selfinterest that motivated them, for instance, thepharmaceutical industry offering golf weekends to GPs and their partners,concluded by a light scientific programme on the advantages of certainpharmaceutical products. Particularly, the larger business gifts are on thebrink of bribe.
Money gifts may be used for all kinds of dubitable aims: ashush or redemption money, or as a means to obtain certain societal or politicalgains. Fiske’s relational model of the ‘market’ covers the motives of giftsgiven in this spirit. The Principle In the modern gift literature two ways of looking at thegift can be distinguished: an anti-utilitarian and a utilitarian view. Caillé(2000), founder of La Revue du MAUSS (Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste en SciencesSociales), is a representative of the first approach. He objects to an overlyeconomized view of society, encountered in certain branches of social sciencesuch as rational choice theory, and emphasizes the theoretical potential of thegif t to serve as a paradigm for a critical understanding of contemporarysociety. In a similar vein, Godbout (1992) emphasizes how important aspects ofhuman relationships such as forgiveness, love, respect, dignity, compassion arefostered by the gift.
Calculation and reciprocity are not central to the gift,according to him. From the anti-utilitarian perspective, the freedom of the gift is seen as one of its main characteristics, whereas the idea that gifts arefundamentally caught in a cycle of reciprocity, as had so convincingly beenargued by Mauss, is played down. Similarly, in some deconstructionistapproaches to the gift, attempts at recompense or reciprocity are seen asdestroying the possibility of a ‘genuine gift’ (Derrida, 1991); implicit is theidea that real gifts are truly altruistic and are, or should be, ‘unspoiled’ byexpectations or acts of reciprocity. Finally, Alan Schrift, in his collectionof classical and modern essays on the gif t, argues that ‘a narrowlyself-interested notion of reciprocal return’ (Schrift, 1997: 19) has come todominate the current discourse on giving, and advocates viewing the gift as apotential ethic of generosity. In the ‘utilitarian’ approach, assumptions of rationalactors weighing their preferences according to some utility are predominant. Inthis mainly economical tradition, researchers attempt to unravel the enigmaswith which the phenomenon of gift-giving is confronting them: gifts are’inefficient’ (e.
g. givers buy goods different from those receivers wouldlike), and gift-giving cannot be explained by the mere maximizing of one’sself-interest. Stark (1995) argues that motives to give can range from purealtruism to pure selfinterest. People care not only about their own materialpayoffs, but also about such things as fairness, equity and reciprocity (Fehrand Gächter, 2000; Thomas and Worrall, 2002).
Social (non-selfish) preferencesand context-dependent factors have to be taken into account when explaining thegift (Fehr and Smith, 1999; Henrich et al., 2004; Sobel, 2005). Gifts can beseen as economic signals and social symbols (Camerer, 1988). It is interestingto see that insights already firmly established within the fields ofanthropology (such as the range of motives to give) and sociology (for example,the contextual dependency and symbolic signal-functions of the gift) aregradually being rediscovered by economists. In the first, anti-utilitarian approach, reciprocity isopposed to the freedom of genuine gifts and real generosity. The economists’approach investigates the nature of the preferences of the actors involved inreciprocal exchange but fails to provide an analysis why the principle ofreciprocity is so effective. Here I would like to attempt such an explanation.There are (at least) five elements in the principle of reciprocity thatdetermine its effectiveness: (1) the survival value of gift-giving; (2) therecognition of the other implied in reciprocity; (3) the three obligationsinvolved in it; (4) the morally binding character of reciprocity; and (5) thefact that reciprocity combines generosity and self-interest.
At the beginning of this article, I pointed at the survivalvalue of giftgiving highlighted in the quotation by Lévi-Strauss. As MaryDouglas has stated in her foreword to the English translation of Mauss’s essay,the theory of the gift is a theory of human solidarity. Human solidarity isdeeply founded in the idea that it is in the collective interest of all tocooperate and exchange services and gifts with others (Komter, 2005). The survivalvalue of gift-giving can most clearly be witnessed in studies of animalbehaviour.
Primatologist Frans de Waal (1996) describes the workings of theprinciple of reciprocity in a community of chimpanzees. Chimps share andexchange food and groom one another on the basis of this principle: those whodeviate from the rule by not grooming others or sharing food with them, willnot be groomed or allowed to participate in food-sharing practices themselves.They are, so to speak, excommunicated, which is obviously disadvantageous fortheir survival chances. Evolutionary biologists such as Trivers (1971) andDawkins (1976) have analysed the evolutionary advantages of so-calledreciprocal altruism. Among animals as well as humans, altruistic behaviourserves the preservation of the members of the species because it isreciprocated by similar behaviour displayed by others. In the words of thepsychologist Ronald Cohen: ‘Because giving is such an adaptive feature for themaintenance of social life, it is so ubiquitous among human societies’ (Cohen,1978: 96). A second aspect of the principle of reciprocity is itsimplicit assumption of the recognition of the other person as a potential ally.The social and cultural system on which archaic societies were based rested onthe mutual acceptance of the other as partner in gift exchange.
Recognition ofthe other as a human being proves to be an essential precondition for thecoming into being of patterns of exchange. Without recognition of the personand his or her identity, no reciprocal exchange is possible. The significanceof recognition of the other is echoed in the accounts of both classical andcontemporary thinkers.
