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Hello, nice to meet you. ^_^ I think I should apologize first; I wrote a post at my blog page lest a long comment might be rather inappropriate for discussion format, but later I realized that other people need to visit my page separately to read what I say, and this discussion gets scattered. I'm sorry. And I attach my comment here again.
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I agree to the basic point of David. 1) 'gift' is not a homogeneous category; 2) 'communism' might be the baseline of all social forms; 3) all types of gift interactions coexist in any given society. And I find his figuration on three different modalities of gift useful, because as he suggests in a comment, what could be considered as 'gift' itself might be the problem, not only when we re-read the past literature on the gift practices, but especially when we raise the issue of social transformation which I guess David is also interested in.
To add one thing more on the second point, I'd like to borrow the basic approach from Marx as well; as I understood it, one of the basic tenets of Marx is that both 'capitalism' and 'communism' are 'movements' rather than different sets of 'morality' - and we might say that there is a possibility that both forms of movement coexist in any given society as David argues, but in a different manner; my question is about 'the dynamics' rather than 'shifting modalities'; the relationship among the three different modes of interactions, provisionally taking David's terminology, and about what kinds of movements the different 'socialities' are formed on. In the way of figuring out how these different principles interact, I hope that my opinion on David's essay will become clearer, though in an indirect manner.
I found Gustaf's observation interesting because I've been thinking about the same problem as well. He wrote,
I work in the tourist industry. This means we have to always believe the guest is always right. Sometimes this leads to conflicts. I have had a few of those. Especially with internet there is a tendency for some to misunderstand what they have booked and paid for. It sometimes comes to a discussion. We give gifts, say a breakfast, to please them, to take away the bad feelings that occurred in the discussion. How are one to intepret this gift according to the three points you discuss?
The actions such as 'doing whatever that pleases the customer', in a sense, are based on the 'communistic' principle, and the code of action seems to be getting emphasized more and more in the so-called 'capitalistic' relationship. David argues that it is based on the exchange principle. But as I see it, if 'communism' is the baseline of all social relationship, there must be some other feature added to that one. Maybe we need to expand the concept not only toward different types of actions or situations, but toward every particular action in any given situation.
Then what do we see? I'd say it is the way how 'capitalism as a movement' takes place in reality. I think this is related to the way how 'exploitation' occurs, and it is getting more intensified - for example in the service work sectors - maybe first theorized by Hochschild in her discussion on 'emotional labor'. What the service workers do is based not only on the principle of 'exchange' but also on the principle of 'ability' - the things expected to do for the service workers are precisely to respond to the customer's needs as much as they can. The 'contract', in its ideal I think, is based on the obligations and rights of each party, which in turn can be clarified in terms of concrete actions. If a relationship to be formed on a 'contract', the obligations and the rights should be clearly identified and defined in specific action-oriented manner; "A should give X to B on the condition that B gives Y to A." But the nature of service work is different; let's suppose that A is the service worker and B is the customer. Then Y might be an identifiable obligation - Y will pay the money he or she is supposed to give - the price. But X is more like a blank; there is no rigidly specified obligation. I think what defines the service work is in its indeterminancy; housemaids often say that they find things to do that they originally didn't expect when they make a contract - I found the book Domestica interesting in this regard.
In reality, X is certainly limited by expectations of both transactors. No customer will ask for a dish of Chinese food at a Mexican restaurant even when (s)he whimsically fell in the mood for Chinese food. And a customer at a beauty shop won't ask for car polish to the shop workers even though (s)he needs it and the workers are able to do the work. (Maybe somewhere in the world, service workers are doing such things already.) But at this point, what I think particularly interesting, is that for a certain commercial organization to 'survive' in the market where competition is getting even more intensified, 'supplement' is gaining more importance; you need to give a heart-felt devotion to the customer - you need to be their 'friend'; all these things are fairly well figured in the American TV show "Undercover Boss" as well. Korea's situation is not very different. One day I saw a quite symptomatic catch-phrase that summarizes this trend. There it read, "We are not satisfied with your response 'satisfied'; We will never cease our endeavor till every customer finds our service 'very' satisfactory."
