any more than we know how to speak a language if we have to follow its rules while we are talking.

Sketch for a Model of the Gift Relationship


The strange loop lies at the heart of both the gift and intelligence. How may a thought think, asks Minsky? "How can thoughts behave as agents?" (Turkic 1988, 2,63). How can a gift be returned, asks Mauss (1954)? Where are we heading with this analogy between the gift and the principles animating intelligent systems? Certainly not to an exact model for the gift but, we hope, to some idea of the models we might develop and their level of complexity as compared with mercantile and state models of how things circulate. We hope to establish the irreducibility of the gift to determinist and hierarchical models, to show that state and mercantile systems grow out of the gift and not the contrary, and to make clear that we know almost nothing of the gift as a system because we have not approached it with appropriate models in mind. More research is necessary if we hope to advance our knowledge of the gift system and its many tangled returns. Like intelligence, in the widest sense of the word, the gift does not function in terms of the logic of inclusion. This logic is rather an a posteriori observation. Intelligence is the most complex individual phenomenon. The gift is the most complex social phenomenon. It is the experience that not only enables the individual to become part of the collective but that opens onto a universal network, onto the world, onto life, onto other states, onto belonging to something greater than oneself. What all gift systems teach us is an awareness of that belonging which, far from denying the individual, is an unlimited extension into immeasurably wide networks. The spirit of the gift comes to resemble consciousness itself, whatever meaning we attach to this word. No one can ignore this idea, which has something to do with the strange loops that express infinity. "Implicit in the concept of Strange Loops is the concept of infinity, since what else is a loop but a way of representing an endless process in a finite way?" (Hofstadter 1980, 15). And Bateson, at the end of his life, maintained that "the mysterious phenomena we associate with 'mind' have to do with ... the characteristics of circular and self-corrective systems" (1987, 180). The gift leads us into a universal network not unlike that found in this Buddhist allegory: "An endless net of threads [extends] throughout the universe, the horizontal threads running through space, the vertical ones through time. At every crossing of threads is an individual, and every individual is a crystal bead. The great light of 'Absolute Being' illuminates and penetrates every crystal bead; moreover, every crystal bead reflects not only the light from every other crystal in the net - but also every reflection of every reflection throughout the universe" (Hofstadter 1980, Z58).

Conclusion Behind Exchanges, the Gift

"The more a civilization is developed, the more accomplished the world it produces, the more men feel at home in the human artifice, the more resentment they feel towards what they have not produced, towards all that has simply and mysteriously been given to them." Hannah Arendt

"The times are hard but modern," we declared at the beginning of this book. The modern individual believes that behind the gift we find exchange. We wanted to try out the opposite idea: behind exchanges, we sought the gift. In general, the modern individual waits for someone to die before abandoning a cynical and utilitarian attitude towards the person in question. Suddenly the deceased's life is seen in a different perspective, more open and more generous. In the same way, where the gift is concerned we tend to highlight its perverse effects, whose severity we would never think of questioning. We even agree with Koestler when he says that "throughout human history, the ravages caused by excesses of individual self-assertion are quantitatively negligible compared to the numbers slain ad majoram gloriam out of a self-transcending devotion to a flag, a leader, a religious faith or political conviction." (1978, 78). But the perverse effects of the gift were not our subject. We sought instead to show how the gift functions in its "normal" state. We wanted to come up with the elements needed to construct a model of homo reciprocus, an ideal type that does not exist in reality but that, like homo economicus, can aid us in understanding. Can we rediscover meaning in our social ties, without naivete or cynicism, without transforming everything into an object? Can the gift, as Claude Lefort claims, be what confirms, to ourselves and others,

Behind Exchanges, the Gift


that we are not just things? Modern society is threatened with universal objectification, an unanticipated return and final outcome of its long-standing attempt to "checkmate" nature. Genes, the presence of our ancestors in us, are manipulated like things and the child becomes, through bio-technology, just an object. At both extremes of life the object takes over: manipulation of embryos on the one hand, the exploitation of "warm" cadavers on the other. It is, however, respect for the cadaver that signals to archaeologists that they are in the presence of the first truly human beings. Many are trying to reverse this trend towards objectification.1 Ethics is now more in demand than sociology. Sociologists as important as Etzioni have launched new movements such as " socio-economy," in order to oppose "American cynicism."2 Our reflections on the gift are part of that effort. Before delineating the vision of the world implied by the gift, let us return one last time to the market. A LAST A C C O L A D E FOR THE M A R K E T

The gift exists, and it constitutes an important system. But we are not claiming that it is the only system, nor that it explains everything. Unlike those who try to eliminate everything except self-interest, we do not deny self-interest and do not want to "drown" everything in the gift. Self-interest, power, sexuality - those three keys to the modern explanation for exchange - exist and are important. Self-interest may even be everywhere. And we believe it timely to reaffirm our "faith" in the market as a liberating mechanism. We recognize that the gift is neither good nor bad in itself, nor is it everywhere desirable. Everything depends on its context, the relationship that gives it meaning. There are instances when the market can be a better alternative. We have, for example, no interest in accepting a gift from someone from whom we want to keep our distance. Both the market and the state are unique social inventions. Because as the gift is based more on mutual confidence than the market is, it is riskier, more dangerous, and it is likely to affect the individual more deeply when the rules are not respected, when one is taken advantage of. At the other extreme, the gift is also dangerous in that the burden of obligation can transform itself into constraint. We see children who flee their parents, trying to escape a gift that weighs them down, the poisoned gift. The modern individual remains wary, often with reason. Afraid of being taken advantage of because one has given too much, afraid to be taken advantage of because one has received too much and must "reciprocate" ... even though theoretically, given the ideology of possession, to continue to receive is the aim of all modern life.


The Strange Loop of the Gift

The market enables us to pursue exchange under conditions where the gift is neither possible nor desirable, and where the alternative is violence or the complete absence of a relationship. Thus between two people or two societies that share no values, the only possible basis for understanding is self-interest, no matter which reasons, however inexplicable to the other, account for the particular actions that follow from this self-interest. Adam Smith was right: between the butcher and an unknown client, it is the self-interest of each that creates the bond. Utilitarianism is the only possible morality that two strangers always have in common, and it is pertinent to all relationships where one wants the other party to remain a stranger. This is the minimal relationship, the alternative to a hierarchical relationship of external domination. The market, from the time of Adam Smith to today, has always indicated a desire on the part of a society's members to run their own affairs, an alternative to governance from outside and a challenge to authority, whether tyrannical, military, bureaucratic, or of the welfare state. It is often accompanied by a politics of liberalism, a theory of "weak ties" (which, despite being weak, are essential to our societies, as Granovetter (1983) has shown.) But these weak ties imply the existence of strong ties. The market outside, the gift inside: that is often the "winning formula," even in liberal societies, even on the economic plane, as Jews have demonstrated for a long time (Hyde 1983), and the Japanese and rich minorities are demonstrating today with their double laws, one for inside and another for outside, for relationships with strangers. Why, in any case, would we want to make the market the basis for every social relationship? By what aberration could we imagine that the minimal social bond between strangers could also provide the foundation for a society? To the degree that we endow society with a single goal, that of always producing more, there is a certain consistency - for the gift is anti-growth. "The potlatch was attacked by the Canadian authorities as being wasteful and destructive of moral and economic initiative, in other words as standing in the way of development and modernization." (Belshaw 1965, zi.) It is to further this goal that one wants to apply the market to all social relationships: to transform all of society into a "growth system." AND


And so we must put the market in perspective. But the gift is not in opposition only to the market. In fact the alternative to the gift, once we move away from the utilitarian paradigm, is violence, hate, "all

Behind Exchanges, the Gift


those hidden things" that Rene Girard's work wants to make visible to the modern consciousness. And so let us take another brief look at Girardian thought. While for utilitarians the hidden but ubiquitous motive is self-interest (which is all we have to understand in order to have understood everything), with Girard, violence is primary. The fundamental relationship is the relationship to an object or to an objectified person. What counts is the other, but another who desires the same thing as I do, which I want to wrest from him by violent means. According to this analysis no love is possible. There are only hatred and "desire," whose consequences are necessarily dire. Girard (1982) dissects the logic of equality, showing that it leads to rivalry, which generates violence. That is why, as we have seen, in most societies equality is avoided. But there are other issues: domination, endured or accepted and the gift, which, moving away from equality, creates a state of reciprocal indebtedness. Girard recognizes this part of the logic of the gift. But he situates its origin outside society. Even when he presents certain facts that imply the opposite, he exiles it. For him, the only definition of humans is that of beings who are afraid of themselves and their acts. Society - all societies - are based on that fear. Only once in a 500 page book on "things hidden since the beginning of the world" (1978), does Girard make reference to the "dear ones" threatened by all this violence. "The more [the rage] intensifies, the more one turns towards those held most ... dear" (12.1). And so somewhere, among those held dear, there is a relationship not founded on violence and that is threatened by violence. Throughout society there are those one wants to protect from this violence at any cost. Where do they come from? This is the only allusion to this aspect of reality in a book where, otherwise, there is no desire for positive consequences, no warmth, no need for love. That side of life has no place in this system. In that sense Girard is modern, and we can even ask ourselves if he is not utilitarian. He overlooks all situations where elements opposed to the logic of violence might appear and favours only those secondary elements that support his cynical hypothesis. Let us provide an example, to demonstrate the illegitimacy of this attempt to banish gift relationships far from the social realm. In his discussion of the judgment of Solomon (341-51), Girard observes that the true mother explodes the infernal logic of mimesis by her love for this dear being who is her child. But he does not recognize that the very condition for the effectiveness of King Solomon's judgment, on which he comments at length to illustrate his theory, resides in the very fact that his theory does not apply. This condition is that


