‘The Indian Gift’: A critical debate

19 Jan 2018

In 1986 Jonathan Parry’s ‘The Gift, the Indian Gift and the “Indian Gift”’ claimed to overturn conventional understandings of Marcel Mauss, by arguing that market societies most idealize the distinction between gifts and commodities, and gift giving need not entail reciprocity. Based on an analysis of Hindu religious gifts, Parry proposed a broad framework for understanding how ideologies of exchange function in different economic and cosmological contexts. Thirty years later, this symposium considers the intellectual milieu in which The Indian Gift was written, and interrogates whether or not the work remains relevant to contemporary research and analysis. The symposium opens with a short introduction that provides some background to Parry’s essay and incorporates material from a recent interview with him. This is followed by critical comments on it by five influential thinkers on gift exchange: James Carrier, Chris Gregory, James Laidlaw, Marilyn Strathern and Yunxiang Yan. It ends with a short ‘revisionist’ note by Parry in which he tries to identify some of the limits of the Maussian approach for contemporary anthropology.