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unknown people “ there are interesting similarities connecting them to
the gifts given in archaic society. Outside the sphere of the market, our
society is still ¬rmly rooted in a system of gift exchange. It is impossible to
think of a society without gifts being circulated: gifts still create and main-
tain social bonds, thereby continually contributing to the revitalization
of society. Some years later Maurice Godelier published The Enigma of the
Gift (1999 [1996]) in which he reopens the anthropological debate on the
meanings and functions of gift giving for the constitution of social ties and
community. Returning to the classical works by Marcel Mauss and others,
he tries to disentangle the enigmas that kept surrounding the gift in the
eyes of many anthropologists. Drawing on the work of the late Annette
Weiner, he shows that a certain category of objects can be given and kept
simultaneously. Particularly objects deriving their meaning from birth,
death, ancestors, or sacred powers, and which are therefore associated


with human as well as cultural reproduction, are given as well as kept at
the same time: their ownership is inalienable in the end, while the right
of usage may be passed on to others. Another interesting publication is
The Sociology of Giving (1999) by the German sociologist-anthropologist
Helmuth Berking. Like Godbout he compares present-day giving with
gift exchange in “traditional” societies and also arrives at the conclusion
that giving and taking are elementary activities upon which the building
of community still rests. In addition to examining the motives, occasions,
and emotional norms of gift giving, he explores the historical, symbolic,
and linguistic roots of the moral vocabulary related to gift giving. The
concepts of hospitality, sacri¬ce, and gratitude are important elements
in this vocabulary.
A recent publication is the interdisciplinary collection of essays edited
by Mark Osteen, The Question of the Gift (2002). The volume com-
prises contributions from anthropology, literary criticism, economics,
philosophy, and classics and poses questions such as: what is the role of
noncommercial gift exchange in creating communities, how do people
deal with objects outside the sphere of consumption, what is the relation-
ship between gifts and commodities, to what extent are artworks gifts,
is a really free gift possible or desirable? Important elements in the book
are the concepts of power and reciprocity, and ample attention is given
to the ethical foundations of kinship, generosity, and gratitude. Osteen
feels that a too strong emphasis on (calculating) reciprocity and the im-
plicitly economic assumptions of classical gift theory underestimate the
spontaneous and sometimes altruistic character of the gift. He thus takes
a stance that is contrary to Mauss™s classical view that in the end every gift
is based on the principle of do ut des (I give so that you give in return).
Remarkably the book™s index does not contain any reference to solidarity;
although Durkheim does ¬gure in the book a number of times, his theory
on social solidarity is not mentioned.
Recent publications on solidarity are of a somewhat different nature:
more conceptual and theoretical, and frequently inspired by political,


social, and moral philosophy. Their point of departure is often normative:
what future is left for solidarity, how can we conceptualize it in such a way
that it ¬ts our modernized society? A German collection of essays edited
by Kurt Bayertz (1998), for instance, examines the moral and historical
context of solidarity, in addition to offering perspectives from psychology
and biology. Solidarity is also analyzed as a social norm and a civil right.
Chapters on international solidarity and solidarity in the (post)modern
society are included in the volume as well. In another German study that
is mainly conceptual as well, Rainer Zoll (2000) discusses the juridical
and French origins of the concept. He traces the conceptual history of
solidarity and attempts to draw up the balance of contemporary social
solidarity, in particular worker solidarity, and some new forms of soli-
darity in our society. He agrees with Habermas™s normative conception
of solidarity as tied to justice. In Zoll™s view a critical test for a new con-
ception of solidarity would be the way it would deal with our relationship
to strangers.
In the Netherlands some studies have appeared that exhibit the same
theoretical and conceptual concern as the German publications. The vol-
ume edited by de Wit and Manschot (1999), for instance, offers a critical
reconstruction of the traditional ways of conceptualizing solidarity. The
authors re¬‚ect upon how the ethical components of solidarity can still
be of value to our modern democratic societies. They present theoretical
arguments that connect solidarity to cosmopolitism, tolerance, and the
acceptance of cultural minorities. From the perspective of the law Dorien
Pessers (1999) offers an interesting analysis of the concept of reciprocity,
which she considers an essential aspect of solidarity. In her interdisci-
plinary study she examines what this concept might mean for the various
domains of law.
A British study by Turner and Rojek (2001), ¬nally, attempts to clar-
ify how (post)modern society deals with the principles of scarcity, on
the one hand, and solidarity, on the other. This study not only offers
an overview of existing social scienti¬c theories on solidarity but also


presents a normative view on the way solidarity might be given shape in
a modern society.
In the present book I attempt to bring together two rather unrelated
traditions of social scienti¬c thinking about social ties: sociological the-
ory on solidarity and anthropological theory on the cultural and social
meanings of gift exchange. The purpose is to explore how both theoretical
traditions may complete and enrich each other, and how these combined
insights may illuminate manifestations of contemporary solidarity. The
book™s main argument is that a theory of solidarity could gain signi¬-
cantly from incorporating some of the core insights from the theoretical
and empirical work on the gift. This theoretical argument is supported by
empirical illustrations drawn from research on gift giving and on various
forms of solidarity.

