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  • Print publication year: 1996
  • Online publication date: February 2010



How are people made deserving of help? How do different cultures define the meaning of giving and worthiness of the people who “ought” to be helped? This book explores these questions by comparing Japanese and American helping arrangements and support systems. Drawing on 2 years of fieldwork, the study analyzes the cultural and structural conditions that shape the “social contract” in the case of the elderly. My analysis draws attention to the symbolic dimension of this social contract and focuses on the importance of cultural assumptions and social assignments that create the conditions of deservedness.

There is more to the phenomenon of giving and deserving help than goodwill and meeting others' needs. People seemingly give help even when it is not in their interest to do so. Reciprocity also seems to matter, even when people act out of generosity. I believe that the key explanations are found in the regulation of values and interests entailed in the practice of the social contract. The cross-cultural design of this study offers an opportunity to explore systematically these values and interests in social support. My purpose is to understand how culture and society shape giving, both theoretically and empirically.

This framework derives from an analysis of comparative patterns of support, the different conditions in which support is perceived to be successful or unsuccessful, and the degree to which different values and interests are prioritized in helping arrangements.