Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Money Wisdom #237

"Let me begin with a warning. There is a great danger of oversimplification [of Mauss's work] here, particularly of romanticizing 'the gift' as a humanizing counterweight to the impersonality and social isolation of modern capitalist society. There are times when things can work quite the other way around. Let me take a familiar example: the custom of bringing a bottle of wine or somesuch if invited to a friend's for dinner. It is common practice, for example, among American academics. In America, though, it is also common for young people of middle-class background to move, from the time they first begin to live independently of their parents in college, from relatively communal living arrangements to increasing social isolation. In an undergraduate dorm, people walk in and out of each other's rooms fairly causally; often a residential hall is not unlike a village with everybody keeping track of everybody else's business. College apartments are more private, but it is usually no big deal if friends drop by without warning or preparation. The process of moving into conventional bourgeois existence is gradual, and it is above all a matter of establishing the sacred quality of the domestic threshold, which increasingly cannot be crossed without preparations and ceremony. The gift of wine, if you really think about it, is part of the ritualization process that makes spontaneity more difficult. It is as much a bar to sociality as an expression of it.

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.227

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