The book consists of three parts. The focus of Part I is on the socio-
cultural, social-psychological, and gendered meanings of gift exchange.
Chapter 1 starts at the most concrete level by investigating the trajectories
of things that pass between people and the different types of meaning
things become invested with as a consequence of their circulation be-
tween people. In turn, these meanings can explain how things come to
play a role in gift exchange and, by that means, in creating social ties.
We are strongly inclined to regard things as mute and inert. In many
anthropological and sociological writings “mute” commodities are op-
posed to gifts, which are supposed to have a “spirit” and to have rich
symbolic and social meanings. However, things also have “social lives”
that bestow them with symbolic value. While things derive their symbolic
meaning from exchange, the continuation of exchange is guaranteed by
means of the symbolic meanings of things. This chapter investigates the
social meanings of things by distinguishing four fundamental models
of people™s relationships to each other and to things; these models have


affection, power, equality, and utility as their respective bases. Empirical
research data on gift giving are used to illustrate the models.
The different patterns of giving and receiving and the meanings of
things-as-gifts are further explored in Chapters 2, 3, and 4. Chapter 2
presents some empirical data on social and psychological patterns of giv-
ing and receiving. Dutch research shows a strong relationship between
giving and receiving: doing well has its reward. Apparently the principle
of reciprocity also applies to Western society. In addition to its social and
cultural meanings the theme of the gift has great social-psychological
signi¬cance. The main psychological functions of gift giving are, ¬rst,
the creation of a moral bond between giver and recipient and, second,
the maintenance (or disturbance) of this bond. Gifts as “tie signs” dis-
close the nature of the tie between giver and recipient. They reveal how we
perceive the recipient while at the same time showing something about
our own identity. In gift giving a range of psychological motives may be
involved, varying from the desire to express love, gratitude, and friend-
ship, to motives related to insecurity and anxiety, and to the conscious
or unconscious need to offend, insult, or exploit another person. Gifts
may be deceptive insofar as their manifest and latent intentions do not
coincide. Empirical illustrations of offensive and embarrassing gifts are
also presented. Participants in reciprocal gift exchange are involved in a
psychological balance of debt, which should never be in complete equilib-
rium. Someone has to remain in debt toward the other, but both parties
may have different ideas on the magnitude of the debt and on how long
it can last. The debt balance is therefore a source of relational risks.
Gratitude is the subject of Chapter 3. According to anthropologists
one of the main characteristics of the gift is that it should “move”: gifts
should be given and reciprocated. If a gift is kept too long, the recipient
will develop a bad reputation. Gifts are not inactive but possess something
of the original giver. This “spirit of the gift” wants to return to its place
of origin; only then is the gift cycle completed and can a new cycle be


set in motion. Gifts can only bear fruit if people show their gratitude
in a proper way through passing the gift along. Gratitude may also be
considered from a psychological point of view “ as a moral virtue, a
personality characteristic, or asset. It is something one has to learn, and
some people are better equipped to learn it than others. The quality of
the earliest contact with the primary caring ¬gure seems to be at the
basis of the capacity to feel and to express gratitude. A sociological view
stresses gratitude as part of the chain of reciprocity, or “the moral memory
of mankind,” as Simmel called it. As such, gratitude ful¬lls important
cohesive functions for society. A culture or society deprived of all acts
of gratitude will inevitably break down. Issues of power and dependence
may complicate gratitude. Only in more or less balanced relationships
can gratitude unfold the best of its powers.
In Chapter 4 the gendered meanings of gift giving are discussed. Al-
though Malinowski recognizes that women have a prominent role in
certain ceremonial actions, he does not mention any active female part
in gift exchange; all his examples are from men. L´ vi-Strauss discusses the
practice occurring in many non-Western societies of exchanging women
as “the supreme gift.” The exchange of women as marriage partners is
supposed to be at the base of systems of kinship relations and thereby
forms the structural fundament of culture and society as such. More
recent work of Strathern and Weiner suggests that women™s role in gift
giving is not restricted to being merely the object of exchange but that
they have an important and autonomous part in gift exchange. Empiri-
cal studies in Western society demonstrate that women, far from being
passive and insigni¬cant, play a prominent role in gift exchange: they not
only give more gifts than men “ material as well as nonmaterial ones “
but they are also the greatest recipients. Women™s gift giving seems to be
caught in a paradox. On the one hand, gift exchange is a powerful means
of creating social relationships and af¬rming ties; on the other, by giving
too much, women incur the risk of losing their own identities, given their
unequal societal and economic power compared with that of men.