The Strange Loop of the Gift

one of the two contesting mothers must reject the logic of violence and go so far as to envisage losing her child, abandoning it to her rival, in order to save it. That is the exact opposite of Girardian mimetic desire. It is the logic of love.3 And the celebrated "wisdom of King Solomon" is founded precisely on the wager he has made that the logic of love will triumph and demolish the Girardian logic he has proposed to the two women. In this story, two people out of three adopt a non-Girardian position: the king and the "good" prostitute, the true mother. But Girard deals only with the third character, the false mother, who is, moreover, the loser in the story, and whose mimetic behaviour conforms to his theory. She loses precisely because her behaviour conforms to Girard's theory. What is the basis for this non-Girardian logic and the source of Solomon's wisdom? It is not a case of exceptional heroism; it is simply maternal love, which has always existed and which continually transcends the logic of imitative violence. There is no need to resort to Christ to chart its existence through the ages. Girard, in interpreting this biblical passage, seems blinded by his theory. He doesn't see what Solomon's judgment implies, even as he shows it to us. For this story could, on the contrary, serve to illustrate the fundamental importance of the logic of the gift. Girard sees only the aspect that confirms his theory. Obviously, more than violence passes between a mother and her child. And even between children, as we have seen, there is an imitation of the offering. The first violence is not in the establishment of a bond. It is, on the contrary, in the breaking of a bond, the rupture with the mother, the fear of abandonment, the definitive breaking of the tie. The first violence is in the loss of the tie, of what binds us to the one who gives us everything. And the first social experience we encounter is that of this necessary distance4 that allows us to become a giver in our turn, to imitate the gift, and that makes possible positive imitation. Violence is secondary and takes place against the background of a positive bond between two individuals dear to each other. Girard does not discuss this first and founding bond. For him the rupture is primary and he sees no means other than divine intervention to reverse the logic of violence and vengeance. In reality, one puts an end to vengeance through forgiveness. Forgiveness is a fundamental gift, a gift of passage (as in "rites of passage") from the system of violence to the gift system, a founding social and psychological act that, surprisingly, has seldom been studied by researchers in the social sciences (Rowe et al. 1989). But then what is the link between the gift and violence? This book is not about violence, nor the connections between the two phenomena. Let us simply note that the gift, as a form of exchange, is an alternative to violence, that we may see violence as the negative state of a social

Behind Exchanges, the Gift


system that would result from the interruption of the gift. That does not mean that the gift and violence obey the same rules. The very fact that we pass from one to the other by "making a gesture," shows this. To reconcile one person in conflict with another, we say, "Make a gesture," in other words, perform an act that is not anticipated by the system's current rules, and that, if accepted by the other person, may put an end to the particular interaction. If, however, the other does not accept it, or receives it as a poisoned gift that is not to be trusted because it does not come from a "kindly heart" (Mauss 1990, 63), the gesture triggers an even more serious level of violence. To make a gesture is to take the risk of transforming the state of the system. It takes very little to nudge a social system from one state to the other, just as only one degree is needed to bring water from its liquid to its gaseous state. It always remains water, but it is no longer in the same state: it does not obey the same laws of physics.5 Its gaseous state, however, is not the inverted image of the liquid state. In the same way, the state of non-gift is a state of reserve, of holding back, of non-abandon that is very different from violence and does not obey the same logic. Even if very little suffices to create the change from one to the other, the two states do not obey the same rules. Violence and the gift are two different states. The gift, a system of voluntary and self-maintained indebtedness, is a surplus state. In the most diverse situations, even the most contradictory, we always get this same astonishing result. Whether with the relationship between a couple, the relationship between parents and children, or volunteer work; with the gift to a third person, to someone who has already given to us, to a friend, or even to a stranger, we give because we have received, and so we are always reciprocating. But we always receive more than we give, even if we do not want this to be so. This is what we call the paradox of the parable of the talents. We are always in a system of "surplus reception." This is the most general law of the gift, observed wherever the gift is found and can function in its normal state. The gift always generates something else, gives rise to a supplement. The gift does not obey the rules of classical physics: in the gift something is created. Something emerges. The first creation is birth. The instinct to reciprocate is based on the obvious fact that our very existence derives from a gift, that of our birth, which puts us in a state of indebtedness. THE F R E E D O M OF THE GIFT

The experience of the gift stands in the way of our dispensing with the problem of freedom by reducing it to a calculated decision, and pre-

2.1 2.

The Strange Loop of the Gift

vents our relegating spontaneity to the status of a primal urge. The gift forces us to think of spontaneity and freedom together. How? The gift is free. Methodological individualism also strongly opposes, with reason, that determinism that would explain everything in terms of traditions, ways of thinking, causes (Boudon 1988). It affirms the freedom of the actor. This is its crucial contribution of theories of decision, a decision being by definition the affirmation of freedom vis-a-vis the systems in which the actor takes part, contrary to what is proposed by the proponents of tradition. Without this freedom, the term "decision" has no meaning. But the actor envisaged by methodological individualism is a rational actor, in the sense of basing decisions on calculation. The actor tries to maximize power. His or her decisions are rational in that they are based on calculation of the pros and cons; it is a very limited calculation, certainly (March and Simon 1958), but it is a calculation all the same. Everything that is not included in this behavioral model is considered irrational and therefore not free. Other actions, other behaviour does not arise from decisions but from reflex. This position is well illustrated by Boudon's schema (1988, 242) of concentric circles, where we move progressively outward from the utilitarian rational model in the centre to the impulsive and irrational on the periphery. Boudon seems oblivious of Simmers incisive conclusion in his analysis of money: "[The rational mode of thought] can provide the means towards the attainment of one thing or another, but remains utterly indifferent to the ultimate goal behind the choices made and the actions taken" (1987, 559). More recently, Maclntyre has affirmed: "Reason is calculating. It can establish factual truths and mathematical relations, but nothing more. In the practical field, it can only talk of means. Where ends are concerned, it must be silent."6 Boudon's approach relegates the entire world of ends, of objectives, of values, to the realm of reflex and irrationality and gives only decisions about means the status of free decisions. Alternatively it considers that values are already there, just as, for the merchant, the consumers' preferences are already there; he defers to them and sees himself as a means for satisfying them. Compared to this model, the gift goes an extra step in its definition of freedom by not proposing rational calculation as a condition for freedom. The spontaneous freedom of the act is affirmed: it is neither the result of calculation, nor is it a type of reflex. It is always, in practice, "already there," as Merleau-Ponty would say, before reason. The gift is free without being a decision as described in the theories of decision and without being a calculation. Calculation is mechanical, social ties are not. The gift is incomplete. Something always escapes it, a trifle, the spirit of the gift, something extra. We give more to give enough and that is the gift. It is why we cannot explain the gift, even if we can

Behind Exchanges, the Gift


understand it. To give, to receive, to reciprocate, are phases of the gift that circulate in every direction at once. To give is to return and it is to receive. A drawing by Escher, Day and Night, best illustrates this aspect of the gift: we don't know in what direction it is travelling, we don't know at what point it escapes from matter and takes flight, we don't know where it is going. It is the opposite of that exquisite mechanical precision of supply and demand. There is no reductionist explanation for the gift: if we break it down into its parts, something escapes that is just what makes it unique. Mauss was right to say that it is a total social phenomenon, and this is part of what that means. The gift can only really be understood through metaphor.



