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This book is the result of more than ten years of research and teaching

about the themes of the gift and solidarity. It all started in 1992 when, in

conversations with anthropologist Willy Jansen, I was put on the track

of the gift literature. This was followed by an invitation from the Dutch

newspaper Trouw on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary to conduct

astud y into gift giving in the Netherlands, together with the sociologist

Kees Schuyt. The theme proved not only interesting because of its interdisciplinarity

and theoretical richness but also surprisingly mundane

and amusing. Suddenly it was less sinking to be asked about “your work”:

everybody gives gifts to others, and everybody has something to tell about

totally wrong gifts received or about dubious motives to give a gift to another

person. During the second half of the 1990s a remarkable development

occurred in the political tide inHolland: after having led a hidden

existence during several decades, the themes of solidarity and social cohesion

suddenly came to be exposed in full daylight. A broadly felt concern

about the current state of social cohesion and solidarity in our society

gave rise to extensive political and public debate. Policy documents were

written and plans were made to counter the perceived threat of a dissolving

community and diminished citizenship. Both the Dutch government

and the DutchCouncil of Scientific Research reserved money for research

in the field of social cohesion and solidarity.

From the beginning the connection between my previous research

theme of the gift and that of cohesion and solidarity had been clear to me.

For had the classical anthropologists not convincingly argued that gifts

confirm social ties and that the theory of the gift is a theory on human

solidarity? Extension of my former theme to that of cohesion and

solidarity was therefore a logical step. Inmy teaching I started to incorporate

the classical and modern theories on social solidarity, and as of 2001

I became a co-researcher in a large-scale study about family solidarity,

the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study, financed by the Dutch Council of

Scientific Research. One question, however, had become more and more

pressing over the years: why are there so few theoretical connections and

crosswise references between the gift theory and theories on solidarity,

when it is clear as sunlight that both concern the coming into being and

the maintenance of social community? This question is central to this


During a couple of delightful holidays in aBretonseaside hamlet the job

has been accomplished. This would not have been possible without the

help of a number of colleagues and other people who offered their views

and suggestions for improvement. I want to thank Jack Burgers, Louk

Hagendoorn, Mirjam van Leer, Maarten Prak, and Wilma Vollebergh

for their critical reading of former versions of Chapters 8 and 9. I a m

also grateful to Godfried Engbersen for his help in finding a suitable

terminology to describe the transformation of solidarity since the late

nineteenth century. The anonymous readers for Cambridge University

Press have been an enormous help, and I appreciate their careful reading

and invaluable suggestions. Finally, I am very grateful to Paul Verhey

for his interest, patience, and continuous friendship, both in the Breton

hamlet and elsewhere.

Several of the chapters of this book have been published previously. They

have been brought together herewith the explicit purpose of creating one

coherent whole that is more than the sum of its parts. Here follows the

acknowledgment of the origins of the various chapters. A former version

of Chapter 1 has been published as “Heirlooms, Nikes and bribes: Towards

a sociology of things,” Sociology 35 (2001): 59–75. A former, Dutch

version of Chapter 2 has been published as “De psychologie van de gift.

Over geven, vergeven en vergif” [The psychology of the gift:About giving,

forgiving and poison], Psychologie & Maatschappij 65 (1993): 306–319. A

slightly different version of Chapter 3 has been published as “Gratitude

and gift exchange,” in R. Emmons and M. McCullough (eds.), The Psychology

of Gratitude (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 195–

212. A former version of Chapter 4 has been published as “Women, gifts

and power,” in A. Komter (ed.), The Gift: An Interdisciplinary Perspective

(Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996), pp. 119–132. A former,

Dutch version of Chapter 5 has been published as chapter 2 in A. Komter,

J. Burgers, and G. Engbersen,Het cement van de samenleving. Een verkennende

studie naar solidariteit en cohesie [The cement of society: An exploratory

study of solidarity and cohesion] (Amsterdam: Amsterdam

University Press, 2000), pp. 26–42. Parts of Chapter 6 have been published

as “The disguised rationality of solidarity,” Journal of Mathematical

Sociology 25 (2001): 385–401; and as “Reciprocity as a principle of

exclusion: Gift giving in the Netherlands,” Sociology 30 (1996): 299–316.

Pa rts of Cha pter 7 have been published in A. Komter andW. Vollebergh,

“Solidarity in Dutch families: Family ties under strain?” Journal of Family

Issues 23 (2) (2002): 171–189. Chapters 8 and 9 have served as the basis

of my inaugural speech “Solidarity and sacrifice,” Utrecht University,

January 2003.