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gift relationshipa reciprocal relationship of exchanging goods and services. Marcel MAUSS wrote a seminal book, The Gift (1925), in which he argued that gift-giving and taking is one of the bonds that cohere societies. Systems like the KULA RING and POTLATCH provide a system of obligations that comprise a network of ‘presentations’which fuse economic, spiritual and political values into a unified system. These insights were elaborated by the anthropologist LÉVI-STRAUSS into a structural theory of group alliance in which he argues that patterns of giving, receiving and repaying, as individuals and groups, reflect the deepest structures of societies. This was applied, in particular, to the movement of women in and out of a patrilineage (see PATRILINEAL DESCENT).
TITMUSS also used these ideas in his The Gift Relationship (1970), a study of blood donors in the UK, US and USSR. Titmuss argues that the giving of blood in the UK, without material reward, reflects a sense of community that the other two countries do not have. The analysis of ALTRUISM in Titmuss's examination of the British blood donor service and the idea of the unilateral, anonymous and voluntary gift has been important in discussions of SOCIAL POLICY.
Ideas of exchange have also been applied to other areas of formal gift-giving in industrialized societies (e.g. the exchange of birthday presents), but the presence of complex market mechanisms complicates simplistic formulations of exchange. Compare EXCHANGE THEORY.