David Henig, Nicolette Makovicky

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


What motivates gratuitous behaviour? What characterizes its expression? Who benefits from and who is excluded from our favour? In this chapter, we tackle the long-standing anthropological puzzle of how to attend to manifestations of spontaneity, free will to act, and sympathy – that is, manifestations of favour. We argue that acts of favour constitute a significant ethical dimension of social life. We show how favours perform the intermediary and balancing work between incommensurable values, interests, obligations, and ethical sensibilities that underpin our lives. Favours can mediate, for example, between the calculative values of the market and those of friendship and kin relations, between the divine grace and performing good deeds; or in the situations of radical distress, when the question of life and death is at stake. Ultimately, if human sociality is grounded in the exchange of sentiments and gratitude mediated by the ethical labour of favours, then favours need to be considered as one of the key articulations of the ethical condition of social life.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook for the Anthropology of Ethics
EditorsJames Laidlaw
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781108591249
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2023


  • action
  • favours
  • grace
  • gratuity
  • incommensurability
  • judgement
  • Julian Pitt-Rivers
  • performative acts
  • values


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