Accompanied by a brazilian coffee, I decided this morning to revisit Marcel Mauss anthropological/sociological classical work “The Gift- The form and reason for exchange in archaic societies”. The essay was first published in 1925 in french, but translated into english in 1954. This is my interpretation of Mauss.
“The Gift” is the foundation of theories of reciprocity, and is frequently sited by social scientists. By reading of others works from all over the world, Mauss examine the function of the gift. The exchange of objects or services creates relationships, he argue. In other words, Mauss try to show us that the practice of giving creates social bonds. In society there is an obligation to give, to receive and to reciprocate- to give back. To not receive a gift is a declaration of war. To receive a gift put you in a kind of dept and the giver has an ascendancy on the receiver until the gift is reciprocated. And in this way an invicible bond is tied between groups (see book cover), and I would say the same function apply between individuals. Even that this study was of archaic societies, it is widely used even today to explain dynamics of social life.
Just think about how the practice of giving works in your life. For example how do you feel at christmas if one of your friends giving you this nice expencive gift and you haven´t given anything back? Or if a person borrowing money from you and never pay it back? Or if your colleague helps you move, you would feel obligated to help him/her to paint the house. It can even manifest as something simple as you are smiling to a person and that person doesn´t smile back (or smile back). Or if someone give you a payment, they will expect that you do the job and you will also feel obligated to carry out those tasks.
It is a story about that which is in between human beings. The dynamic of giving, getting and giving back is striking in our everyday lives. Even if the reciprocal function of the gift can be used with good or bad intentions, the baseline in Mauss is that here is no such a thing as a free gift.