In Part II the theories on gift giving and solidarity are brought to-
gether and their strengths and weaknesses compared. Chapter 5 examines
how the theory of the gift can be connected to that of human solidarity.
Classical sociologists such as Durkheim, Weber, and Parsons highlight
the affective, normative, and instrumental foundations of social ties and
solidarity: people come to share norms regulating their interactions and
transactions, but they also develop functional relations based on more
instrumental and self-interested concerns. In the work of classical an-
thropologists like Malinowski and Mauss, in addition to these motives,
still others come to the fore, for instance, giving based on feelings of mu-
tual obligation. L´ vi-Strauss argues that power and prestige may also be a
driving force behind gift giving. In classical sociological and anthropolog-
ical theories on social ties, generosity and self-interest are not necessarily
opposites. In more modern theories, such as Hechter™s, Mayhew™s, or
Etzioni™s, this insight seems to have been lost. By combining sociological
and anthropological theory, four main motives behind both exchange
processes and solidarity come to the fore: affection, power, reciprocity,
and self-interest or utility. These motives correspond to the models pre-
sented in Chapter 1. Yet another element connects the theories of solidar-
ity and the gift, although it has received less attention in sociology than
in anthropology: the ritual aspects inherent in the interaction processes
that generate solidarity and reciprocal obligation.
The fact that solidarity may also have more negative and excluding
aspects is addressed in Chapter 6. This chapter presents some empirical
data derived from Dutch research on giving money to charity, giving
time to volunteer work, and giving informal care to other people. In the
Netherlands during the past decade the amount of money given each
year to charity continues to rise. Since 1980 the portion of the Dutch
population active in some form of volunteer work amounts to about one-
third. Giving care offers the same pattern: since the 1970s those giving
informal care to other people total about one-third. However, some in-
herent failures are connected to these positive manifestations of solidarity.


For instance, research on gift giving shows that those who give many gifts
(material as well as nonmaterial) also receive many gifts in return, but
those who do not give much themselves “ often because their social and
material conditions do not allow them to do so “ are also the poorest re-
ceivers. Informal giving mainly bene¬ts those who already receive much;
those who need it most receive the least. Solidarity may thus act as “a
principle of exclusion.” Solidarity appears to be selective in yet another
way: those who offer care prefer their own family members and nearest
relations over other persons in need of care. Those who do not have many
family relations or near relatives are therefore at a disadvantage.
Traditionally the family has been considered one of the most impor-
tant cornerstones of a harmonious and solidary society. Therefore family
solidarity is the focus of Chapter 7. The combined demographic devel-
opments of the growing number of old and very old people and the
decreasing number of young people have caused an increasing concern
about family solidarity. Changed relationships between genders have con-
tributed to this concern as well. Several theoretical dimensions of family
solidarity are distinguished, and some empirical data on attitudes, feel-
ings, and motives related to family solidarity are presented, as well as
data on the amount of care provided to elderly family members. Family
solidarity does not exist in a social void. The macrolevel of welfare state
provisions is in¬‚uencing the microlevel of informal care within the family,
and vice versa, as some empirical ¬ndings have indicated. While intergen-
erational care is still provided on a large scale, particularly by women, the
motives underlying it seem to be based on a kind of “prescribed altruism.”
Family solidarity is not necessarily or exclusively something positive, as is
shown is Chapter 6. Both the provider and the recipient may experience
it as a burden. Moreover, family solidarity cannot be isolated from the
ambivalent nature of family ties in general.
Part III addresses some changes in contemporary solidarity and at-
tempts to draw up the balance from the foregoing chapters. In Chapter 8
some broad societal changes supposedly having an impact on solidarity