The gift is not a system of static equilibrium, nor is it even homeostatic, where there is a fixed equilibrium around a variable towards which the system gravitates, and about which it hovers, like a thermostat or the price in a market model. The gift is a complex system: there is no simple connection, no hierarchy. To understand certain phenomena, physicists and mathematicians have developed new concepts over the last decades: fractal objects, strange attractors, and so on. (Gleick 1988). These models account for phenomena such as turbulence that were not previously addressed by theories of physics - phenomena that cannot be explained by the "simple" attractors of classical physics. Analogically, we may consider the market a simple attractor, which accounts for the circulation of a certain number of objects and commodities. The gift can then be seen as a strange attractor, which accounts for turbulence in the market and in the bureaucratic apparatus, as well as in exchanges between human beings when we try to understand them in terms of the mercantile model. For centuries, the Western world has insisted on analysing exchanges in terms of a simple attractor alone and has been intent on explaining society with the aid of only two devices: the market and the state. But these are not adequate to the task. There is turbulence. As in physics, for a long time homo economicus turned his back on these incomprehensible phenomena. More recently, there has been an attempt to break them down,7 or to analyse zones of turbulence using the same schema.8 Without success, in our opinion. It is time for the social sciences to acknowledge the presence of this strange attractor called the gift. The market is a simple attractor, with a fixed point, like the pendulum (Gleick 1988, i69ff.). In mercantile circulation, negotiations fluctuate around this point until a transaction is arrived at, which constitutes the point of equilibrium. The simple attractor of the economy is equivalence and it sets the system at rest. But


The Strange Loop of the Gift

the gift is an attractor with no fixed point. It never attains equilibrium. If it did, there would be no more gift system. A fixed point means the system has ground to a halt. Equilibrium for the gift is to be found in the tension of the reciprocal debt. That is the motor for the movement of the gift. The gift is perpetual motion in the social sphere. To make its laws explicit mathematically would require, as in physics, a long temporal series for the gift, on a statistical scale, like the series of cotton prices used to develop the theory of fractal objects. THE GIFT AND THE WEST

We have tried to talk about the gift with the means that we were "given" at the outset, those of Western reason. To go further, we would have to change our language, for the gift penetrates to the deepest, most universal strata, those embodied in mythology. We would have to move from "everything happens as though" to "once upon a time." We would have to reinstate time, which is crucial to the gift but which modernity dissolves in space - mercantile space. The gift is always a story. It is impelled, involuntarily, beyond itself. That is why we can only conclude a book on the gift in humility, knowing that we have only just opened a gap, that the world of the gift is by definition impossible to encompass, that we must yield to it and not presume to dominate it, above all not by intellect alone. At the end of our introduction, we said that the gift had to do with person-to-person relationships. What this meant gradually became clear, both by comparison with relationships involving intermediaries and also, more positively, when it was shown that in a gift relationship the person as such is engaged. He or she is not a means. What circulates carries with it this personal element - it contains a part of the self. Every gift is a gift of the self, and cannot easily be treated as an object. The gift derives from animist thought. By contrast, the mercantile relationship is an objectivation of the world and of relationships both among people and between people and the other beings that surround them. The result is that both people and beings can only be thought of in the context of that great objectivation of the world carried out by the West, as the following story of the Inuit and their caribou illustrates. The inhabitants of an Inuit village were presented with a project9 that proposed to commercialize caribou meat to make it available to the outside market. This would involve the construction of a factory and do away with unemployment in the community. A fabulous project, with no apparent drawbacks. And yet the Inuit hesitated. Why? Because they have a personal relationship with the caribou. Grounded

Behind Exchanges, the Gift


in a common past and destiny, the relationship with the animal is one of respect and gratitude, the sort of gift relationship that has been described by many ethnologists.10 With animals, hunting societies exchange a life for another life. Thus in Siberia one goes off to die in the forest in order to feed the animals. One gives them back what one has received. And the Indians must not kill more animals than necessary, because that would result in someone's death. With the market, on the other hand, one kills until the species has been exhausted. Seen in this light, the market is not an extension of exchange. On the contrary, it represents a perversion, a pushing to the point of extinction of protagonists that are gradually transformed into objects. And so the Inuit were urged to move from a gift system between themselves and the caribou to a mercantile system, where the caribou would be transformed into objects. The mayor of the village had many misgivings. Perhaps he asked himself, "Can we do this to them? It's a dirty trick and one day we'll be punished." Commercializing the caribou would be a violent act for the Inuit. They would have to treat the caribou as an object and perhaps even get to the point where, like modern man, they would be unwilling to kill it themselves or even to witness its death, but would accept as progress that the caribou be fenced in and eventually raised like cattle to be butchered, under the conditions with which we are familiar. This is an example of the great rupture with the cosmos, with our belonging to a larger world of which the caribou are a part. It is the turning back on oneself through the transformation of the rest of the world into an object that becomes a commodity and is made to conform to ineluctable laws, those of physics and of the market. Let us recall one last time Mauss's often repeated affirmation: "Originally ... things themselves had a personality and an inherent power" (1954, 49). "That coming and going of souls and things that are all intermingled with one another" (48) is essential to the gift, modern and archaic. In the end, however, the mayor added: "But there are so many unemployed." This last sentence shows that he had already absorbed the mercantile model.11 Only in this model are there unemployed. In the other, there is only a dearth of caribou. If there are many caribou, and you have nothing to do, you don't think of yourself as unemployed, but as someone who is very lucky. THEM AND US

To possess is liberating, says modernity. To possess enslaves, says the wisdom of all ages. Surplus is dangerous, said archaic societies. From surplus comes inequality, conflict, violence. What to do with a surplus?


The Strange Loop of the Gift

There are a number of ways to free ourselves from it: • to have nothing (hunter-gatherers); • to want nothing, to do away with desire (Buddhism, Zen, Diogenes' detachment); • to owe nothing, to free oneself from debt (merchant); • to divest oneself (potlatch, etc.); • to stockpile in anticipation of hard times (drought, food shortage); • to surrender oneself to another freedom (mysticism, god, myth, AA); • to enshrine it, to turn it into a societal goal to which every member must defer (the paradigm of growth). As soon as calculation is no longer responsible to the social system, it is freed, and the unlimited expansion of the market becomes possible, in parallel with the modern gift. We witness the "liberation" of calculation and surplus, exorcised by its transformation into a social metaobjective. Excess is no longer something added on, as in the gift. All of society is committed to it. It "gives itself over" to the production of surplus, and the surplus is increasingly used to produce more surplus (investment), to the point where society, without quite realizing it, ends up dedicating itself to the controlled production of surplus. Final consumption and use become increasingly rare, and we witness the consecration of usefulness and the growth of utilitarianism, freeing the market from external constraints. Removing these constraints also frees the gift. But this freeing of the gift is only possible if other systems, restrictive, unfree, assume the tasks fulfilled by the gift in different societies. The state and the market, founded on calculation, replace the gift in part. An analysis of the gift calls into question the notion of differences between "them" and "us,"12 between primitive and modern societies. But one might reply that when we donate a kidney, we are under no constraint, we are free, not like "them," who conform to tradition and therefore have no choice about giving. However, when questioned, kidney donors reply that it was taken for granted, the question never came up, that it was not thought out, that one gives despite the suffering, the loss, the risks entailed, because that's the way it is. In other words, it is the same answer the "primitives" give to ethnologists, the answer that leads anthropologists to conclude that "they" are controlled by tradition, and that "their" gift is not free. "They" do not tell us that, we interpret the facts that way, although we hesitate to interpret them in the same way when we're dealing with our own behaviour. At least, that is what the parallel with kidney donation would seem to indicate. And so, where the gift is concerned, the difference between "them" and "us" seems less obvious than it might at first glance. Let us also recall that humanity's great schools of thought are founded on gift

Behind Exchanges, the Gift


experiences. This is obvious in the case of Christianity. Buddha also achieved enlightenment through a gift to a casteless unfortunate. And Confucius said: "I pass on. I invent nothing" (1987, 39). Whether or not all this is "true" (a question typical of modern man, who expends a great deal of energy trying to find out if and when and how these personages really existed), the fact is that the great wise men who founded great spiritual movements claim to have received their message from elsewhere, and so situate themselves and their "message" within a system of the gift. That is a fact, in the modern and scientific sense of the word. All except the philosophers of the Enlightenment to whom we might ask, "Where did the 'light' come from?" In any event, their philosophy does not yet qualify as one of humanity's great schools of wisdom, as it is shared only by a tiny minority of those in Western societies. Most people, centuries after the Enlightenment, are still in the "shadows" and identify with the vast majority religions (even those who have been deeply immersed in Enlightenment philosophy, such as the citizens of ex-Communist Europe and the bulk of today's scientific researchers).13 And is it reasonable, really, to classify as "dreamers," or regard as backward, the founders of all the great human schools of thought other than our own? At the end of our journey into the modern gift, we have to ask ourselves if the Western world's cast of mind allows us even to conceive of the gift. Levi-Strauss claims (1988, 127) that "Western 'introspection' is the polar opposite of the Eastern interior journey that embraces the cosmos and constitutes a negation of that rupture that results in a dilution of the self. For Buddhism, the interior is the world. There is no exterior, a concept specific to the West of the Enlightenment." We hope we have shown that to conceive of the gift it is essential to situate it within a mode of thought that is not founded on rupture - rupture between producer and user, between "them" and "us" - which derive from the rupture between man and the cosmos. We must decondition ourselves from utilitarianism, as we have deconditioned ourselves from religion. Is it reasonable for us to think about death only in terms of a cadaver, and therefore about life as just a pre-cadaverous state? To give life is to transcend the mercantile experience, defined as the gaining of something through another's loss. Whoever gives life not only does not lose anything, since it's a matter of a gift-transmission, but wins everything. One wins by returning the life that someone gave without losing it, and one wins the chance to give to someone throughout life, someone who cannot be an object. One also gains access to the understanding of death and gains the authorization to die, to one day give back life. When one has given life, one can embrace one's death and think of it as something other than access to a cadaverous state, the state of an object. To give life is also


