The return of the gift : European history of a global idea


The return of the gift : European history of a global idea

Harry Liebersohn

Cambridge University Press, 2011

  • : hbk
  • : pbk

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Includes bibliographical references (p. 199-204) and index



This book is a history of European interpretations of the gift from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth century. Reciprocal gift exchange, pervasive in traditional European society, disappeared from the discourse of nineteenth-century social theory only to return as a major theme in twentieth-century anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy and literary studies. Modern anthropologists encountered gift exchange in Oceania and the Pacific Northwest and returned the idea to European social thought; Marcel Mauss synthesized their insights with his own readings from remote times and places in his famous 1925 essay on the gift, the starting-point for subsequent discussion. The Return of the Gift demonstrates how European intellectual history can gain fresh significance from global contexts.


  • Introduction
  • 1. The crisis of the gift: Warren Hastings and his critics
  • 2. Liberalism, self-interest, and the gift
  • 3. The selfless 'savage': theories of primitive communism
  • 4. Anthropologists and the power of the gift: Boas, Thurnwald, Malinowski
  • 5. Marcel Mauss and the globalized gift
  • Conclusion.

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