Archive for the 'gifts giving' Category

A Feminist Criticism of Exchange

March 29, 2009

feminist crritic of exchange

is not in it for the money but to contribute to science

March 27, 2009

In Scientific instrument making, epistemology, and the conflict between gift and commodity economies form Davis Baird shows other point of view on the Gift economy.

The main purpose of Gift economies is to serve to bind people together. They create and maintain social groups. The gift, to be true, must be the flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him (Ralph Waldo Emerson in Gifts) Gift economies establish social boundaries; one must give to the group in order to be part of the group and receive the group’s gifts in return.
Davis Baird gives example of Edison which tried to develop and adapt scientific discoveries into salable commodities from which he gained profit. Edison availed himself of the gifts of the scientific community, but instead of giving back to that community, he sold his inventions. Edison turned scientific gifts into commercial commodities, and thereby excluded himself from the scientific community. It shows that the commodity economies work against bonding. The rules and expectations which govern commodity exchange serve to define and delimit mutual responsibility and future obligation between the parties involved.
Davis Baird establish that gifts cannot be produced alone, nor by taking some object “off the shelf.” Gifts are recycled gifts. Objects which are gifts need something of the giver. He refers to Herein and his argumentation that creative endeavors, be they artistic or instrument making, rely on a gift economy. Edison may well have said that invention is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, but inspiration-even if only 1%-remains necessary .
Gifts by Davis Baird must move. Gift economies require a cycle of giving. An Indian gift is a proverbial expression signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected. The next authors reference is to Hyde and his example of shared peace pipe. The Indians expected the pipe to be returned, or better, recycled and given to others as part of the socially binding cycle of giving peace making: The Indian giver understood a cardinal property of the gift: whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away again, not kept. Or if it is kept, something of similar value should move on in its stead.
ccumulation capital in the form of profits is the Capitalist aim. Gifts cannot be accumulated like profits; they must be plowed back into the cycle of gift giving. Gifts received must be given away or they cease to be gifts and the recipient of the gift ceases to belong to the gift group.
In the next part of essay author speaks about obligation, which was developed a lot of in Mauss work. Gifts given and gifts received call up the joy of human connection, but also the suffering of obligation: bonding and ensnaring. As commodity economies establish status hierarchies through how much is accumulated, gift economies establish hierarchies through how much one gives.
The conclusion of his work is compact in three points:
1. Creative work needs a gift economy. It is in the nature of the creative impulse to give to-and to take from-the creative community. This is a consequence of the fact that creative people stand on shoulders. Gifts received prompt gifts given.
2. Creative work-instrument making, in any case-is capital intensive and, consequently, must also exist in a commodity economy. The “little bit of plus” is necessary.
(Instrument making cost author developed on the base of academic community. Gift economies are necessary for knowledge production and dissemination. Academics articles are written and published, but, typically, no fee is paid to their authors. The articles are intellectual gifts given in return for receiving the intellectual gifts of others.Knowledge as gift is relatively inexpensive but its dissemination costs money. It means that gifts- of-material-knowledge also are commodities. It brings me question what happen where the dissemination is free from charge? When cost of diffusion is equal zero? Does it still commodity???)
3. These two demands exist in tension. There is no simple rule for specifying how much to give versus how much to charge. This is a matter that is negotiated case by case, weaving a path between economic ruin and creative alienation.

Gift vs. commoditiy

March 27, 2009

In ‘Gift vs. commoditiy’ Andrej Rus writes about two different realities represented by commodities and gifts. He analyses the conceptions of Commodity-exchange and non-commodity (gift) exchange through different anthropologists and time point of view.

Commodity-exchange is an exchange of alienable, impersonal and anonymous items, devoid of moral and social considerations or obligations, and therefore different from gift-exchange. At the same time is completely different form gift exchange. Andrej Rus in his essay shows, through detailed analysis of basic dimensions that traditionally distinguish gift-exchange from commodity exchange, that the contemporary marketing very often adds to commodity-exchange various elements that are traditionally attributed to gift-exchange only. Now market-exchange is not any more impersonal, it creates certain types of social bonds and mutual obligations between exchange parties. The commodity, like the gift, can possess a quality of the giver, and manifest a form of inalienability from the giver which is otherwise characteristic of a gift. This gifts reappropriation by Capitalism for its own targets has been also shown in Jonathan Bruckwhere’s text: The Evolution of Gift Giving, where he was talking about Commercialization of calendar and way of making profit through new kind of consumption – holiday celebration and gift-giving.

