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assisted, simply because one might require similar assistance from others in the
This scenario of individuals mutually acknowledging their human needs and
subsequent duties has been called the duty of mutual aid (Herman 1993 ). In this
context, reciprocity and expectations are important. Such reciprocity protects the
altruist, even though it might provide a less than perfectly noble motive for her
good deeds. Reciprocal altruism is performed in the hope of obtaining a future
reward, for instance in the form of assistance, and is therefore something of a
hybrid between altruism and self-interest.
Reciprocity was examined by Marcel Mauss in his classic 1950 anthropologi-
cal study The Gift ( 2002 ). Mauss examined gift-giving in ancient times and in
more recent Roman, Jewish, Germanic and other Indo-European societies. The
seemingly ubiquitous practice of gift-giving existed separately from commer-
cial transactions in all these societies. He defined a gift as 'a voluntary, unre-
quited surrender of resources' (Mauss 2002 : 3). The apparent generosity of the
gifting practices seemed to indicate very high levels of solidarity, charity and
trust. However, Mauss famously concluded that in all such societies there were
no free gifts. The giving of gifts engaged the giver and the receiver alike in finely
woven, if implicit, obligations and commitments that reflected and resonated
with the institutions of the day. Morality did not seem to enter the transaction,
and the society's (unwritten) norms and expectations framed what was required
in certain circumstances. Mauss established that the entire notion of a free gift
was based upon a misunderstanding of the nature of such a transaction, and con-
cluded that a gift that expected no return, that did nothing to enhance solidarity,
was a contradiction in terms (Mauss 2002 : xii). His work encourages us to con-
sider that material items, whether sold or given, always retain something of the
identity of the giver, and often require reciprocation in some form.
The work of Richard Titmuss added significantly to the understanding of altru-
ism. In his topic The Gift Relationship ( 1997 ) he attempted to counter policies that
promoted the commodification of human blood. His primary aim was to advocate
voluntary blood donation, which allowed people the moral choice to give blood as
a 'symbolic gift of life to an unnamed stranger' (Titmuss 1997 : 140). What might
be regarded as particularly altruistic was that the gift of blood was to unknown
individuals. Hence, it was not given to those in close relationships to whom, in
Mauss's societies, one might turn in times of need. The only reward for the donors
was the knowledge that they had contributed to the public good.
One of Titmuss's most powerful arguments was that the opportunity to behave
altruistically was an essential human right. He believed that specific instruments
of public policy were able to harness and encourage that crucial element of altru-
ism in opposition to the 'possessive egoism of the marketplace' (Titmuss 1997 :
59). His plea was that people should be enabled to choose to give to unnamed
strangers, and not be 'constrained by the market' (Titmuss 1997 : 310). However,
whether the donation of blood is a true gift that expects no return, or instead crea-
tive altruism that fosters a sense of belonging to a community of assistance, is dif-
ficult to establish (Scott and Seglow 2007 : 111).
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