are brie¬‚y sketched: individualization, diversi¬cation, and globalization.
Cultural critics often cherish a rather gloomy picture of the consequences
of these developments for the mutual concern and social commitment
of contemporary citizens. On the one hand, due to the individualization
process social ties would have become more transitory and citizens would
feel less committed to politics and societal concerns. A new personality
type more self-reliant than ever before would have come into existence.
On the other hand, the increased cultural and religious pluriformity
and the growing multiculturalism in Western societies are assumed to
have created much insecurity. Globalization is believed to create new
opportunities while at the same time generating new social inequality.
To counterbalance the views of these cultural critics, Chapter 8 presents
also a more factual, empirically based overview of contemporary solidar-
ity. Some traditional forms of solidarity have declined, others have been
maintained, and also new manifestations of global and local solidarity
have made their appearance. Civil solidarity as expressed in public be-
havior toward fellow citizens and the public space itself seems to have
Chapter 9, ¬nally, combines the insights derived from the previous
chapters in a theoretical model with various dimensions of solidarity. One
of these is the continuum of gift and sacri¬ce. The concept of sacri¬ce is
hardly encountered in sociological theories on solidarity. Nevertheless,
sacri¬ce is a characteristic aspect of some forms of solidarity. In anthro-
pological theories gift and sacri¬ce are conceived as two manifestations of
one underlying dimension. In the ¬rst case what is given is kept intact; in
the second it is “sacri¬ced” (destroyed, burned, slaughtered, killed, and
the like). In the theoretical model that is presented, the gift manifesta-
tion of the supposed solidarity dimension relies on mutual recognition,
dependency, and reciprocity, whereas the sacri¬ce manifestation more
often involves denial of personal autonomy and “otherness.” Solidarity
in small-scale social units is more likely to exhibit characteristics of the
gift, whereas large-scale group solidarity is modeled more on sacri¬ce.


With the help of this model it becomes possible to understand under
which conditions solidarity will have positive or negative consequences
for those involved. Finally, an attempt is made to characterize the essence
of the transformation that solidarity has undergone in the course of the
past century: from Durkheim™s “organic” solidarity toward a solidarity
that could be called “segmented,” because the former mutual dependency
of individuals and groups for the ful¬llment of their needs is increasingly
being replaced by autonomously operating segments that are showing
solidarity on a voluntary and self-chosen basis.
Two ¬nal remarks are in order here, the ¬rst one about my use of
concepts. It is obvious that the concept of solidarity harbors a multitude
of dimensions and covers a range of phenomena of a very different nature:
from giving to a beggar to organized worker solidarity, from offering
help to your neighbor to walking in a silent march, from doing volunteer
work to global networking. I deliberately refrain from attempts to give a
full-blown de¬nition of the concept that includes some aspects and leaves
others out “ which is what de¬nitions amount to “ because it renders every
attempt contestable by necessity. I therefore decided to include those
dimensions and manifestations of solidarity that are habitually accepted
as such. The gift seems to be a less contested concept, although one
might give some thought to what counts as a gift and why. This is done in
Chapter 2. In the remainder of this book “gifts” refer to material as well
as a nonmaterial gifts, like help or care.
Finally, my approach is analytical rather than normative. The concep-
tual framework developed in Chapter 9 is meant as a tool to understand
why solidarity takes different forms and what these are, and why it may
have different consequences for the well-being of the individuals and
groups involved. It is not meant as a signpost for future solidarity. That
is the domain of social and moral philosophy, which is outside the scope
of the present work.


The Gift
Meanings and Motives

The Social Meaning of Things

In any case all these things are always, and in every tribe, spiritual
in origin and of a spiritual nature. . . . Each of these precious
things . . . possesses . . . its individuality, its name, its qualities, its
(Marcel Mauss 1990 [1923]: 44)

Things are things, and people are people. Things are mute and inert;
people speak and act with each other and are involved in the construc-
tion of shared meanings. This way of conceiving the distinction between
people and things, common in Western society, is often contrasted with
the views of non-Western societies, where things are supposed to possess
a life of their own (Appadurai 1986). In some tribal societies described
by Marcel Mauss in his classical Essai sur le don (1990 [1923]), things were
considered as animated, or having a spirit (hau), communicating mes-
sages from the person originally in possession of the thing to its recipient.
The spirit of the thing would not come to rest until it was returned to the
place where its giver was born.
The opposition between Western and non-Western conceptions of
things is clearly too simplistic. Many people will recognize that things
may have a personal, often highly idiosyncratic meaning to them. For
example, it is impossible for some people to throw anything away: for
them the things with which they have surrounded themselves represent

The Gift: Meanings and Motives

inalienable and highly cherished memories. We may also think of lovers
who endow each other with little shells or stones found on the beach,
symbolizing their affection. Small children suck at pieces of cloth, taking
them to their bed and cherishing them as if they were animated. They
get attached to their ¬rst teddy bears, sometimes developing such strong
bonds that they still take them to their bed as grown-ups. Adults may

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