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This is a really fascinating discussion of the various forms and functions of gift, as seen primarily from an economic perspective. The categories of communism, exchange and hierarchy cover a wide range of economic relationships, and I agree that gift is a medium for building and maintaining each of these kinds of relationships. I must admit that I had been disappointed in the past that Mauss almost always refers to gift as a form of exchange. However, David's essay and all of the discussion here has shown me that it was only that I had been so stuck on the term "gift exchange" that I had ignored the wider range of economic relationships that Mauss was describing in terms of gift.
Having got over that hurdle, I find that now I am stuck on the notion of gift discussed primarily as a mode of economic expression. I prefer to consider gift from a broader ecological perspective, which includes but is not limited to the economic perspective. I think this may help to understand the gut-level reaction to the word "communism" that several people have expressed, and which I felt also: How is it that communism is the highest motivation that we can ascribe to gift? How about Lewis Hyde's concept of the gift, which I would summarize as any expression of the creativity of our inalienable, irrepressible, intrinsic life-force? From an ecological perspective, I would extend this concept of gift to any expression of the creativity inherent in all life, not only in human life.
From an ecological perspective, we observe and learn from the complex systems (natural, social, cultural, etc.) in which we find ourselves, hopefully to find our healthy, co-creative niches within them. From a more specifically economic perspective, we then apply what we have learned: we attempt to manage, control and optimize these systems for the benefit of (some) humans. It is understandable then, that from an economic perspective we see gifts primarily as given and received by/from humans to meet human needs/goals/objectives, while we externalize nature's gifts as mere accessible resources. However, often when we engage in exchange, really we are sharing nature's gifts. For example, suppose an apple tree grows on "my" land and a orange tree grows on "your" land; when we economically "exchange" apples and oranges, mostly we are sharing nature's gifts. So it is also with the gifts of human creativity, such as the ideas we are all sharing in this discussion. On the other hand, I would not say the same of productivity, which comes into view more from an economic perspective but not so much from an ecological one.
I would be interested to hear what others think about the relationship between ecological and economic perspectives of gift, and how these might or might not map into the categories under consideration: communism, exchange, hierarchy.
I will make one more effort to get David to talk about the contemporary political relevance of this paper. Perhaps there has been a degree of compartmentalization between this seminar and the events discussed here. So let's try some triangualtion with this:
Tagged as: anarchist anarchistbookfair2010 bookfair culture cuts guy_debord left richard_barbrook workers_struggles
Does the word 'Revolution' has any meaning anymore? Is there any point to political writing? and was the last British election actually a coup d'état by the civil service?
This and other questions are put to Dr. Richard Barbrook, winner of the 2008 Marshall McLuhan Prize for 'Outstanding Book in the Field of Media Ecology' and a University of Westminster lecturer.
He begins by discussing Guy Debord's 'The Game of War', as a way to think about politics, and maybe a way of improving how we practice politics better.
You don't have to see the video of the interview to get the idea.
This discussion is bringing a lot of anthropological material related to the gift theory and practice, however I nothing heard about the future of gift exchanges in a new multicultural and non ethnocentric Universe where cosmopolitan attitudes of rich and poor are faced to the globalised economy as motivated mainly by monstruous multinational companies. By this I mean that even if peoples mentalities change in the West regarding the idea of the strict nation-state and tending to a soft and liberal cosmopolitanism, the globalised model of economy much facilitated also by banks , does not permit the expression of free cosmopolitan actions such as gift exchanges and ticket free spectacles starting from artistic ceremonies and festivals and going to athletic shows such as World football Cups or Olympiades. In the contrary all is highly commercialised while art and athletism serve well as pretexts for new profit makers and open incredible new horizons of business. What anthropology has to propose to this new commercialised World system and what could be the possible role of gift exchange among individuals or free ticket offers ( a sort of gift to the audiences) under present circumstances ? If massive gift exchange especially through the western invention of holidays ( by the pretext of the holy days of Xmas etc) is not fitting anymore to the Maussian theory, then what ? Have we to reinvent a new and more efficace theory about gifts based on the moral grounds of economical relations ( as the title of this seminar says) ?
Let us start by saying that the centred 'conceptual structure' of which he speaks is Marxism in its traditional, textual and logocentric context. This 'conceptual structure', I sure we will all agree, has on some level become part of the contemporary academic hegemony. Discussions of class, property, hierarchy etc.. become framed by the 'conceptual structure' expressed in Marx's critique of capitalism. It is hard to discuss class without relation to 'predicate' information: commodity, wealth, accumulation, proletariat, bourgeoisie etc... as such class becomes defined by the 'predicate' information/ concepts.
Now let us extract from the 'conceptual structure' of Marxism, and the concepts predicate Marxism itself, the idea of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” this becomes what Derrida refereed to in the above passage as “X” or what David refers to as “communism”. The task of the deconstructionist would be to establish a meaning of X which does not necessarily exclude the predicate concepts but potentially acknowledges them. With this newly extracted concept X we are able to find a use for it which extends beyond the previously necessary paradigms that come with Marxism as conceptual apparatus. The extracted concept can be of greater use now both in understanding traditional Marxism as well as developing new angles of thought which are less reliant on academic hegemony.
Nihilistic readings of Derrida and other post-modernists tend to see his activity as counter productive: breaking down useful ideologies into useless individual concepts. This is not how I read Derrida and, I don't believe this is what he intended. He was not trying to destroy our intellectual 'progress' but instead he wished to 'shake up' and challenge the very foundations of the way we think by reducing widely used ideologies to their constituent sections. This is something I feel David achieves very well in this piece, as well as in others. The working defenition of communism given by David escapes some of its reliance on the other concepts of Marxism and provides an excellent method of developing new modes of thought.
Just to put David's argument in an old left context, my attention has been drawn to the other side in the discussion of communism:
The Idea of Communism
An all-star cast of radical intellectuals discuss the continued importance of communism. Do not be afraid, join us, come back! You’ve had your anti-communist fun, and you are pardoned for it—time to get serious once again!—Slavoj Žižek
Responding to Alain Badiou’s ‘communist hypothesis’, the leading political philosophers of the Left convened in London in 2009 to take part in a landmark conference to discuss the perpetual, persistent notion that, in a truly emancipated society, all things should be owned in common. This volume brings together their discussions on the philosophical and political import of the communist idea, highlighting both its continuing significance and the need to reconfigure the concept within a world marked by havoc and crisis.
This is less a question, and more a register of appreciation for David's exceptional paper and the great discussion it's generated. I know precious little about the 'gift' literature in anthropology - a shameful admission - but this has been a wonderful education. David's position - that there's no reason why the logic of the gift should be singular - reminds me somewhat of Don Handelman's argument in Models and Mirrors that ritual (another anthropological staple) doesn't have to conform to the solo organisational dynamic that anthropology so often imagines.
I just wondered, in the light of David's last articulation of his worry about extending the sphere of politics to non-human entities such as ants and moss, etc, as to whether or not this might have been an implicit critique of Latour; certainly, the mention of ants (ANTs) suggested as much - though perhaps my imagination ran away with me!
(I appreciate that this query is peripheral to the issues of the paper. Apologies.)