Monday, February 4, 2013

Symbolic Exchange- View of Marcel Mauss


Symbolic exchange is the organizing principle, the cellular structure, of the earliest forms of society. The exchanges that take place within and between clans, within and between tribes and between chiefs and other members of the tribe are more than economic exchanges as we know them in modern societies, and their circulation integrates the members of these societies. 

Marcel Mauss conceptualizes these exchanges as a form of gift giving, and the gift is a ‘‘total social phenomenon.’’ They are multi-dimensional- economic, moral, religious, mythological, juridical, political, aesthetic and historical.

Mauss created his concept from the work of nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropologists in Melanesia, Polynesia, and northwest America.He  wanted to demonstrate the social basis for exchanges as a refutation of the utilitarian notion that individual interests were the foundation for the creation of market relations. There was no natural economy that had preceded political economy. Further, while the tribes of the Americas, Africa and Asia seemed so different to Europeans, Mauss wanted to demonstrate through comparative analysis the underlying similarities as well.

Gift giving was obviously an economic phenomenon, although it did not involve the exchange of equivalent values as it does in market economies. The complex structure of the gift made it more difficult for Europeans to see these groups as inferior primitives whose annihilation or assimilation would be of no loss to humanity.


Gift giving also involved a relation with nature and created a balanced reciprocal relation between society and nature. The domination of nature is a modern phenomenon  these tribes lived in nature.


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