The Gift:M eanings andMotives

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InPart Iof thisbookwe studied the basic meaningsonwhichgift exchange

is founded. In Chapter 1 things were analyzed as developing meaning in

the context of social interaction and mutual communication between

people. Things evoke various emotions in people. Human beings expose

things to an “exchange of sacrifices” by exchanging them with others.

The value and meaning of things is derived from their “sacrifice” in

exchange rituals. Four broad categories of meaning, based on Alan Page

Fiske’s models of social relationships, are affectivity, with solidarity and

friendship as keywords; asymmetry and power inequality, in which one’s

status or power in relationshipswith other people is emphasized; equality

between those involved in a relationship; and instrumentality, with selfinterest,

competition, and struggle as central notions. By focusing our

analysis on gifts as one important category of things, we confirmed the

four broad-meaning categories by some empirical data on gift exchange.

An important element in gift giving is the concept of sacrifice; in a gift not

only is an object sacrificed but also the identity of the giver or recipient

may be sacrificed in the exchange.

Chapter 2 addressed the social and psychological patterns of giving

and receiving. The principle of reciprocity proved to be effective in the

“archaic” societies studied by anthropologists and also in gift exchange in

aWestern society (in this case the Netherlands). Themutual recognition

of the identity of giver and recipient is the precondition for gift exchange.

Reciprocal recognition of other human beings, of their general human

worth as well as of their individual person and identity, seems also to

be the moral basis for solidarity, even though this is not stated explicitly

in theories on solidarity. Fiske’s four relational models can again be

recognized in some empirical data about motives to give. Although not

completely covering all the motives reported, affectivity, equality, power,

and instrumentality again prove to be basic motivational dimensions of

gift giving. Gifts can be both positive and negative; they can create as well

as disturb or undermine social ties.

In Chapter 3 we saw that the cycle of gift and countergift is sustained

by means of gratitude. Gratitude has a spiritual, magical, or religious

layer expressed in the mainly non-Western idea that people are part of a

natural cycle and should give back to nature what riches they have taken

from it. In a second layer, gratitude is conceived as a moral virtue and an

important aspect of character. The third and fourth layers consist of the

social and cultural meanings of gratitude: gratitude as the moral basis

of both reciprocity and social bonds, and of community and a shared

culture. In theories on social ties and solidarity the concept of gratitude

is notoriously absent, even though gratitude is the core of the reciprocal

moral obligation involved in many instances of solidarity. Family solidarity,

for instance, is often inspired by a generalized sense of gratitude

(also called delayed reciprocity):my parents have raised me and given me

so much; now it is my turn to care for them. And, at least as common,

the lack of gratitude due to the parents’ failure to contribute to one’s

own well-being can turn into anger and resentment, and act as a forceful

motive to refrain from solidarity.

Chapter 4 focused on the gendered meaning of gift giving. Because

women are the more generous gift givers, the analysis considered the still

existing power inequality between men and women that results from the

difference in their disposable material and nonmaterial resources.

Women and men benefit alternatively from women’s greater generosity.

On the one hand, men may derive certain benefits from being less involved

in gift giving than women: they are less constrained by the obligations

connected to the “gift work” while at the same time receiving

numerous gifts themselves. For women, the risk of gift giving (remember

that not only material gifts but also nonmaterial ones were included in

the analysis) may be to lose their own autonomy and identity by being

overly self-sacrificing. On the other hand, women’s greater share in gift

giving may yield them some substantial advantages. Through their gift

giving women are the prime intermediaries in creating and affirming

social ties, which, presumably, result in social capital. Women are more

accustomed than men to express their concern for other people in concrete

acts of benevolence, and this can act as a boomerang so that theywill

proportionally receive concern and benevolence in return. Women play

a significant role in the production and maintenance of the social texture

of our society. In some of its manifestations, then, solidarity is clearly

gendered.