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Related: altruism - Mark Osteen


A potlatch is a ceremony among certain Native American and First Nations peoples on the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States and the Canadian province of British Columbia such as the Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw). The potlatch takes the form of a ceremonial feast traditionally featuring seal meat or salmon. In it, hierarchical relations between groups were observed and reinforced through the exchange of gifts and other ceremonies. The potlatch is an example of a gift economy; the host demonstrates their wealth and prominence through giving away their possessions and thus prompt participants to reciprocate when they hold their own potlatch.

The potlatch has fascinated Westerners for many years. Thorstein Veblen's use of the ceremony in his book Theory of the Leisure Class made potlatching a symbol of 'conspicuous consumption'. Other authors such as Georges Bataille were struck by what they saw as the anarchic, communal nature of the potlatch's operation—it is for this reason that the organization Lettrist International named their review after the potlatch in the 1950s.


The potlatch has also become a model, albeit a sometimes poorly understood one, for the open source software movement and a variety of social movements. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potlatch [Mar 2006]

See also: Lettrism - anthropology - altruism - gift - Georges Bataille

Marcel Mauss

Marcel Mauss (May 10, 1872- February 10, 1950) was a French sociologist best known for his role in elaborating on and securing the legacy of his uncle, Émile Durkheim and the Annee Sociologique. His most famous work is The Gift, on reciprocity and gift economies among "uncivilized peoples". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Mauss [Oct 2005]

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