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It’s a kind of suicide: Dynamics of funerary gift-giving and institutional change in South-West Madagascar

Goetter, Johanna Friederike (2020): It’s a kind of suicide: Dynamics of funerary gift-giving and institutional change in South-West Madagascar.

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This paper examines the recent dynamics of funerary gift-giving in rural South-West Madagascar against changes in local livelihoods and the society. A conceptual framework combining gift-giving theory with a model on institutional change from Institutional Economic Anthropology is designed to analyze empirical data derived from interviews conducted in 26 villages in the Mahafaly Plateau region. The study finds that social pressure, mostly created by gift-giving directly translating into societal ‘fame or shame’, paired with the accumulated gossip of people not directly involved, levers out explicit traditional rules on gift-giving and their pro-social economic-exit options to gift-giving duties. Reverse to the originally underlying rationale of economic solidarity with the bereaved, gift-giving today presents a societal and economic threat to gift-givers and -receivers. The present research contributes to our understanding of changes and dynamics in traditional gift-giving systems, especially in agonistic ones. Although the high social and economic impact of gift-giving in the developing world is recognized, very little research has focused on the question of how these gift-giving systems transform and adapt. The study depicts the importance of innovative individual behavior and personal aspirations, as well as the interplay of actors beyond the scope of the classical donor-receiver and kinship relations and reciprocity considerations gift-giving theory classically focuses on. The study also shows that personal norms and social norms of a general societal level must be considered in the analysis of changes in gift-giving systems.

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