For my work the first part of essay is the most interesting. The question how the network communities can create (if they can) alternative to capitalism world through giving their work as a gift is showed by Andrej Rus and his presentation of gift vs. commodities debate based on Marcel Mauss research and later elaborated by Christopher Gregory.

Marcel Mauss told about two types of exchange relations: commodity relations and gift relations. Mauss noted that social anthropologists had researched and described societies in which their entire economic life was based on completely different principles; that is, societies in which most objects moved back and forth among members of society as gifts, on the basis of what looked like unselfish generosity. In those small-scale societies, gift- exchange was at the basis of their entire economic system, where goods were ‘traded’ without clear calculation of who has given what and how much to whom. Mauss proposed the distinction between ‘gift exchange’ and ‘commodity exchange’.

He classified societies on the basis of the form of exchange that dominated their economic actions. The idea that gift-exchange is a form of economy contrary to that of the market-exchange was later developed by Gregory for whom gifts belong to the sphere of the household and personal relationships, while commodities belong to the sphere of trade and impersonal relationships.

Gregory makes the distinction between commodities and gifts based on the work of Karl Marx:

Marx was able to develop a very important proposition: that commodity-exchange is an exchange of alienable things between transactors who are in a state of reciprocal independence […]. The corollary of this is that non-commodity (gift) exchange is an exchange of inalienable things between transactors who are in a state of reciprocal dependence. This proposition is only implicit in Marx’s analysis but it is […] a precise definition of gift exchange.

It means that non-commodity-exchange creates quantitative relationships (above parties are independent after the transaction is over) and gift-exchange creates qualitative relationships between givers and receivers that make them reciprocally dependent. Therefore, gift exchanges also keep the exchange partners indebted after the transactions have been completed.

Commodity-exchange (or market exchange) are transactions with a low degree of sociability and a high degree of impersonality among exchange participants. In cases of commodity exchange,the economic value of items that are transacted is very important, while social relations are subordinated.

Commodity-exchange is a transaction that usually takes place among strangers where the exchange transaction enforces no lasting social obligation or personal relationship. It is therefore assumed to be a commercial transaction devoid of almost all social considerations. After the exchange transaction is over, the transactors are not obliged to have any further mutual social relation or obligation.

Gift exchange is transacted when exchange parties want to establish some kind of relationship. Gift creates reciprocal relationship between the giver and the receiver while economic value is subordinated: The exchange of presents did not serve the same purpose as trade or barter in more developed communities. The purpose that it did serve was a moral one. The object of the exchange was to produce a friendly feeling between the two persons concerned, and unless it did this, it failed its purpose (Mauss)

By accepting a gift, the receiver becomes invariably indebted to the giver, and has social and moral obligation to return the gift. The purpose of giving and accepting gifts is therefore to create and to cement social relationships among members of society. Unlike anonymous commodities, gifts are held to be inalienable: a gift is not just ‘a watch’ but ‘a-watch-that-my-father-gave-me-for-my-birthday’. Moreover, gifts not only continue to embody the identity of the giver but also impose this identity upon the receiver. As a result, the receiver, in bearing (a part of) the identity of the giver, becomes subordinated (‘indebted’) to the latter.

On one side we have than commodity exchange, which is prevailing in our capitalist societies, where exchange of goods is devoid of almost all social or personal considerations. On the other side, there is gift exchange, which creates or reinforces social relationships between individuals. In social science, commodity-exchange usually stands for economic rationality and commercial profit making, while gifts are acknowledged to be carriers of social concerns and moral obligation. ‘Commodity vs. gift’ is in this sense often used as metaphor for ‘market vs. Non-market’

The part of ‘Gift vs. commodities’ shows the distinction between gifts and commodities.

