The intensity of the law’s interaction with gift giving suggests that examining their relationship might produce interesting insights about both gift giving and the law. Yet no social scientist has seriously examined the gift norms included in modern systems of private law. The complexity of gift law is due to the interaction of two competing social ideas: the law’s concern that gift giving represents a danger to society; and the power of customary gift obligations to engender and maintain social relationships. The law gets involved in gift giving when it feels that the parties need some protection, and this involvement varies considerably among legal systems. Some systems are suspicious of inter vivos transfers, while others tend to view gifts as they view exchange. Since the law’s formal requirements do not displace customary obligations this field provides an opportunity to examine how the law is shaped by the customary obligations Mauss elaborated.
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