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The Gift is a short book by the French sociologist Marcel Mauss that is the foundation of social theories of reciprocity and gift exchange. Mauss’s original piece was entitled Essai sur le don. Mauss’s essay focuses on the way that the exchange of objects between groups builds relationships between humans. It analyzes the economic practices of various so-called archaic societies and finds that they have a common central practice centered on reciprocal exchange. In them, he finds evidence contrary to the presumptions of modern Western societies about the history and nature of exchange. He shows that early exchange systems center around the obligations to give, to receive, and, most importantly, to reciprocate.
After examining the reciprocal gift-giving practices of each, he finds in them common features, despite some variation. In so doing, he refutes the English tradition of liberal thought, such as utilitarianism, as distortions of human exchange practices. The Gift has been very influential in anthropology, where there is a large field of study devoted to reciprocity and exchange. Marcel Fournier, Marcel Mauss: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 2006, p. The 1954 translation is in the public domain. The black print is crisp, and every Latin sentence starts with a lush red letter.