Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Gift Economy


An article I wrote about the first time I went to Burning Man is on Travel Generation today. In it, I talk about how the festival operates on a gift economy. The gifts I took that year were button badges. There were 18 designs in all, six of which are above.

I have been thinking a lot about gifting. I disagree with Derrida's claim that the gift is impossible since, from the moment you receive it, it becomes weighted with obligation and no longer qualifies as a pure present. But I agree with Marcel Mauss's argument that solidarity is achieved through the social bonds created by gift exchange.

On Monday I left the house on three different occasions and each time I came back someone had left a gift near the front door. 

I mentioned to my friend Jo that I was looking for a recipe for pickling cucumbers as all our plants have fruited at once. She left three cook books with pickling recipes bookmarked, O left a stack of gleaned pears and Chris gave me a betting ticket for a horse called Good Red.

It's like when people ask me what I do for a living, I ask them if they mean for money or not. I operate within a capitalist template – I have a mortgage and bills to pay – but I exist within a gift economy where I care more about the exchange than my change.

5 comments:

ms. delisha said...

I still have one of these buttons somewhere in a shoebox of treasures.

I think that guerilla gifting (a random act of generosity) is not weighted with any kind of obligation, and it therefore IS a pure gift. And, the kind of gift that builds solidarity and community.

And, I believe that the more you give, randomly, with no expectation of return - the more enriching the experience of exchange.

Thank you, LOM for giving me the guerilla gift of thoughts about the economy of pure generosity.
xx

(Text)ure and (me)aning said...

Agreed!
At the general store people often bring in produce from their garden, herbs, fruit, bay leaves to ward off flies-
We put what ever it is on the counter and give it away to people, we also do this with some stock in the shop, ie, bread and eggs..
It causes many reactions...

Last week Liz gave us a bag of figs, so on the counter they went, when throwing in a couple to someone's shopping bag, they said, "free figs! do you know how much they are worth at the moment, you're crazy!"
The customer went to give me some money and I said, "no no, you just enjoy them, they are from a local persons tree."
Their eyes lit up and they said "Well then How lovely, would you take some of my rosemary and give it away to people, I have heaps and I never know what to do with it."

Great huh!

Meg said...

That is sooo lovely and goes to show that gifting is contagious.

About half an hour ago, our elderly neighbour Maria came by with an apple pie she baked with fruit from her trees, which goes to show that gifting can also make you fat...

Anonymous said...

But I don't know that obligation is such a bad thing either.
We have this kind of psychological interpretation of the term I think, and live in such a culture of debt that the idea of 'pure' debt, or obligation, perhaps has a perverted slant.

I mean you could think of a blog as 'gifting' and you could also feel a kind of obligation towards it. You could think of work you do for money as gifting in some moments and ways, and the renumeration as quite separate from that.

i think Derrida's idea is more to do with the reciprocal or discursive obligation as a social tie - not an enforced pressure, but a dialogue to weigh as you may. But I don't know where yr quoting from.

I think in his conversations about death - his writings about his friends who have gone - he makes that willingness of obligation known.

To owe something is
something of love I think and has no timeline or specificity apart from what you desire.

your stories of gifts are great - and how did good red go?

trudy

Meg said...

I'm not sure how Good Red ran, all I know is that he didn't win.

I have just started reading about Gifting so I don't know as much as I'd like, but I'm hoping you can help me out, Trudy. I'd love to learn more.

I don't think obligation is necessarily a bad thing either in terms of building social relations, unless the obligation is burdening.

(We were once invited over for dinner to some friends' house and because of prior engagements and interstate work, couldn't invite them back for 6 weeks. But according to our friends, this amount of time was too long for us to reciprocate and through their behaviour, they let us know that they were not interested in being our friends. It made us feel awful and I resented the initial dinner as a result.)

I like how Mauss talks about the reciprocal exchange of gifting, and I love his question: "What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?"

Here are Derrida's four criteria for a 'free gift' that I was basing my comments on:

1. There is no reciprocity
2. The recipient must not recognise the gift as a gift or himself as the recipient of a gift
3. The donor must not recognise the gift, either
4. The thing itself cannot appear as a "gift"

If having a blog is like giving a gift, great comments such as all of these are a great exchange.