Science about Giving Gifts

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Receiving and giving gifts have been a part of common human social behaviors since the beginning of history. Even though different societies have different reasons and customs of giving gifts, there is an underlying responsibility of returning a gift after one receiving one. Marcel Mauss asked about why people have a strong desire to return a gift. He argued that gift giving is a fundamental way of bonding people together and there is a social and spiritual reason that force people to return a gift.

The idea of reciprocity of gift giving and inalienability is shown in a clip of the T.V. shows, “ The Office”; Michael and his co-workers did Secret Santa,giving each other gifts anonymously, as a way to celebrate Christmas in the office. Michael gives his coworker Rynn a $400 iPod which exceeding the $20 limit. In return, Michael received an oven mitt which causes him to be very upset.

The activity of Secret Santa and the fact that Michael is very attached to the gift prove Mauss’ claim that “there are no free gifts; gift cycles engage a person in permanent commitments that articulate the dominant institution” (Mary Douglas, foreword ix). Exchanging gifts helps to better maintain a social relationship within a community Gifts bound a community together. As in the clip, the activity of secret Santa not only celebrate Christmas as a holiday tradition but also, more importantly, help build teamwork and boost employee morale. One needs to put time and effort to prepare the gift for his colleague which involve a closer relationship between the giver and the recipient.

The similar strategy of community binding through gift giving is also shown in Trobriands: “These gifts are not free, they are not really interested. These are already, for the most part, counterpetitions, made with a view not only to pay for services and for things but also to maintaining profitable alliances; and they cannot be repudiated, like, for example, the alliance between tribes of fishermen and tribe of farmers and potters” (Mauss 187). Giving and receiving gift serve the idea of reciprocity which is a form of non-market exchange of goods and labor. Reciprocity demonstrates a gesture of peace which can be two individuals or two tribes to better cooperate with each other to satisfy mutual interests without having to use weapons.

In the clip, Michael’s expensive gift does not bring joy to Ryan as Michael expected, but, on the other hand, this gift triggers uncomfortable feelings among his coworkers. The value of Michael’s gift separates him from the rest of the group. This demonstrates the hierarchy through gift giving. Michael considers giving an expensive gift is selfless movement since he spends more money, but in reality, it becomes an attempt of showing his superiority among other people. As the manager of the office, Michael’s expensive gift implicitly proves his rank and wealth.

Mauss claims that “these acts of grandeur are not exempt from egoism” (Mauss 177). To give more is to put one in a more higestrial position, while to receive without giving equal amount back is to subordinate oneself which lead to an imbalanced relationship between the two. The receiver now owe some sort of social debt to the giver as Ryan feels he owes Michael the difference between the value of their gifts. In order to remain equal to the rest of the community, one has the urge to give back a gift. Gift giving also relate to religion on a spiritual level, “religious in a strict sense, concerning magic, animism, and a diffused religious mentality” (Mauss 79).

This spiritual power is known as Hau, which connects the gift, the giver, and the receiver. When one gives away a gift, he is also giving away part of his spirit and he is still attached to the gift he gives. It has a religious and magical hold over the object. Because there are spiritual elements plays in the gift giving and receiving process, it makes impossible to give a free gift. This is why Michael is upset about the oven mitt since he thinks the part he gave out is not fully paid back. For Ryan, it is immoral to hold to Michael’s hau without fully paying back. The social aspect and the spiritual aspect of gift exchange process forces one to give back a gift and form reciprocity.

The agreement that one must return a gift promotes more complicated human activities. The sense of obligation is applied in many institutions in our society today, for example, marriage. A marriage is actually an exchange of good and people between two families. The bride’s family gives dowry to the groom family to compensate for the support for their daughter. It also applies to exchange of women as it is in bilateral cross-cousin marriage systems. Each family gives a bride to the other family. Exchanges through marriages establish permanent alliances between two families. The principle behind all the phenomenon is that all the exchange will balance out.

Even though one did not receive an immediate return as in religion that God will not immediately answer one’s prayer, people who participate holds the belief that every gift given will be returned. As Mauss claims that“All these phenomena are at the same time juridical, economic, religious, and even aesthetic and morphological, etc. They are juridical because they concern private and public law, and a morality that is organized and diffused throughout society; they are strictly obligatory or merely an occasion for praise or blame; they are political and domestic at the same time, relating to social classes as well as clans and families.” (Mauss, 193).


Cite this paper

Science about Giving Gifts. (2021, Jul 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/science-about-giving-gifts/

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