What is a gift? Translated by Susan Emanuel and Lorraine Perlman.

Alain Testart


This article introduces the subject of defining a gift in an ironic way, imagining Martian anthropologists conducting fieldwork among terrestrial human beings, hearing so many times the verb “to give” (for instance “giving” money to pay in a shop, or to pay taxes) and concluding to the importance of “the gift” in modern human society. Such a fiction serves to show that “to give” is not the same as “to make a gift.” It can also be shown from Latin etymology. Finally, the article ends by way of a precise definition of what a gift is, and insists on the notion of requirement to pay. What marks an exchange is the requirement to repay with an appropriate counterpart of each of the transfers. With a gift, on the contrary, the counterpart (counter-gift) may be given, but cannot be required.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau3.1.026