December 19, 2008

Study: Gifts a social necessity

A University of Montreal professor says there is a social necessity of giving and receiving, which escalates during the holidays.

Marcel Fournier, a sociology professor at the University of Montreal, is a specialist in the works of anthropologist Marcel Mauss, who studied tribal exchange rituals in the early 20th century. Mauss identified three obligations that structure any society: giving, receiving and reciprocating.

In modern societies, this is manifested in a state's wealth redistribution policies, Fournier says in a statement. But these obligations also exist on an individual level, for instance, when we give to charities. It is a way to give back what we have received and contribute to the sharing of wealth.

In this exchange mechanism, a receiver obviously benefits while a giver gains from social prestige.

Modern Christmas gift-giving has its share of reciprocity mechanisms.

We always feel obliged to someone who gives us a present, Fournier says. Although there is no reciprocity of gifts given by parents to young children, young ones learn very early to exchange and give back, whether it be cards or school drawings.