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith developedsome views on the mirroring of the imaginary viewpoints of the other in our ownminds (Smith, 2002). These internalized others serve as the basis of our moralsensitivity. In the 20th century, similar ideas were elaborated upon by GeorgeHerbert Mead (1962). Similarly, in Hannah Arendt’s view (1978) adoption of theplurality of other people’s viewpoints in our own minds is the only way totranscend our own, interest-driven self and the limitations of our ownjudgement. Recognition of the humanity of self and other is tantamount torecognition of the interdependency of self and other, and interdependency isthe basis for social bonds and human solidarity. For the recognition ofhumanity implies that other people’s needs and their mutual dependency for thefulfilment of these needs are recognized. More recently, the German socialphilosopher Honneth (1992) analyses reciprocity as an issue of recognition. Inorder to be able to feel self-respect, people need the respect and regard ofothers.
Also Habermas (1989) regards identity as the result of processes ofmutual recognition, and reciprocal recognition as a basic assumption underlyingsocial ties and solidarity. According to him, the basic principles of modernsolidarity are not fundamentally different from the mutual expectations ofreciprocity existing in premodern societies. A third core aspect of the reciprocity principle is manifested in Mauss’s famous statement about the three obligations: the obligationto give, the obligation to receive and the obligation to reciprocate. Theprinciple of reciprocity is succinctly symbolized in this threefold obligation.
As Mauss has pointed out, to refuse to give, to fail to invite, but also torefuse to accept, is tantamount to declaring war. It is not the refusal of theobject itself, but the rejection of the bond of alliance that is at stake here.As long as the recipient of a gift has not given back, the giver holds acertain power over the recipient. This power is equivalent to ‘the spirit ofthe gift’. This spirit is believed to wish to return to the original giver. Thething given is invested with life and seeks to return to its place of origin.Things circulating in the hands of men and women are the constituents of theprinciple of reciprocity.
As a consequence of these obligations, a perpetualcycle of exchanges is set up within and between generations. Social ties arecreated, sustained and strengthened by means of reciprocal gifts. These acts ofgift exchange are at the basis of human solidarity. A fourth aspect, implied in the third one, is the morallybinding character of reciprocity.
The three obligations are not enforced bysome external power, but are internalized moral duties. Having received a giftcauses a feeling of gratitude to arise, and gratitude can be considered themoral force that brings us to return the gift (Komter, 2005). In his article’Faithfulness and Gratitude’, Simmel argues that all contacts among humanbeings rest on the scheme of giving and returning the equivalence, and that alarge part of these exchanges can be enforced by the law (Simmel, 1950).Gratitude is, according to Simmel, a supplement of the legal order. Inrelationships that lie outside the realm of the law – and this applies to theentire network of informal social ties between human beings – gratitude acts asthe force that binds people to one another in an informal social contract.Without the moral obligation implied in gratitude, there would be no basis fortrust and endurable social relationships.
Finally, one can wonder why the informal contract generatedby reciprocity is so effective in creating the social cement of society. Theanswer lies in the sublime reconciliation of individual and social interestsresulting from it. Reciprocity represents the elegant combination ofself-interested concerns with the requirements of social life. As Marcel Mausssaid: ‘Material and moral life, and exchange, function.
in a form that is bothdisinterested and obligatory’ (Mauss, 1990: 33). According to Mauss, generosityand self-interest are linked in the act of gift-giving. The thought thataltruism and egoism are not contradictory in gift-giving is highlyilluminating. Gifts have the superb characteristic of being at the same timefree and obligatory, altruistic and self-oriented. It is exactly thisdoublesidedness of the gift that makes it such a fortunate solution for thefragility and insecurity inherent in any newly developing social relationship. Conclusions We have seen that there is an endless variation in theobjects used for gifts, the occasions at which gifts are given and the ritualssurrounding gift-giving, and that there are huge cultural differences in eachof these aspects of the gift. Moreover, the spirit of the gift varies fromdisinterested generosity to the seeking of personal gain, with numerous shadesand gradations in-between.
Therefore, my first conclusion is that the gift doesnot exist, in the sense that there is not one general, unequivocal andnon-ambiguous sense in which to understand the gift.Second, there is nothing inherent in the gift that makes itmorally good or bad. Gifts can help to maintain social ties between shrewdbusiness partners lusting for money and power, or those who have outrightcriminal intentions, as well as between those striving to realize some nobleaim or collective interest. Gifts can be altruistic and agonistic, beneficialas well as detrimental.
The moral meaning of the gift depends on the nature ofthe social relationship within which it is given, and on the conscious andunconscious purposes and motives of those involved in that relationship. A third conclusion, then, concerns the nature of socialrelationships and their connection to the spirit of the gift. I described fourbasic types of relationships between human beings, respectively based oncommunity, authority, equality and market, and stated that each of these fourrelational models corresponds to a specific category of motives to give.My fourth conclusion pertains to the principle ofreciprocity underlying the gift. Five elements of reciprocity seem to determineits supreme efficacy: its survival value, the recognition of the other, thethree obligations implied in it, the moral bond it creates and finally, thecombination of altruistic and self-oriented concerns represented in it. Thedifferent assumptions about human nature underlying anti-utilitarianism andutilitarianism do not exclude each other. Human beings are both generous and calculative,sometimes even both at the same time.
The gift reflects a multi-purposesymbolic ‘utility’ (Khalil, 1997) that transcends both utilitarianism andanti-utilitarianism. Like the gift, reciprocity is not morally good in and ofitself: reciprocal actions do not necessarily lead to a better society.Moreover, reciprocity not only means that gifts are followed by counter-gifts,but it can also take the negative form of revenge answered by counter-revenge:an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Gouldner, 1973). As Frans de Waal(1996: 136) rightly observes: ‘Reciprocity can exist without morality; therecan be no morality without reciprocity.’