Wikitopia :: Keynote Speech 1
The Principle of Reciprocity
by Dr. Hector Rodriguez
September 18, 2010
HKU SPACE Po Leung Kuk Community College

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Marcel Mauss’ classic study of The Gift introduced the principle of reciprocity, which has played a fundamental role in the evolution of modern social anthropology and critical theory. Mauss regarded the giving and receiving of gifts as a widespread cultural phenomenon. Although the gift often appears to have been spontaneously and freely offered, it is in fact obligatory. According to Mauss, it consists of “three obligations”: the obligation to receive, to give, and to return. The exchange of gifts thus exemplifies a complex procedure of ritualized exchange.

The principle of reciprocity can be understood in at least two different ways. First of all, the study of gift exchange constitutes a prehistory of the modern contract. Mauss showed that modern market transactions grew out of the ritualized gift practices characteristic of many societies. Mauss opposed the practices of the capitalist economic system and regarded the gift as an alternative model of exchange based on sharing and common participation. This idea clarifies the nature of public licenses and the aims of the free culture, copyleft, and creative commons movement. Secondly, the principle of reciprocity can be understood as a new version of social contract theory. As developed by philosopher Thomas Hobbes, social contract theory addressed the main question of classical political philosophy: How is society possible?

This presentation explains the theory of reciprocity, describes its implications and possible interpretations, and traces its influence on such contemporary theorists as Claude Levi-Strauss, Georges Bataille, Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-Paul Sartrre, Marshall Sahlins, and Boris Groys.

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