The Strange Loop of the Gift

to accept death, because those who give life must die so that those who are born have room to live. Such exchange is voluntary, because those who are born are infinitely weak and could be crushed instantly by those who are giving life. As Joseph Campbell notes in many societies, the god of death is also the god of birth and of sex. He adds: "As soon as you beget or you give birth to a child, you are the dead one. The child is the new life, and you are simply the protector of that new life" (1988, no). That is why it is essential for men to share in this capacity to give life, first bestowed on women. It is why marriage is basic to society and, with its children, is the focal point for presents. Birth is the quintessential gift, in all societies. The cogito supposes the negation of the world, the homo economicus the negation of society. The gift links us to society and to the world. The gift reinstates humanity in the cosmos. It is the universal theory of exchange, a theory not limited to protagonists in the mercantile game. It is the universe acknowledged as something more than an object, and it is the transcendence of individual rights. If we persist in the logic of rights, we become more and more attentive to the rights of some, and that is fine. But this logic is also, symmetrically, a logic of exclusion for all those who do not have the necessary qualifications to benefit from rights, in other words all those deprived of the status of a rational citizen capable of defending his rights and of thinking in terms of the general interest. And this leads us to exclude, little by little, not only animals but children. The rights of the child depend on the prior definition of a child, about which the child has nothing to say, has no rights at all. For the moment, rights begin with birth. Democracy has increasingly made its definition of a citizen more inclusive, as someone endowed with reason. But this rationalist extension has its limits. Beginning with conception, and until the child becomes a citizen, human beings are regarded as not yet completely formed, not quite whole, not yet free, not yet in possession of what is required to be a person, and without the right, yet, to defend themselves. Their rights can only be the obligations that others - the adults - agree to assume on their behalf. At a certain point, the gift must take over from rights. After having noted that modernity was founded on a fundamental rupture between producers and users, a rupture that in the long run transforms every social bond into a relationship between strangers governed by the market or the state, we now see that an even more crucial split is appearing: a rupture with the universe, which cuts the human being off from tradition (the past) and from transcendence. In other words, anything that is not the totality of reasonable utilitarian individuals existing at a given time is transformed either into an object (the rest of the cosmos, beginning with animals) or an illusion (the dead, the ancestors, and those who do not yet exist). This dual rupture, with

Behind Exchanges, the Gift


the cosmos on the one hand and with the past and future on the other, makes modernity punctual, narrow, and anxious, and makes a feeling of oneness no longer possible. By contrast, the gift provides access to symbolic exchange, which "has no limit, neither among the living, nor with the dead ... , nor with stones, nor with beasts" (Baudrillard 1976, 207-8.) The negation of death, far from sparing us this "reality," only increases our anxiety in relation to it. The only way to combat this anxiety is to make oneself indispensable to someone or something, a child, a cat, or a cause. Humans have always given of themselves, have always created obligations in order to achieve a modicum of serenity vis-a-vis all that overwhelms them. This is the origin of the gift relationship: an ongoing creation of obligations that we find everywhere in the byways of modernity, that re-form as fast as modern progress allows us to divest ourselves from them, and that free us from anxiety. The mercantile universe ensures that things can only be "produced and processed." Nothing can appear or disappear. Death is therefore the production of a cadaver. With the gift, things appear and disappear. The gift is the emergence of something, a talent, anything at all. The gift is a birth. The gift is what appears and was not foreseen in any act, any law, not even that of the gift itself. It is all that is paradoxical in disinterestedness. It is the grace that manifests itself as something extra. Generosity gives rise to gratitude. That says everything. In generosity there is begetting. The Petit Robert dictionary defines generosity as the attribute of someone who is inclined to give more than he is obliged to give, who goes beyond the rules of the gift itself. To think in terms of the gift is to no longer view what is around us (ties first, but also things) as instruments and means that serve our purposes. And that brings us back both to Dale Carnegie's paradox and to the strange loop found in the means-ends relationship. To give is to plunge back into the current, into the cycle, to move away from linear thinking, to reconnect horizontally but also vertically, in time, rediscovering ancestors. The spatial extension of the market shrinks time and turns ancestors into cadavers that have become dust. By contrast, partners in the gift are united not by their status or their mercantile interests but by their history, what happened between them in times past (Gouldner 1960, 170-1). The gift is the very definition of life. It is the concrete and day-to-day act that binds us to the cosmos, that breaks with dualism and reconnects us to the world. There are two ways to accede to the universal: by gradually paring away the unique features of each thing until one is left with the market and money (Simmel 1987), or by the universalization of the particular through myth, the gift, initiation (the experience of communion with the cosmos, rebirth), and metaphor (Bateson 1987).


The Strange Loop of the Gift

The gift is the alternative to the dialectic of master and slave. It is a matter not of dominating others or being dominated, nor of mastering nature or being crushed by her, but of belonging to a larger whole, of reestablishing a relationship, of becoming a member. Out of fear (often, obviously, legitimate) of being taken advantage of, the modern no longer succeeds in abandoning him or herself to the cosmic current, instead reducing the entire universe to objects that appear unthreatening because they are not binding and can be abandoned at any time. The modern generates pollution, suffocating in what is rejected and what ultimately rejects. The modern frees him or herself from ties with people, replacing them as far as possible with ties to things, doubtless on the ground that this is much less restrictive, just as it's easier to separate from a cat or dog than from a child. The number of things owned increases enormously, on the assumption that this constitutes freedom from material constraints, this being the point of the whole adventure: humans liberated from the historical constraints of hunger, cold, and so on, thanks to the accumulation of things. The most notable and perverse consequence of this is that the accumulation not only does not free us but increases our dependence on things, creates a plethora of needs, even alters our capacity for physical resistance, makes us vulnerable to and dependent on the things we have produced to free ourselves from them, and from social ties. The modern individual, pseudo-emancipated from the duty of reciprocity, staggering under the accumulated weight of what she or he receives without making any return, becomes a great invalid, whose hypersensitivity makes it impossible to tolerate human relationships.14 A vulnerable being, who has lost immunity against negative relationships, fleeing the give-receive-reciprocate cycle for fear of being taken advantage of, asepticizing the cycle with relationships that are unilateral, objective, precise, calculable, mechanical, predetermined, bookbalancing, explicit, objectified, cold ... while, as we have seen, to reciprocate is to give, to give is to receive and to reciprocate, to receive is to give, and to give, to receive, to reciprocate is, each time, to recognize the world's indeterminacy and the risk of existence; it is, each time, to bring society alive, all of society.

TO WHOM DOES TODAY'S WORLD B E L O N G ? How, through what "tour de force," did the social sciences come to speak of social ties without using the words that are associated with them in daily life: surrender, forgiveness, renunciation, love, respect,

Behind Exchanges, the Gift


dignity, redemption, salvation, redress, compassion, everything that is at the heart of relationships between people and that is nourished by the gift. The social sciences must agree with Bateson, that they have not succeeded in understanding what religion stands for as a metaphor and are even less qualified to find a replacement for it. If God does not exist, are humans necessarily utilitarian? Can we deny God without taking ourselves for gods? The crucial question for representative democracy and its endogenous strange loop is: "Can we save ourselves?" We do not claim to have the answer, but have shown that we cannot ignore the gift, or assimilate it to other modern explanations for society. We hope that in doing this we have shown that all pretensions to an exclusive explanation are unwarranted, as is the widespread application of utilitarian reductionism. We are not, however, denying its existence, or its importance. There is self-interest everywhere - or almost everywhere. Yet there is rarely only self-interest. The social world is not a determinist machine obedient to the imperfect calculations of its members. To be interested in the gift is to believe that the world belongs much more to donors than one generally tends to believe today. Charles Foster Kane died alone in his castle for having forgotten that. "He not busy being born is busy dying" (Bob Dylan). The gift is a renewed contact with the source of life and universal energy. But there is no "proof" of that. In fact, there is not even any proof for the existence of the gift as it has been presented in these pages, any more than there is proof for the existence of love for someone who has never been in love and is content to observe, scientifically, sexual exchanges. The gift is a reflection arising from an experience. One must share that experience for the reflection to take on meaning. The gift is one of those phenomena that analysis and breaking down into discrete parts makes disappear, as pornography makes eroticism disappear. The observation of a phenomenon from outside not only modifies that phenomenon (Heisenberg), it often makes it vanish. Without the spirit of the gift, things can circulate in a pattern that no longer supports any bond. But even when the spirit is present, seeing it depends on the observer: only those imbued with the spirit of the gift can see it at work in their observations of human behaviour. We close with some phenomenological reflections on the gift as human experience. Here we find two contradictory ideas: • The idea of the acceptance of loss, of sublimation, of a voluntary detachment from objects, of renunciation • The idea of surplus, of sudden appearances, of the unexpected, of waste, of begetting