The division between gift-exchange and market-exchange by Frow is actually founded on the nostalgic portrayal of traditional societies as based on social altruism that gives rise to gift-giving as a basis for entire social organization. Maybe gift-exchange involves much more economic calculation than Marcel Mauss had assumed ?”(…) gift-exchange is much more like commodity-exchange than (Gregory) is prepared to recognize”

Arjun Apparudai in The Social Life of Things noticed that what social anthropologists have described as gift-exchange in small- scale societies, is in reality not simply a generosity, but – like commodity-exchange – just a matter of self-interested calculation. Appadurai suggests that “there is exaggeration of the contrast between gift and commodity in anthropological writing and one of them is “[…] the tendency to romanticize small-scale societies [and] the proclivity to marginalize and underplay the calculative, impersonal, and self- aggrandizing features of non-capitalist societies” According to him, gift-exchange is not that different from market exchange, because on a long run, both of them utilize the same rational, self-interested premises.

The different kind of criticism suggest that capitalist societies are characterised by rational, selfish, impersonal market exchange, while small-scale societies are characterized by gift exchange.

Examining gift-commodity dichotomy and the role of gifts in industrial societies authors suggest that the standpoint adopted by Gregory and Strathern ‘trivializes’ gift behaviour. Their main objection is that industrial societies used gifts openly and tehy have been one of the most important economic motors for retail sales.

After Andrej Rus gave example of exchange transactions that have characteristics of gift-economy: sharing of knowledge in the scientific community, free sharing of files and information on the Internet. The market economy contains a rather significant amount of transactions that are based on the principle of reciprocity and strongly resemble that of the gift-economy.

It this part of work I don’t agree of putting examples like distribute knowledge and Christmas gift selling to the same bag. The gifts exists in capitalistic society and they can be diffuse even with using its tool, but gift of sharing it is not the same as gift which make profit.

Next critics arrive at a form of compromise on this matter. They say that commodity- exchange and gift-exchange do not strictly represent two entirely different and mutually exclusive societal forms, but rather just two ideal types of exchange. In reality, any economy will be a mix of these two types of exchange.

Notes on Mauss

March 25, 2009

In primitive or archaic types of society what is the principle whereby the gift received has to be repaid?
What force is there in the thing given which compels the recipient to make a return?

Mauss talks mostly on Polynesia, Melanesia, and North West America systems of gift exchange, however he speaks also about potlaches in the societies of North-East Siberia.
Potlatch meant originally ‘to nourish’ or ‘to consume’. Mauss gives different examples of potlaches and talked about reason of giving gifts. Most of them, like the Tlingit and Haida inhabit the islands, which were very rich, they passed their winters in continuous festival, in banquets, tribal gatherings, gave the gifts for determination their position in the hierarchy of their own clans.

The system of contractual gifts in Samoa is confined to marriage, in respect of childbirth, circumcision, sickness, girls’ puberty, funeral ceremonies and trade. The elements of the potlatch there have been attested to: the honour, prestige or mana (magical, religious and spiritual power) which wealth; and the absolute obligation to make return gifts under the penalty of losing the mana, confers authority and wealth. The elements of rivalry, destruction and fighting seemed to be absent in Polynesia although they were present in Melanesia.

The Maori had a kind of system of exchange, or rather of giving presents which had later to be exchanged or repaid.’They exchanged dried fish for pickled birds and mats. The exchange was carried out between tribes or acquainted families without any kind of stipulation.
The Maori spoke about the hau, the spirit of things and particularly of the forest and forest game, ‘I shall tell you about hau. Hau is not the wind. Not at all. Suppose you have some particular object, taonga, and you give it to me; you give it to me without a price.We do not bargain over it. Now I give this thing to a third person who after a time decides to give me something in repayment for it (utu), and he makes me a present of something (taonga). Now this taonga I received from him is the spirit (hau) of the taonga I received from you and which I passed on to him. The taonga which I receive on account of the taonga that came from you, I must return to you. It would not be right on my part to keep these taonga whether they were desirable or not. I must give them to you since they are the hau of the taonga which you gave me. If I were to keep this second taonga a for myself I might become ill or even die. Such is hau, the hau of personal property, the hau of the taonga, the hau of the forest. Enough on that subject.’

