All posts tagged: Anthropology

The Gift

The Gift

The gift, a seemingly simple act, is actually a canvas where meanings and expectations interlace. Marcel Mauss has reconstructed the dynamics of the gift in a famous essay, The Gift, published by Routledge. Here he explains that “the voluntary nature of the gift, so to speak, is only apparently free and independent. The gift is actually bound and affected to the very moment it is performed in a social setting”. This means that the social phenomenon of the gift intertwines with other obligations: giving, receiving and reciprocating. It is actually in the gift that the principle of reciprocity takes form. The exchange brings together people and starts – or challenges – social relationships that are built – or ended – over time, with other exchanges, with other gifts. The energy of giving, receiving and returning, or failing the return expectations, or in inadequate forms, may build and consolidate – or not – social relations. © Melissa Pignatelli 2012 Source: Marcel Mauss, The Gift, Routledge, 1990 (First Publication in French in 1950)

M.C. Escher, Writing Hands, Rijksmuseum Collection, Amsterdam


Today scholars of all disciplines have realized that how their research is presented is at least as important as what is presented. Questions of voice, style and audience – the classic issues of rhetoric – have taken the front scene in matters of writing a report. Writing is intended as a communicative act between author and reader. Thus, when a text is released and goes public,  meanings writers may think they have frozen into certain words, may melt before the eyes of active readers. “Meanings are not permanently embedded by an author in the text at the moment of creation. They are woven from the symbolic capacity of a piece of writing and the social context of its reception. Most crucially, different categories of readers will display systematic differences in their perceptions and interpretations of the same writing”, says Van Maanen in his reflections on writing ethnography. Thus writing combines elements of the real, in a certain world, at a certain time and from a certain position, and reaches out for a meaning in relation …

MOMA, New York City

Museums and Time

“Why are museums associated with the past?”, asks Pietro Clemente, Anthropology Professor at the University of Florence, Italy, in a paper focusing on Heritage. Perhaps because of the Muses, or Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman museums. When you think about these ancient people, you think they are in a fuzzy and remote time, not in the ‘real’ time of our knowledge of them: but then archeology is one of the most modern and computerized subjects of the humanities. Of course, there is still some room for romantic gestures and visionary insights, but the last word is based on computed tomography. Collections are a relatively recent phenomenon, and for certain categories (objects of ordinary people, calling cards, modern art) it is constantly changing. The ICOM (International Council of Museums, a UNESCO related NGO) was founded on science museums and civilization museums, like archaeological and ethnographic ones, that have more than 150 years, and are constantly updating their communication and multimedia technology. In this sense there is nothing more up-to-date, postmodern, and technologically advanced of a museum. Especially …

Red Hornbill Earrings

Beautiful Earrings

In the hills of Luzon, in the Philippines, when an Ilongot  puts on red hornbill earrings it is the excepltional sign that he has killed a man. Red, bright and dancing from the upper lobes of the ears, the earrings are both body jewelry and a signal understood by everyone. They are seen as “beautiful”. When the anthropologist Renato Rosaldo of Stanford University, tried to further develop the meaning of “beautiful earrings”, the Ilongot looked at him with a kind of pity. “They’re beautiful, they used to answer, nothing more and nothing less.” Being able to wear those red hornbill earrings, is being able to show your masculinity. The beheading of another human being is, in itself, an expression of power, and not being able to wear “beautiful earrings” on visits and invitation is a problem. The meaning of those beautiful earrings is then shut down in a circular way: earrings show one has killed a man and killing a man means one is able to wear earrings on social occasions. The earrings are made …