The Good Behind the Gift: Morality and Exchange among the Maneo of Eastern Indonesia

By Hagen, James M. | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, September 9, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Good Behind the Gift: Morality and Exchange among the Maneo of Eastern Indonesia


Hagen, James M., Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


The Maneo of Seram live in a region in eastern Indonesia famous for its complex exchange practices (e.g., Fox 1980; Hoskins 1993; van Wouden 1968). Exchange features prominently in Maneo social life and the objects which circulate as marriage payments are highly coveted, sharing them is valued, and giving them is both necessary and confers certain benefits. Nevertheless, exchange often does not occur, and when gifts are not given local expectations suffer less than would be inferred from anthropological models which, like Mauss's (1967), treat exchange as obligatory. Recent scholarship has begun to identify shortcomings in Mauss's model regarding the agency and contingency of practice (Bercovitch 1994; Bourdieu 1990; Weiner 1992).(1) My contention is that these critics go too far in abandoning Mauss's concern with the relation between exchange and social solidarity, effectively turning Mauss on his head by reducing deliberation about whether to give to dispositions 'which do not allow for the possibility of behaving differently' (Bourdieu 1997: 233), or that they do not go far enough in questioning his moral ontology that exchange is necessarily obligatory. Instead, I will argue that sociality, what Weber calls 'mutual orientations' (1947:118-23), is intrinsic to deliberation and not merely an effect of exchange, and that the contingencies of social life (e.g., the scarcity of objects) impinge on people's abilities without affecting their desires to give.

This Aristotelian idea, that most people wishing to do well end up merely doing what is advantageous (Aristotle 1984: 1162b35), points to a concept of morality more useful than Mauss's, one that is better suited to understanding the stakes and motivations of Maneo exchange. Briefly, Aristotle's view of morality focuses on the way people arrive at decisions, including their perceptions and dispositions which precede action. Hence, morality may be reasoned without being rational (Aristotle 1984: 1142a31-b10; Nussbaum 1986); it may also be informed without being determined by local conceptions of the good.(2) That is, although dispositions and notions of the good dispose persons towards certain actions, they do not determine them. For Aristotle, what is at stake and what is specifically moral in action is the responsiveness of agents towards others (Blum 1987: 310). This view obviates the need to assume that agency is intersubjective or individual.(3) Rather, responsiveness varies as people's orientations vary, and orientations in turn are shaped by people's understanding of context. Moreover, being oriented towards others, responsiveness has social consequence inasmuch as actions invite interpretation of the ostensible moral content of one's decisions (Aristotle EE 1241a12-14; Derrida 1997: 256).(4)

I became interested in applying Aristotelian morality to analysis of Maneo society when I reflected on a conversation with a Maneo neighbour, Epe, in his garden one afternoon. Epe complained to my wife, Jennie, and me about Martin, his classificatory brother, a member of the same soa (clan), who was unwilling to share property (arata) which he, Epe, needed to help meet his marriage payment obligations. Epe suspected Martin had some; moreover, he railed against the fact that his own father had given arata to Martin to help him meet marriage payment obligations in the early 1960s. Why had property not been forthcoming here? Other approaches tend to explain away the question. For instance, it would provide scant consolation to Epe to categorize the non-exchange in terms of 'generalized reciprocity' (Sahlins 1972) in which repayment is open-ended or unnecessary because there is 'no book-keeping among relatives' (Valeri 1994: 6). More importantly, the approach would do little to illuminate the moral deliberation behind giving and receiving and would obscure the ways Martin and Epe understand their situation. As I intend to show, Maneo invoke no moral principles that would mandate sharing. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Good Behind the Gift: Morality and Exchange among the Maneo of Eastern Indonesia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.