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The Return of the Gift
European History of a Global Idea


  • Date Published: October 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107411418

£ 23.99

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • Presents European history in global context
    • Great political thinkers, sociologists and anthropologists viewed afresh
    • Explores the meaning of gift-giving
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    Reviews & endorsements

    Review of the hardback: 'Lively, deeply informed, and interpretively adventurous, The Return of the Gift is itself a gift to scholars across the human sciences and humanities. Liebersohn provides a bracing and generative account of this key concept, locating it in an intellectual lineage of wrestling with cultural differentiation, evolutionary models, and ethical concerns. In the best Maussian spirit, this innovative book invites our engagement - and amply repays it.' Donald Brenneis, University of California, Santa Cruz

    Review of the hardback: 'Masterly commanding disparate traditions of thought, Harry Liebersohn traces with elegant concision the back story of Marcel Mauss's celebrated essay on The Gift. Moving as easily across centuries and national boundaries as he does scholarly disciplines, he reveals the over-determined genesis of a seminal idea that is still ramifying well into our own day.' Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley

    Review of the hardback: 'Tracking the voyage of an idea - the gift - over land and sea, from liberalism to socialism, through social scientific and humanist scholarship, Liebersohn delivers an intellectual history that refuses to be confined to a continent or a discipline. European thinking about the complicated reciprocity of the transfer of presents offers something no less richly complex in return: reflection on cultural practices of giving and receiving are presented here always as negotiated exchanges within and between worlds. This book is a gift.' Scott Spector, University of Michigan

    Review of the hardback: 'This lucidly written and insightful book follows the fortunes of the gift in European social thought from Thomas Hobbes through Marcel Mauss. Evoking fascinating life stories, intellectual traditions, changing economies, and war-torn worlds, Harry Liebersohn describes the waning of the idea of the gift among 19th-century political economists and its flowering among early 20th-century anthropologists. The Return of the Gift reminds us of the resources we have to make strangers into friends and to replace the calculations of the bottom line with the hopes for reciprocity.' Natalie Zemon Davis, University of Toronto

    Review of the hardback: 'Harry Liebersohn's The Return of the Gift is an important contribution to the genealogy of changing understandings of the gift in the human sciences, which both re-affirms the centrality of Mauss's 1925 classic essay and replaces it within the ebb and flow of a broader European discourse on the gift.' Ilana Silber, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

    Review of the hardback: 'Liebersohn has bequeathed a major gift to historians interested not only in the genealogy of the gift in European thought, but in the wider history of solidarity. His book spans confidently across three centuries, multiple disciplinary traditions and national literatures, and several continents.' Kenneth Loiselle, Trinity University

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2012
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107411418
    • length: 224 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 13 mm
    • weight: 0.34kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    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

  • Author

    Harry Liebersohn, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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