The Strange Loop of the Gift

Now, these two ideas cannot coexist in modern thought. Loss can only be a way of being taken advantage of in business or of being exploited. Begetting is also impossible, for only production exists, and every production is a reproduction of the same thing, in a process where nothing ever appears except plus-value or profit. In the social sciences, only psychoanalysis is sensitive to the fact that one must lose one's mother - must give her up - in order to become an adult, an experience essential to every human being. But psychoanalysis also tends to see indebtedness as purely negative, as something from which one must free oneself, a perspective typical of the mercantile model. For psychoanalysis, the gift often turns out to be poisoned. To embrace the experience of giving up objects and people, and to know the begetting and the renewal such an experience offers, is finally to serve the apprenticeship of death. And of the gift.



i MAUSS: Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales, or the "Anti-Utilitarian Movement in the Social Sciences." INTRODUCTION

i An earlier version of this introduction was published in the Revue du MAUSS (no. ii, 1991, 11-32). 2, To these two systems we could add a third, that of "social representations," or "the imaginary," or "the symbolic" (depending on the author). But the lack of consistency in these terms is a sign that overall, and fundamentally, this third system is not deemed to be truly efficacious, or to possess any real, innate coherence. Short of lapsing into a not very satisfying culturalist functionalism. 3 As Vidal (1991) has so well demonstrated. CHAPTER


i Or, if preferred, "primary sociality." 2, See Wirth's text in Grafmeyer and Joseph 1984. 3 They range from the "gift of nothing" of Duvignaud (1977) to the expenditure of Bataille (1967) to the generalized exchange of Levi-Strauss (1967). The most recent typology is that of Sahlins (1972,), who tries to account both for the degree of equivalence and the type of bond, establishing a relationship between the two variables. In so doing, he places reciprocity at the centre of the phenomenon of the gift. See the last section.


Notes to pages 16-62 CHAPTER


1 Garant and Bolduc 1990, iv. On home care, see also Lesemann and Chaume 1989. 2 On the pecuniary importance of exchanges within the family network, see Roberge 1985. 3 A phenomenon one might regard as a self-fulfilling prophecy. 4 Kaufmann 1990; Bloch et al. 1989; Hochschild 1989. 5 Levi-Strauss, Histoire de la famille, 10. See also the last chapter of Structures elementaires de la parente (1967). 6 This is reminiscent of the "he" in Maradi (see chapter 7). 7 Documentary on non-verbal communication, Tele 99, Montreal, 4 October 1987. 8 On the potlatch, see chapter 6. 9 According to Jonathan Parry, the gift given in secret is a feature of all the great religions of the world (1986, p. 467). 10 Levi-Strauss 1967, 100 (citing J. Isaacs). 11 This section owes much to Anne Gotman (1995). 12 See chapter 10. 13 On this subject, see Dialogue 100 (Paris, 1991), whose theme is debts and presents in the family. 14 See also Salem 1990. CHAPTER 3

1 As reported in Le Devoir (Montreal), 16 February 1991. 2 But it is also, in some sense, an archaic gift, and recalls those rites associated with blood. We should remember that Christianity is founded on the act of a God who has "shed his blood" for mankind. Finally, it is without doubt a gift of oneself: blood is not manufactured, it is a part of one's being. 3 In the United States, commercial enterprises have even taken legal action against organizations that used donated blood. In 1966 the Federal Trade Commission declared that members of community blood banks (donated blood) "were illegally joined together in a conspiracy to restrain commerce in whole human blood" (Titmuss 1970, 161). 4 Mauss develops this theme on pages 26off of The Gift. 5 Alms, a unilateral gift to an unknown recipient, is a curious phenomenon and will be dealt with later. Logically, it is a gift that excludes, that asserts the giver's dominant position and seems designed to expose the recipient's inability to reciprocate. With the giving of alms in the street in aid of the Third World, we see the same perversion of the gift, except that it is transposed into a religious system, as it will be "returned to you a hundred

Notes to pages 66-88


times over" by none other than God himself. The spiritual dimension can neutralize the perverse effects of a unilateral gift to an unknown who cannot reciprocate (but it does not necessarily happen). CHAPTER


i Chazaud, Gordon and Babchuk, Palisi, Gassier; on this topic see Malenfant 1990. 2. See chapter 10. 3 On the origins of charity, see Weber in Cheal 1988, i57;Mauss, 1950, 169; Veyne, 1976, pp. 44-65. CHAPTER 5 i Richard Titmuss (1971) raises this problem in connection with blood donation, and sick people used by the medical profession or underpaid medical students: Paradoxically - or so it may seem to some - the more commercialized a blood system becomes ... the more will the gross national product be inflated. In part, and quite simply, this is the consequence of statistically "transferring" an unpaid service ... with much lower external costs to a monetary and measureable paid activity involving costlier externalities. Similar effects on the gross national product would ensue if housewives were paid for housework or childless married couples were financially rewarded for adopting children or hospital patients cooperating for teaching purposes charged medical students. The gross national product is also inflated when commercial markets accelerate "blood obsolescence" - or waste; the waste is counted because someone has paid for it. (205-6. See also 2.14.) 2. It would also be appropriate to refer to the following discussion as dealing with until recently, the ideology or value system of the artist. 3 Strictly speaking, that only applies to the visual arts, and even there, a gallery may ask for canvases of a particular format. But it would never require "a blue that's just a bit darker" ... 4 Chapter 6 takes up this theme. 5 On this subject see Mai'te Pinero, 1992, "Enlevements d'enfants et trafic d'organes," Le Monde diplomatique, August, 16-17. 6 France-Transplants, Paris, Ministry of Health, cited in Temoignage Chretien, issue entitled "Bioethique, la vie au risque de la science," 4* quarter 1991. 7 See Le Monde, j March 1992.. 8 Clinical death is defined as a flat electroencephelogram with the heart still beating.


Notes to pages 90-115

9 Studies are astonishingly silent on the recipients and the problems allied to receiving such an enormous gift. CHAPTER 6 1 The alternative is to find oneself in the world of agape, pure love, which is different from the gift; see in this connection Boltanski 1990, but also Jankelevitch 1968, t. 2., 910-39, where, unlike Boltanski, he makes a distinction between agape and the gift. 2 Quoted by Vidal 1991, 31. 3 This does not mean that the gift entails no obligations. CHAPTER 7 1 They apply, for the most part, to the Kwakiutl. 2 Benedict 1950, 2,53 and ±93-4. See also Schulte-Tenckhoff 1986, 137-8. 3 The system includes not only the far-eastern islands of New Guinea (The Louisiades, the Woodlark Islands, Loughlans, the Trobriand archipelago, and the D'Entrecasteaux group of islands) but also, beyond the coast regions of eastern New Guinea itself, the South-West Island and Rossell Island. See Malinowski's (1920) overview. 4 On the dialectic of alienability and inalienability, see also Weiner 1988. 5 This book is well reviewed by Mary Douglas, 1991. 6 See as well on this point Breton 1989. 7 See also Weiner 1984. 8 In L'un est I'autre, which presents the central feminist theories current in France in the field of anthropology, Elisabeth Badinter (1986) concedes Weiner's point and associates the beginnings of patriarchy with the development of agriculture. But even within peasant societies, as we will see with the Maradi, things are not so simple that they can be worked into a one-dimensional model of domination and exploitation. 9 Jean-Joseph Goux, in Economic et symbohsme (1973), proposed some examples that, while speculative, are very suggestive. He hypothesized that there is a formal analogy to be made between money, the overall equivalent of merchandise; the phallus, a privileged sexual object; and the father, another privileged entity. 10 See also Salisbury 1962. 11 In his Vocabulaire des institutions indo-europeennes [Vocabulary of Indo-European Institutions], E. Benveniste (1969) shows that in early Indo-European languages the notion of value referred originally to the value of people, to what one had to pay to ransom a prisoner or avenge a death. 12 On the origins of money, see Servet 1982.

