Watch: “I’ve applied the theory of ‘the gift’ to marriage” – Dr Mary Muscat

“I’ve applied the theory of Marcel Mauss to marriage,” former Police Inspector Dr Mary Muscat told

Dr Mary Muscat is scheduled to deliver a lecture which is being organised by Women in Theology in collaboration with the Faculty of Theology on Tuesday 10th March. The theme for the lecture is Womanhood: A gift for the Church and the world.

Dr Muscat, who is a lawyer working in the area of civil law and in the family court, spent 13 years as a Police Inspector before moving to academia. She now lectures at the University of Malta and the Academy for the Disciplined Forces and is currently pursuing her doctoral studies with the Faculty of Theology.

Asked by what to expect on the day, Dr Muscat smilingly said, “a good dose of anthropology”. She explained her interest in matrimonial canon law, adding that there is an affinity between it and civil law.

With a background in legal anthropology and inspired by a Papal allocution which is a solemn form of address from the throne employed by the Pope on certain occasions, Dr Muscat recalled one such allocution during which Pope John Paul II had appealed that one should be careful on how to apply anthropology.

Dr Muscat explained that, however, there was one aspect of anthropology which made sense and that was of gift exchange. Studying closely Mauss’ work on gift exchange, Dr Muscat applied it to marriage.

“I took marriage as this community, and applied Mauss’ theory. In marriage there’s this element of reciprocity, which makes you a better person every time you give or receive something between family members,” Dr Muscat explained.

Referring to the time when she served as an Inspector, Dr Muscat she said that she would encounter situations of domestic violence. “I tried to understand where these situations would arise from,” she explained. When one gets married, the conditions promote something completely different and opposite to when a situation degenerates into domestic violence, she further explained.

Through the application of Mauss’ theory, during her studies, she understood that this was the perversion of the gift.

Perversion of the gift includes hoarding, parasitism and consumerism; the latter instance is when one turns the other person into an object and dehumanises the other in the process. Other extremes include human trafficking, domestic violence and theft. On the other end of the spectrum one would find collaboration, friendship, and donation.

Marcel Mauss and ‘The Gift’

The French sociologist Marcel Mauss discusses a system of exchange and obligation which exists in several societies in the form of potlatch or the system of total services.

He focuses on the way that the exchange of objects between groups builds relationships between humans.

Mauss analyzes the economic practices of various societies. In his work, he shows that early exchange systems center around the obligations to give, to receive, and, most importantly, to reciprocate.

In his book, “The Gift”, Mauss repeatedly states that gifts given on various occasions among people in Polynesia and in the American Northwest have to be reciprocated. Mauss also compares the notion of gift in the European society with that in the societies of Melanesia and the American Northwest. In the western society people generally see gifts as something to be given freely, in contrast to obligations and services that should be reciprocated.

In his discussion on the system of exchange in several societies serves to create and maintain social ties, reinforce laws and rights, and keep the society functioning in a certain way.

Womanhood: A gift for the Church and the world will be held on 10 March at 7pm at the University Chaplaincy.