‘The taonga and all strictly personal possessions have a hau, a spiritual power. You give me taonga, I give it to another, the latter gives me taonga back, since he is forced to do so by the hau of my gift; and I am obliged to give this one to you since I must return to you what is in fact the product of the hau of your taonga.’

Hence it follows that to give something is to give a part of oneself. Secondly, we are led to a better understanding of gift exchange and total presentation, including the potlatch. It follows clearly from what we have seen that in this system of ideas one gives away what is in reality a part of one’s nature and substance, while to receive something is to receive a part of someone’s spiritual essence. To keep this thing is dangerous, not only because it is illicit to do so, but also because it comes morally, physically and spiritually from a person. The thing given is not inert. It is alive and often personified, and strives to bring to its original clan and homeland some equivalent to take its place.

Total presentation and the potlatch by Mauss doesn’t only carry with it the obligation to repay gifts received, but it implies two others equally important: the obligation to give presents and the obligation to receive them. There is a large number of facts on the obligation to receive, A clan, household, association or guest are constrained to demand hospitality, to receive presents, to barter or to make blood and marriage alliances. The obligation to give is no less important. To refuse to give, or to fail to invite, is like refusing to accept- the equivalent of a declaration of war; it is a refusal of friendship and intercourse.

In the societies of North-East Siberia and amongst the Eskimo of West Alaska and the Asiatic coast of the Behring Straits, the potlatch concerns not only men who rival each other in generosity, and the objects they transmit or destroy, and the spirits of the dead which take part in the transactions and whose names the men bear; it concerns nature as well. Exchanges between namesakes- people named after the same spirits-incite the spirits of the dead, of gods, animals and natural objects to be generous towards them. Men say that gift- exchange brings abundance of wealth. On the extreme north-west of Siberia they have the potlatch also. They practised most the obligatory-voluntary gift exchanges in the course of protracted thanksgiving ceremonies which follow one after the other in every house throughout the winter. Mauss quotes Bogoras and his comparison with the Russian koliada customs in which masked children go from house to house begging eggs and flour and none dare refuse them.

North-West American and North-East Asian potlatch contain the element of destruction (sacrificial destruction implies giving something that is to be repaid). It is not simply to show power and wealth and unselfishness that a man puts his slaves to death, burns his precious oil, throws coppers into the sea, and sets his house on fire. In doing this he is also sacrificing to the gods and spirits, who appear incarnate in the men who are at once their namesakes and ritual allies.


gift obligations?

March 25, 2009

I have never found a man so generous and hospitable that he would not
receive a present, nor one so liberal with his money that he would dislike a
reward if he could get one.
Friends should rejoice each others’ hearts with gifts of weapons and
raiment, that is clear from one’s own experience. That friendship lasts
longest—if there is a chance of its being a success—in which friends both
give and receive gifts.
A man ought to be a friend to his friend and repay gift with gift. People
should meet smiles with smiles and lies with treachery.

Know—if you have a friend in whom you have sure confidence and wish
to make use of him, you ought to exchange ideas and gifts with him and go to
see him often.
If you have another in whom you have no confidence and yet will make
use of him, you ought to address him with fair words but crafty heart and
repay treachery with lies.
Further, with regard to him in whom you have no confidence and of
whose motives you are suspicious, you ought to smile upon him and
dissemble your feelings. Gifts ought to be repaid in like coin.
Generous and bold men have the best time in life and never foster
troubles. But the coward is apprehensive of everything and a miser is always
groaning over his gifts.
Better there should be no prayer than excessive offering; a gift always
looks for recompense. Better there should be no sacrifice than an excessive

Havamal, vv. 39, 41-2, 44-6, 48 and 145, from the translation by
D. E. Martin Clarke in The Havamal, with Selections from other
Poems in the Edda, Cambridge, 1923.

