Grégoire Mallard. Gift Exchange: The Transnational History of a Political Idea. xi + 293pp., notes, bibl., index. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.
Is there a more celebrated and contested text in the history of anthropology than Marcel Mauss’s The Gift? Tucked away in the pages of Émile Durkheim’s old Année Sociologique upon its initial publication in 1925, this careful, erudite, even gnomic essay by the doyen of French anthropology contained a thicket of five hundred footnotes so dense they often relegated the main text to a few sentences adorning the top of its hundred-and-fifty-odd pages. Its interest in forms of exchange in “sociétés dites primitives” was predated by the works of Richard Thurnwald and Bronislaw Malinowski, yet unlike these pioneers his writings were not informed by direct ethnographic study. The Gift (hereafter TG, subtitle: “The Form and Sense of Exchange in Archaic Societies”) was instead, in our contemporary academic parlance, something more like a review essay of armchair anthropology.
By Jean Jamin
Translated by Simon Torracinta
Editors' note: The editors of the History of Anthropology Review are delighted to publish this essay by Jean Jamin. As readers will know, Jamin is one of the most original historians of anthropology anywhere and a pioneer of the discipline in France. Born in 1945, he conducted ethnographic work on initiation and traditional knowledge in Côte d’Ivoire; he later pursued a singular set of studies of the intersections of anthropology with literature, visual arts, and music (notably jazz) and was one of the first to explore the intersections of surrealism and anthropology at the Musée de l’Homme. Among his works are Les Lois du silence (1977), Faulkner: le nom, le sol, et le sang (2011), and recently, Littérature et anthropologie (2018). Director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales until his retirement in 2013, Jamin co-founded the review Gradhiva: Revue d’anthropologie et d’histoire des arts, now based at the Musée du quai Branly, and was editor of L’Homme: Revue française d’anthropologie from 1997 to 2005. His works have been frequently noted in our journal, but this is his first full-length essay here; it is a revised excerpt from Chapter IV (p. 119-135) of Littérature et anthropologie (Paris, CNRS Éditions, 2018).
The 2018 History of Science Society (HSS) conference in Seattle, Washington, was blessed with a rich offering in the history of anthropology, staking the field’s relevance to growing conversations around science in the world, Indigenous knowledges, and comparative cosmology.
For the first time, a formal land acknowledgement was explicitly incorporated into the plenary opening the conference. The settlement now known as Seattle sits on the historical territory of the Duwamish. After an introduction by Eli Nelson (Williams College), member of the Kanien’kehá:ka and historian of Native science, Cecile Hansen, Chairwoman of the Duwamish tribe, rose to the podium. She extended a welcome to members of HSS and detailed the tribe’s history in the area, including its ongoing struggle for federal recognition, and invited the packed audience to visit the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center.