Access options available:. Ethnohistory By Maurice Godelier. Translated by Nora Scott. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Godelier has divided his book into four sections.
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Access options available:. Ethnohistory By Maurice Godelier. Translated by Nora Scott. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Godelier has divided his book into four sections. In the first, which he calls "the Legacy of Mauss," he develops a reading of Mauss's classic text, "The Gift," first published in L'Anee sociologique in The Enigma of the Gift would be worth reading for this alone. Not only does Godelier provide new insights into one of the most heavily scrutinized works of comparative ethnology one sometimes has the feeling one is reading the notes Godelier has scribbled over the years into the margins of his own copy of Mauss's text , but he goes on to summarize much of the recent work on the topic, especially as it relates to Godelier's area of ethnographic expertise, Melanesia.
In the second section of the book the author continues his discussion of Mauss by relating what is circulated in exchange to what is kept back. Here he builds on Annette Weiner's insights that what is unexchangeable heirlooms, clan treasures, symbols of office, etc. The third section of the book relates what is not exchanged to the sacred, which Godelier views as the ultimate alienation, working on both a collective and an individual level.
As an analytical tool, this perspective helps him to illuminate the notion of original debt in the religions of many ancient state-level societies, where the gods are held to create the conditions of existence, and humans, no matter what or how much they give, can never cancel the obligations this debt creates. As an ideology this notion underwrites both hierarchy and the continuous flow of material resources to those who are [End Page ] able, in states like Egypt and, as has been discussed for some time, Mesoamerica, to insert themselves in the place of the gods.
Finally, like Mauss himself, Godelier ends his work with a wide-ranging discussion of what gifting means for our current situation, especially with regards to charity and social solidarity. Although its focus is gift exchange, the book is also a primer on Durkheimian sociology, Marxism and religion, Freudian and Lacanian psychology and is organized around key contradictions, or "enigmas," these philosophies make salient—all informed by a lifetime of thinking, reading, and experience.
In what sense is The Enigma of the Gift historical? Godelier's discussion of Mauss could be considered an intellectual history, and he is certainly interested in process and change over time. However, a basic premise of the work, which he shares with Mauss and many later theorists, is that the gift is an elementary social principle whose origins lie at the beginnings of collective life.
He thus approaches change within an evolutionary framework, which can be seen in his concern for the way relatively egalitarian Great Men systems change into Potlach or Big Men systems the answer being in part that wealth items come to stand for persons as well as things, indirect exchange replaces direct exchange, and a number of prestigious positions exist that are filled through competitive exchange.
He arrives at this and other conclusions by deducing the path of change from a rigorous comparison of societies at distinct evolutionary stages. In other words, change is logical and epochal rather than contingent and specific. It is not clear how this sort of "phylogenetic" view fits with more recent work on the topic, which has been organized around the twin tasks of historicizing the exchanges of particular societies and relating the gift and reciprocal exchange to global flows of money, capital, and ideas.
They may not be easily reconciled because the question of origins and the interest in identifying the fundamental nature of social relationships, which figure so prominently in Godelier's work, are simply not addressed in later work.
Ironically these efforts are, in part, a legacy of Godelier, whose early remarks on gifting Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.
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The Enigma of the Gift
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The Enigma of the Gift. Maurice Godelier. When we think of giving gifts, we think of exchanging objects that carry with them economic or symbolic value. But is every valuable thing a potentially exchangeable item, whose value can be transferred?