Notes to pages 119-34



1 Translation of material in Schulte-Tenckhoff 1986, 63. 2 Ibid., 123. Schulte-Tenckhoff reminds us that for a long time this statement was accepted as dogma, despite the criticisms of Curtis (1915), who affirmed "that a Kwakiutl would be an object of scorn were he to ask for interest when receiving a counter-gift for an equivalent gift he had offered." 3 Quoted by Schulte-Tenckhoff, 1986, 127. 4 This also appeared under the title Le sens pratique, 1980. It is impossible here to go into Bourdieu's work in more detail. For a more elaborate critical discussion, see Caille 1988. 5 Raymond Firth, for example (1929). 6 More generally, Claude Levi-Strauss holds that societies are made up of three systems of exchange, that of women, that of words, and that of things. 7 But only some, as Levi-Strauss considers that women represent the quintessential gift, rather than being merchandise. But he does not make a sufficiently clear distinction between the gift and merchandise, which leads to ambiguity. 8 Lacan 1966, 180. A similar ambiguity is found in Jean Piaget, who studied the origins of the moral sense in children in relation to that of their logical and rational capacities. He found the common denominator in the notions of reciprocity and reversibility, between which Piaget, in our estimation, does not adequately distinguish. (See Piaget, 1977). 9 We will return to it briefly in the final chapter. CHAPTER 9 1 The work of Jeanne Favret-Sanda (1977 and Favret-Sanda and Contrepas 1981) reveals the continued practice of sorcery in certain parts of the French countryside, notably Mayenne. It is interesting to note that recent studies by Favret-Saada show that a farmer is most likely to feel that he has been bewitched not long after he has "set up on his own," in other words not long after having stopped working "for free" for his parents. The crisis involving sorcery occurs, then, when one makes the transition from the world of the gift to the mercantile world, and when revenues first come into play, drawing attention to a disturbing loss of vital energy. 2 It is an outgrowth of this zero-sum game. 3 This logic is vividly described by Ismail Kadare (1981). The pertinence and the accuracy of his "literary" descriptions receive excellent confirmation from the fascinating series of studies brought together by Raymond Verdier


Notes to pages 134-45

4 On the relationship between primitive democracy and revenge, see the Revue du MAUSS 7, "Les sauvages etaient-ils des democrates?", 1990, in particular the articles by Nello Zagnoli, "La vengeance en Calabre," and Georges Charachidze, "Types de vengeance caucasienne." This issue discusses Jean Baechler's (1985) thesis according to which democracy constitutes the natural and spontaneous political system for humanity. 5 One can find elements of this sort in Weiner 1989. 6 Similar approaches have been developed in France by anthropologists under the influence of Louis Dumont. See Coppet and Iteanu 1983. 7 It is this postulate that lies behind Marxist theory, and that taints it. Surplus value would not be measurable, and the economic system a closed system, if the work force were not produced like a thing, out of other things, a thing whose value could be deduced from the value of things necessary for its production. Marx here allowed himself to be misled by the very appearances he wanted to demystify. The work force cannot be reduced to merchandise, to a "commodity produced by means of commodities" (Saffra), any more than can money or land. Karl Polanyi (1983) spoke more appropriately, in this regard, of quasi-merchandise. 8 Even minerals must be "delivered" (see Eliade 1977). 9 We are here following in the footsteps of A.B. Weiner, who insists on the crucial importance of this requirement for reproduction (see especially Weiner 1982.), though it seems to us that reproduction must be considered in terms of its strict, unseverable links with the symbolism of the gift. If the requirement of reciprocity is at the heart of the gift, then reproduction is not to be thought of as a replacement for reciprocity, but as its corollary. 10 According to Claude Levi-Strauss (1958), this explains the myth of Oedipus. 11 Feminine initiation is generally much more brief and summary, probably because feminine fecundity is perceived symbolically as less symbolic than natural. 12, On the logic of honour, see, among an extensive literature, P. Bourdieu, 19Sob. On the ties between honour and baraka, or the gift from a supernatural power, see Jamous, 1981. The logic of honour is obviously not restricted to archaic and traditional societies. The work of E. Goffman, for example, gives much attention to the analysis of rituals that enable us not to lose face, but rather to enhance it or to respect that of others. See Goffman, 1973. See also, on E. Goffman, Catherine Kerbrat-Orecchiono, 1990, and Michel de Fornel, 1990. 13 Here we are using the language of Levi-Strauss (1967), who speaks of "the preeminence of the relationship over the terms that it connects" (133). 14 Contrary to what Levi-Strauss claims (1967), "The woman here figures [in the matrimonial exchange] as one of the objects of exchange and not as one of the partners" (134). On this point, see Chantal Collard 1981. 15 Cheal 1988, 173, quoting Mauss.

Notes to pages 153-85 CHAPTER



1 On surplus, see H.W. Pearson, "The Economy Has No Surplus: Critique of a Theory of Development," in Polanyi, Arensberg, and Pearson 1957, 320-41. 2 Boudon 1990, 411, summing up Simmel's thought. 3 Simmel believes, however, that in the long term the primary association will be influenced. We will look at this problem more closely in the next chapter. 4 Coproduction, a concept developed primarily in the United States, does not acknowledge the producer-user gulf typical of modern organization. As a result, some perverse consequences ensue. Coproduction should be seen as a phase that presumes that producers define themselves simultaneously as co-users (Godbout 1992). Gadrey (1991) comes to exactly the same conclusion in a text called The Service Is Not a Product: "To consider the user as a client ... seems to us to represent a transitional phase ... This necessary step ... only corresponds ... to the beginnings of an approach to service where it would be a matter, ultimately, of finding the user behind the client" (24; Gadrey's emphasis). 5 Public institutions actually alter their way of working when they place themselves in the hands of these networks, rather than trying to dominate them, as in the model of the welfare state (Godbout and Guay 1989). CHAPTER I I

1 2 3 4

Parts of this chapter were published in the Revue du MAUSS 15-16, 1992. Claude Lefort, quoted by Boltanski 1990, 216. Quoted by Goudner 1960, 170. Among the different mercantile operations, the closest resemblance to the gift, paradoxically, is perhaps in the investment, because the return is not immediate. There is, however, the enormous difference that the gift is not made with a return in mind and its risk is embodied in the people involved in the system. The investment consists in removing a value from the system in order to try to make it produce more goods (Hyde 1983, 37). The risk is different in each case. In the gift, it is a matter of moral confidence, in the investment it is one of "performative" confidence vis-a-vis the possibility of success defined as the (calculable) capacity to produce more than what has been "invested." 5 What word would be more appropriate? 6 This sort of gift seems important in modern Japan, and the most urbanized Japanese experience the traditional gifts typical of rural society as constraints (Befu 1986).


Notes to pages 186-94

7 Boltanski's answer to this question is his description of the model of agape, Christian love (as found, for example, in St Francis of Assisi), to which he devotes several chapters. Let us content ourselves here with evoking one characteristic of this model. The preoccupation with calculation, with equivalence, is no longer actively refused - it is absent. It is no longer implicit, nor even unconscious; it is unknown, non-existent. In this state of agape, there is a total absence of desire, except for the desire to give (235-6). In the pure model, Boltanski thus resolves the fundamental paradox of the gift by doing away with one of the terms at the source of the tension; the individuals in a state of agape have no sense of desire and calculation. The word reciprocate itself no longer has any meaning, it no longer exists. The actors do not refuse it, they are quite simply unaware of its existence. The paradox is therefore not resolved; instead one of the terms is eliminated in a pure model that does not exist in the real world. For an approach that distinguishes between gift and agape, see Jankelevitch 1968. 8 Bourdieu, quoted by Boltanski 1990, 220. 9 The expression is that of J.P. Dupuy, who has dealt with this problem in a work (1985) devoted to Rene Girard. For Dupuy, neither Girard nor Bourdieu seem prepared to recognize "properties of undecidability" (126) in social systems, both authors seeking the "objective truth" for all society. Dupuy quotes Bourdieu, who knows that the objective truth for all society, "the true subsoil of life" (Lukacs), its ultimate essence, is that of a "system governed by laws of self-interested calculation, of competition and of exploitation" (ibid.). 10 "To give is just as much to make someone dependent on oneself as to make oneself dependent on the other by accepting that he will reciprocate ... The donor invites, if not provokes, the recipient, not so much to return in kind as to assume in his turn the role of donor. Thus, to give so that the other will give is not the same as giving in order to receive" (Lefort, quoted by Bloch, Buisson, and Mermet 1989, 20-1). 11 See Crozier and Friedberg 1977, especially 20 and 67. 12 Theodore Caplow (1982) analyzes this phenomenon in the context of the exchange of Christmas presents. 13 The great liberal economists were aware of the limits of the mercantile model and did not subscribe to this Utopia, which has surfaced recently among the proponents of "public choice." On this subject see Bowles and Gintis 1987, 143-4. On this theme see also Bugra 1989. 14 On this subject, see the excellent text by Jean Gadrey (1991), with this as a title. 15 Jean-Yves Girard in Nagel, Newman, Godel, and Girard 1989, 168; see also Hofstadter 1980.