The Evolution of Gift Giving

March 24, 2009

What is a gift? Which kind of gift-giving and why do we practicse now and why did we practicse in the pre-industrial societies?

In the essays:The Evolution of Gift Giving Jonathan Bruck shows us the complicity of « gift-giving » It follows the way of understanding  a gift notion and the gift giving reason and its different perception in time on the history. Many of researches and theories on this subject are based on the observation and understanding of pre-industrial societies and their rituals which are different and difficult to apply to current situation

Jonathan Bruck refers to Marcel Mauss and his wotk Essay on the Gift: Gifts are a primary source of social exchange within a society and valuable for the formation and maintenance of bonds in our social networks.

What does gift mean?

-something that is bestowed voluntarily and without compensation (The American Heritage Dictionary)

-all commodities, all products, are subject to an act of choice as to whether they may potentially function as a true gift (Dilnot. The Gift)

-virtually any resource, whether tangible or intangible, can be transformed into a gift. Objects, services, and experiences may be conferred as gifts (Sherry)

-Gifts are tangible expressions of social relationships” (Sherry).

-Gifts are one of the ways in which the pictures that others have of us in their minds are transmitted”

-The gift imposes an identity upon the giver as well as the receiver. “Consequently, to accept a gift is to accept (at least in part) an identity and to reject a gift is to reject a definition of oneself” . Whether a gift is accepted or rejected this identity component is a valuable aspect of the gift that contributes to an ongoing exchange between people. (Schwartz)

Why do we give gifts?

-for being generous to others often leads us to be even more generous to ourselves .
Using objects to make connections between people and establish one’s authority is an ancient and universal form of human behavior. Other species make limited use of tools to establish specific tasks, but only humans – so far as we can tell – place objects at the very heart of their societies (Hines).

Marcel Mauss sees gift exchange as (1) the obligatory transfer of (2) inalienable objects or service between (3) related and mutually obligated transactors”. The gifts are under the obligation to repay gifts received; the obligation to give presents and the obligation to receive them

(..)There is  no free gifts… the whole idea of a free gift is based on a misunderstanding… A gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction(…)

Do pure gifts exist?

If anyone is giving without expectations of reciprocity?
The “proper gift” and “double joy” in gift-giving can only be achieved with the removal of obligation. When someone somewhere is formally expecting to receive a “gift” from us and we are obligated to provide one. The transformation of an act that should be based on love and free will into one based on social and economic obligation ensures that resentment dominates the relation. In this context, what should be the easiest thing—to give joy to others we know—becomes almost impossible ( Dilnot)

Jonathan Bruck proposes tha the pure gift should be understood in regards to feelings of emotion involved in the gift- giving process. A defining factor is that the pure gift is accompanied with high levels of affection by the giver towards the receiver.
By him, from this standpoint, both the obligatory gift and pure gift can co-exist. In reality, any gift will exist on a spectrum between obligation and pureness that is defined by the level of affection by the giver.
Authors shows the switch between Mauss work analyze of societies and new generations and their different social relationship. The new generation is no longer getting married and forming traditional family structures that all the gift-giving theory was based on. With the different networks comes different sets of rules for gift-giving.
they put a higher value on the pure gift (higher level of affection), which results in a greater demand on the giver to meet this requirement . The primary functions of the gift now is too inform and support the relationship. It not only states that a tie is strong enough to warrant a gift, but tells the receiver how important he is to the giver. This contrasts with kin based gift-giving where obligation is a perfectly acceptable motive. Obligatory gift-giving in this context acts as a reminder of the relationship between the giver and receiver .
Jonathan Bruck talks also about the commercialization of the calendar. The industrial revolution sets into motion a new kind of consumption, celebration and gift-giving. Industrialized societies were producing more and cheaper goods to buy and give. Globalization brought all of us to common festivals days as Mother’s Day (flowers gift), St Valentines (chocolate, postcards), Independence Day (fireworks) and cards for all occasions.
This new situation brought other questions: How big role big a role the retailers and marketers played in creating these gift-giving events? Do we give because we want to or because we have to?