Gifts in Rites of Passage or gifts as rites of passage? Standing at the threshold between Van Gennep and Marcel Mauss

Ilana F. Silber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This article revisits Arnold Van Gennep’s Rites de passage from the point of view of gift theory. Gifts emerge as quasi-omnipresent and in association with all sorts as well as all phases of rites of passage in Van Gennep’s text. However, he never explicitly addresses nor problematizes this pervasive connection between gifts and rites of passage. In contrast with Marcel Mauss’s later Essai sur le don, moreover, Rites de passage tends to relate to gift-exchange in either mere instrumental, economic terms, or as a rather simple and efficient, binding and “unifying” mechanism, while displaying none of Mauss’s complementary attentiveness to the agonistic as well as more complex and contradictory features of gift processes. Yet, precisely the ideas of margin and liminality for which Van Gennep’s became best known, but which did not seep at all into his own treatment of gifts, may be drawn upon to approach gift interactions as ritual processes, perhaps even rites of passage, with liminal phases and anti-structural features of their own kind. Such an angle of analysis happens to converge with current approaches to the gift that have underscored the part it may play in fraught dynamics of mutual definition and recognition in human interactions. It might also suggest new ways of interpreting the deep, recurrent association between gifts and rites of passage, which Rites de passage unwittingly contributed to highlight, but still needs to be further explored and conceptualized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-360
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


  • Gift
  • Mauss
  • Van Gennep
  • gift theory
  • gift-exchange
  • liminality
  • rites of passage
  • ritual theory


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