Notes to pages 197-110 CHAPTER



1 Turkic (1988), in discussing the connection between AI and psychoanalysis, talks of a " sustaining myth." 2 Casti (1989) described the two approaches as "top-down" and "bottomup." (2.90-339). 3 The term should be related to Lindblom and his book The Intelligence of Democracy (1965). 4 In his book, however, it is not clear that he distances himself decisively from the hierarchical model. 5 Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1988, 25, 26, 29, 38; Cowan and Sharp 1988, 113; Reeke and Edelman 1988, 153, 159. See also Hofstadter 1980. 6 Quoting Erhard Friedberg. 7 This definition is more applicable to the mercantile network than to that of the gift, which is not shallow but deep and temporal, as we discuss later. 8 We should remember that we are dealing here only with the apparatus, and not with the democratic dimension, which does constitute a strange loop. 9 Curiously, Hofstadter concludes his book by defending the reductionist thesis. He claims that thought obeys precise rules, that it arises from an "inviolate meta-level," and that this level is its hardware, the play of neurons in the brain, "governed by a set of conventions outside of itself" (688). To support his thesis he draws on such analogies as Escher's drawing of hands, a paradox resolved by Escher, himself an inviolate external metalevel. These analogies ought to lead Hofstadter to the opposite conclusion: if the inviolate level of the brain is the physics of neurons, the meta-level of Escher's hands ought, analogically, to be the laws of physics as applied to these hands. But these laws will never explain the fact that what we see in this drawing is the paradox of two hands mutually drawing each other. To explain this, Hofstadter resorts not to hardware but to a "metasoftware," a veritable deus ex machina in the literal sense of the expression, a god called Escher, creator of the drawing. His analogy is therefore anti-reductionist and shows that to explain intelligence we must resort to an inviolate metalevel, one which, far from being found in the realm of hardware, transcends even the software. It is the hypothesis of God. CONCLUSION

i See especially Critique de la raison cynique by Sloterdijk (1987). 2. Le Monde, May 10, 1990; see also the Revue du MAUSS 9, 1990, which deals with socio-economy. 3 The same reasoning applies to the story of Joseph and his brothers, also discussed by Girard.


Notes to pages zio-zo

4 On this subject see chapter 8 (the child with the spool). 5 This is what physicists call the study of phase transitions. "When a solid is heated, its molecules vibrate with the added energy. They push outward against their bonds and force the substance to expand ... At a certain temperature and pressure, the change becomes sudden and discontinuous ... Crystalline form dissolves, and the molecules slide away from each other. They obey fluid laws that could not have been inferred from any aspect of the solid" (Gleick 1988, 12.7). 6 Quoted in Habermas 1986, 6z. 7 With theories such as that of "public choice." 8 On this subject see Bugra 1989. 9 This information was drawn from a Radio-Canada televised news report, April zz, 1985. 10 See on this subject Campbell et al 1988. 11 The Inuit are unique in that we have never dominated them through force. We have given them money, houses, etc., to the point where ultimately they have internalized the mercantile model and come to believe that they are unemployed. They have been sucked in gently, without violence, by means of the gift. i z In a different, but we think complementary way to that of Bruno Latour, who analyses this difference in scientific terms (1991). 13 They are even returning to religion: the proportion of researchers who are believers is on the increase, according to a recent survey at the CNRS (the National Organization for Scientific Research, in France), according to a report published in the Nouvel Observateur 1311, December 1989. 14 And also relationships with animals: unable to witness the spectacle of an animal being slaughtered - a calf, a chicken, etc. - but able to tolerate perfectly well the treatment meted out to animals in the course of profitable modern breeding, treatment worse than any society has ever known on such a scale. All this is perfectly acceptable as long as it is hidden, as long as all one sees is meat wrapped in the plastic of mercantile protection.


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AA,67-72, 94 agonistic, 105, 134 Alcoholics Anonymous. See AA

alms, 4. See also beggar altruism, 3, 7, 14, 51-2., 56-7, 142., 182, 192 animism, 132 Anspach, Mark, 126 Arensberg, Conrad, 150 Aristotle, 101, 132, 142 Arnold, Stephen, 36 art, 82-7, 192. See also artist artist, 40, 94, 165. See also art Baechler, Jean, 157 Balzac, Honore de, 167 Bataille, Georges, 18, 109, !55 Bateson, Gregory, 71, 201, 205, 219, 221 Baudrillard, Jean, 124-5, 219 beggar, 185. See also alms Belshaw, Cyril, 48, 160-1, 208 Benedict, Ruth, 81, 105 Benveniste, Emile, 132, 172-, 175 Berthoud, Gerald, 143 Bill, W., 71 Bloch, E, 32 blood. See donation

Bohannan, Paul, 114 Boilleau, Jean-Luc, 29 Boltanski, Luc, 31, 93, 185 Boszormenyi-Nagy, Ivan, 49 Boudon, Raymond, 212 Bourdieu, Pierre, 3,91, 120 Bowles, Samuel, 71 Brault, Marie-Marthe, 68 Breton, Stephane, 107, 124-25 Brudney, Jeffrey, 57, 65 Caille, Alain, 121 calculation, 30-1, 94, 112, 182, 186, 194, 204, 212, 216 Camerer, Colin, 174 Campbell, Joseph, 74, 218 Caplow, Theodore, 36,174 Carnegie, Dale, 79-80, 82, 95-7, 2I9 Casteret, Anne-Marie, 5 5 charity, 4, 13, 23, 26, 29, 51,60,72,74,93, 193 Charles, Aline, 50, 57-8, 73,75, 2-2-I Chatwin, Bruce, 144 Cheal, David, 26, 29, 36-7, 142,144-7 child, 29, 33,39-45, 49, 165, 189, 218-20 Christmas, 43-5, 174 Clastres, P., 112, 121, 143 Codere, Helen, 104

commodity, 80, 82-3, 87, 109, 112-13, IZ 4, IZ7, 136-7, 145, J 52-, 155, 160, 165, 213, 215. See also merchandise community, 14, 35, 59, 66, 71,73-4,84-5,96, 101, 151-2, 156, 158, 164, 166, 192; of producers, 84,156 confidence, 150, 188, 190 Confucius, 80, 217 constraint, 27, 96, 102, 142, 151, 191-2, 216. See also obligation consumer, 37, 70, 152-8, 161, 201 Coppet, Daniel de, 113, IJ 5 coproducers, 57, 165-6 counter-gift, 130, 134, 185-8, 190 Crozier, Michel, 81, 188 Cuturello, Paul, 26 Darms, Louise, 40 debt, 32, 39-41,44,48-50, 63,97, 104-5, II6 , *33, 172, 179-80,185-6,190 debt system, 48 decision, 90-1, 94, 182, 194,211-12 Defert, Daniel, 68 democracy, 69-70, 150-1, 157-8, 166, 203-4

2.48 248 Derrida, Jacques, 196-7 donation (blood or organ), 54-7, 60, 62, 87, 89-91, 94,216 Dore, Ronald, 81 Douglas, Mary, 7, 107, 113, 142, 175, 177, 185 Dreyfus, Hubert, 198 Drucker, Peter, 119 Dumont, Louis, 71 Eco, Umberto, 3 Edelman, Gerald, 199 egoism, 6, 7, n, 14, 19, 142, 190 equality, 33, 58, 132, 137, 142., 179-81, 183, 1934,209 equivalence, 28, 31-3, 767,93-5, 127-8, 130, 179-81, 183-4, 186, 190, 193-4, 2,01-2. Escher, M.C., 201-2, 213 Etzioni, Amitai, 90-1, 192, 207 exchange, economic, 123, 130-1, 196 exit (market as), 23, 27, 51, 63, 162, 191, 195 family, 28-36, 48-9, 89, uo-ii. See also inheritance Firth, Raymond, 119 Fischer, Eileen, 3 6 forgiveness, 94, 210, 220 Fortune, Reo, 107 Fox, Renee, 89 freedom, 33-4, 63, 75-6, 158-60, 178, 188-93, 211-12

Freud, Sigmund, 3, 123-4, 128 Friedberg, Erhart, 188 friendship, 27, 101 Fromm, Erich, 192 Gadrey, Jean, 5 8 game, 104, 125, 131, 181, 186, 196, 202, 218 Gauchet, M., 143

Index generosity, 4-5, 16, 19, 278, 101, 104, 175, 219 gift: birth and the, 39, 42, 138, 145, 147, 2.11; dark side of, 131; economy of, 136; free, 7, 53, 142, 175, 177; of life, 13, 23, 39; poisoned, 8, 49, 54, 207, 211; postulate of, 177, 182, 194; rules of, 5, 8, 27,40,95,97, 150, 166-7, 183-4,186-7, 197-8, 200, 204, 211, 219; spirit of, 11, 37, 55-6, 58,66, 87,93-4, 195, 205, 212,221;system, 27-8, 40, 46-7, 54, 57, 60-1, 69-71, 74, 945, 105, 172-3, 176-7, 188, 193, 203, 205, 210 Gintis, Herbert, 71 Girard, Rene, 33, 125-7, 138, 209-10

Hocart, Arthur, 139 Hochschild, Arlie, 32-3 Hofstadter, Douglas, 194, 2OO-I, 203-5

holistic, 17, 137 hospitality, 23, 62, 123, 142, 172 host, 172, 203 Huizinga, Johan, 134 Hyde, Lewis, 47, 53-4, 86, 90, 181, 208 hypocrisy, 77, 91, 121, 184, 186-8, 190 implicit, 4, 90, 186-7, I9° indeterminacy, 187-8, 190, 220

individualism, 71, 74, 212; methodological, 16, 126, 137, 212 inheritance, 44-7, 182. See also family Isherwood, Christopher, 113 Gleick,james,213 Andre, Gleick, James,j a c q u e s 2 1 3 G o d b o u t Iteanu, , Jacques, 5 8 , 115 63, 166 Jorion, Paul, 199, 201, 204 Godel, Kurt, 194 justice, 93 Godelier, Maurice, 115, 120 Juteau, Daniele, 37 Goldman, I., 135 Gotman, Anne, 26, 34, 45- Kass, Leon, 88 6, 182 Kaufmann, Jean-Claude, 32 Gouldner, Alvin, 29, 37, Kellerhals, Jean, 31 Kolm, Serge-Christophe, 15 74, 95, 153-4, 219 grace, 16, 84, 101, 146, kula, 13, 103, 105-9, 112.13,140-1, 149, 196 175-6, 195, 219 Kundera, Milan, 3 gracious, 16, 176 Granovetter, M., 208 gratitude, 33,43-4, 53, Lacan, Jacques, 123-7, 132, 140 85,93, 172., 175, 219 Gregory, C.A., 135-38 Laloup, Jean, 40 Latouche, Serge, 106 Guery, Alain, 60, 157 Laurin, Nicole, 37 Guidieri, Remo, 131 Leduc, Mireille, 58 Lefort, Claude, 133, 143, Harris, Melvin, 120 206 hau, 122, 130-1, 133-4, Le Gall, Didier, 34 140, 174, 195 Legendre, Pierre, 45 Herskovits, Melville, 119 Levi-Strauss, Claude, 3, hierarchy, 17, 191, 199, n, 18, 29, 45, 76, 122213; tangled, 200, 202-3 Hirschman, Albert, 23, 51, 25, 131, 135, 140-1, 147-8, 178, 217 63, 191

Index liberation, 50, 158-9, 164, 191, 201, 216 loSS, 12.7-8, l 8 l - 3 , 22.1

Malenfant, Romeo, 68 Malinowski, Bronislaw, 13, 103, 106-8, 180 March, James, 39, 212 Margulis, Lynn, 171, 203 market: economy, 17, 136, 153, 157; system, 14, 31, 38, 51, 113; value, 10, 47. See also mercantile Martin, Claude, 34 Mauss, Marcel, 10-11, 18-

obligation, 9-10, 27, 39, 54, 63, 102-3, Ii:8, 12.1, 129-30, 133, 135, 137, 150-1, 162, 178, 183, 186, 188-9, 197, 207. See also constraint

2-49 redistribution, 45, 51, 57, 62-4, 74, 78, 96, 116, 185, 201 Reeke, George, 199 renunciation, 29,49, 220-1 returns, 5, 92-3, 119, 172, 179, 196, 202, 205 Roberge, Andree, 24 Robillard, Yves, 82-3 Romeder, Jean-Marie, 689 Rowe, Jan, 94, 210

Panoff, Michel, 116 Parry, Jonathan, 177, 185 Pearson, W.H., 153, 160 Perroux, Francois, 15 perverse consequences, 61 Piddocke, Stuart, 120 sacrifice, 43-4, 77, 116, pleasure, 12, 28, 40, 43, 126,129,183-4 74-5, 128, 175, 182-5, Sahlins, Marshall, 18, 53202-3 19, 2-3, 51-2, 59,62,92, 4, 76-7, 121, 123, 140 Polanyi, Karl, 18, 63-4, 102-5,II3-I5,118-19, Salem, Gerard, 50 114, 150 121-4,129-33,140 144, Santa Glaus, 43-5 163-4, 174-6, 178, 181- potlatch, 40, 43, 48, 103Schulte-Tenckhoff, Isa6,108-9, 111-13, 1192, 187, 196-7, 211, 215 20, 140, 197, 203, 208, means-end, 79, 91, 97,155, belle, 103-4, TI9 self-help groups, 66-9, 73 216 196 self-interest, 4-5, 7, 12, 15mercantile: model, 24, 33, power, 12-17, 53, 81, 95, 16, 67, 112, 118, 121, 48, 128, 159, 163-4, 139,141-3, 188-9, 212 163,177,194,197,207present, 8-9, 20, 36-7, 43, 173, 181, 183-4,213, 9, 221 215, 222; relationship, 111, 118, 122-4, 146-7, Servet, Jean-Michel, 113, 174 85,95, 128, 149-51, 116 producer, 37, 67-8, 84-7, 156-7, 159, 173, 179Sgritta, Giovanni, 162 152-6, 158-9, 161-2, 80, 195, 214 shower, 36-7 164-6, 171, 201, 217 merchandise, 13, 39, 53, Simmel, Georg, 64, 75, producer-user, 85, 157-9, 79, no. See also com144, 146, 151-2, 156, 161, 166-7 modity 162-5, 179, l82, 2OI-2, professional, 35, 55-6, 58, Michels, Robert, 66 212, 219 66, 70, 73, 105, 166-7 Minsky, Marvin, 199-200, Simon, Herbert, 212 professionalism, 57 205 Singly, Francois de, 30, money, 24, 27-8, 31, 70, 162, 164, 192 rational choice theory, 16 75, 79-80, 84-5, 104, Sloterdijk, Peter, 3 110-17, T 36,T 56, T 58, rationality, 38, 97, 146, sociality: primary, 15, 53, 163, 196, 204 159-60, 163, 173-4, 137-8, 142-3; secondRaveyre, Marie-Frangoise, 192, 2OI, 212, 219 ary, 15-17, 138 Mortensen, Dale, 30 81 myth, 42, 85-7, 181, 216, Raymond, Henri, 155,167, solidarity, 14, 19, 51-2, 185, 193 171, 202 219 sorcery, 112, 126, 131, recipient, 8, 9, 52-6, 77, 85, 87, 89, 108, 133, neo-classical (economy), 133-4, 191 140, 174, 176, 183, 185-spiritual, 74, 122-3, 144, 30, 135-6, 192 217 7,189 network, 69, 71-2, 74, 76, reciprocity, 27-9, 32-3, 46, spontaneity, 27, 46, 94, 97, 81, 131, 145-6, 155, 101-2, 142, 177, 182-3, 48,66-7,75-7,92,95-7, 166-7, I 74-5,197-202, 101, 115, 125, 130, 140, 199, 204,212 205 squandering, 37, 47-8, 129 175-6, 179-80,187-9; Nicolas, Guy, 66, 109, Sraffa, Piero, 135 generalized, 76 110-12, 121, 124, 127



state: solidarity, 56, 61, 63, 193; system, 36, 58-61, 63, 66, 70, 87, 167, 193; welfare, 4, 19, 51, 56, 58, 60-1, 63, 65, 76, 151, 158, 165, 179, 193, 2.08 state of indebtedness, 3 2-3, 39-40, 50, 177, 211; of mutual indebtedness, 177 stories, 6, 116, 195 strange loop, 197, 200-3, 205, 219, 221 stranger, 5, 24, 30, 44, 56, 61,77, 89,91,96, 1423, 145, 149, 158-9, 179, 2O8,

162-4, 166-7, 174, 185, 189, 191-3, 195, 201, 220 ties, primary, 63, 77, 96 Titmuss, Richard, 5 2-6, 59-63,96, 149, 182 Tocqueville, Alexis de, 194 Touraine, Alaine, 163 transformation, personal, 71,94 transmission, 44, 46, 50, 52, 56, 85, 87, 134, 1401, 147 trust. See confidence Turcot, Gisele, 65 Turkle, Sherry, 200, 205


strategic analysis, 81, 188- undecidability, 187, 190 user, 67-8, 84, 152, 154-5, 9 strategy, 38, 59, 111 158, 162, 165-7, 173, 217 Strathern, Marilyn, 108 supplement, 28, 48, 58, 80- utilitarian, 6, 9, 13-14, 16, 1, 85,93, 174, 211 30-1, 35, 37-8,41-2., 48-50, 79-80, 85, 90-1, surplus, 29, 146, 153, 160, 94, 106-7, 120, 122, 211, 2I5-I6, 221 126, 129, 153, 160, 162, surprise, 4, 50, 164 165-6, 176, 182, 187, Swazey, Judith, 89 194, 204, 206,208-9, 212, 2l8, 221 Three Graces, 20, 95 tie, social, 38, 42-4, 53, 62, utilitarianism, 13, 16, 1819, 30, 77, 101, 122, 75, 80-1, 155,158-60,

137, 162, 198, 216-17 utility, 47, 153-5 value: bonding, 47, 174-5, 184, 188-9, I 9 I , J 95, 202; exchange, 47, 1734, 176, 188; use, 46-7, 49, 82, 112, 173-4, 176, 188 vengeance, 180, 210 Vernant, Jean-Pierre, 35, 155 Veyne, Paul, 78 violence, 36, 108, 134, 182, 188, 208-11, 215 volunteer sector, 5 8 volunteers, 43, 53, 57, 73, 95 Waltz, David, 200 Weber, Florence, 15, 27-8, 83,92-, 97 Weiner, Annette, 106-8, 116, 122 Williams, Herbert, 131 woman, 20, 31, 35-8, 90, in, 123-4, 134, 147, 159,182-3 wrapping, 37,47, 176 zero-sum game, 131