As David suggests, when the need for a particular activity exceeds certain level, then people tend to be rely on the 'communistic' principle. But I think this is what is happening even below the level of life-and-death problem, or even when people feel that the request from the customer is not trivial; one might argue that this courtesy after all bears a reasonable cost for the worker. And in a sense, such things always have happened when we see that all types of interactions have coexisted. It might be, and might have. But then I'd say that the measure about what can be considered as 'reasonable' seems to be changing all the time, and what is again important is the 'movement'.
Returning back to the 'contract' problem, I'd like to point out that there's an asymmetry between X and Y. I think it's quite interesting because in case of X, there's a bigger degree of freedom; I mean, a customer is not expected to pay the price for the transaction with a bag of rice for example - (s)he needs to pay it with money. So I think this is not a relationship based on the exchange of like-and-like. When we try to figure out whether this is a relationship of 'exchange' of like-and-like, I think we have two different options; 1) we can argue that the process of valorization makes the two different things equal; 2) we can differentiate the dimensions that each type of interaction belongs to. In either option, I personally don't think the three categories can be parallel - and as I understand this is not David's explicit argument either. But I think the fact that there's an asymmetry in the degree of freedom is quite significant. But how free is it really? I think the question can be answered only by the consideration on 'articulation' and power relations. So I clarify one more point in David's argument; 4) 'hierarchy' is the opposite of 'reciprocity' - I think 'hierarchy' is formed when 'communism' and 'exchange' are articulated to each other - the way how 'exploitation' occurs; and then we need to know how power relation is formed between the two different modalities.
David, I find myself wondering how your categories relate to those deployed by Amitai Etzioni in his explanations of organizational behavior and by Amartya Sen in his analysis of social inequality. Etzioni suggests that organizations have three options available for controlling their members' behavior: coercion, compensation or appeal to shared values; Joseph Nye has proposed a similar scheme for international relations, involving military, economic, and what he calls soft power, the attractiveness of the image that a nation presents when it presents itself as a model for others to follow. In _inequality Reconsidered_, Sen argues that there are two notions of fairness abroad in the world. For one, embodied in democratic politics, the units of fairness are human individuals and, thus, for some to have more than others is deemed unfair. For the other, embodied in corporate governance, the units of fairness are units of ownership. Thus, for example, at a shareholders meeting, those who own more shares hasve a greater say in how the corporation is run.
I am not trying here to say that these categories are superior to yours. On the contrary, I see here great opportunities for cross-fertilization and enhancing the relevance of anthropological discussion to policy debates, since Etzioni, Nye and Sen are all highly influential figures in circles in which anthropologists (Keith Hart is an exception) rarely have any impact, regardlessl of the value of our ideas per se.
I have a few problems with the funtionalistic view Graeber wants to take. To paraphrase Leach it is a bit like butterfly collecting. What is the big sense of being able to say that is an exchange, communism, or hierarchy?
After one has singles out the three aspects of the gift, one has to add them to a context to make them useful. To collect butterflies doesn't create an understanding for the culture one is investigating. Therefore I don't understand the Graeber's determination to keep it on a functionalistic (simplistic) level.
But these leads to Heesun's point about communism and giving: the actor who gives just gives what (s)he is able to give. I found it very fruitful to compare this comment to Julieta's comment on the politics in Argentina.
Here is an anecdote from work which I think is typical human and occurs in every society. At work we try to help each other. But the help is on a basic level conditional, it always has the aspect of reciprocity. I scratch your back but only if you scratch mine.
A while we had a free rider (I stubbornly try to get this term into the discussion) among us. She always asked for favours but seldom reciprocated. A gift creates a obligation to reciprocate. Fairly quickly we all noticed that she didn't fulfill this commitment. We made a point of not helping her (not lending the hammer in Heesun's example). We didn't care on the common good. But as soon as somebody else, who reciprocated, asked for help, we immediately helped.
Again the ability to help was made in to a symbol of the relation between the members of the group and became a way of showing where one belonged in the hierarchy, i.e. how popular one was.
As I wrote I need to refresh the old theories that I don't make a fool of myself again, or worse, don't make myself understood.
Let me change the term, since I don't mean it in the structural-functionionalistic way you propose: I fail to see what is functionalist about my argument, since I in no way say that institutions can be explained solely or primarily in terms of their function.
Let me call your terms analysing tools. But like a hammer one needs to use it in a concrete way like to build houses or kill bugs. By using the tool box " the gift", I can for example analyse the basic relationship at at my work. The problem would be that it would only be a draft, since I would miss the jokes and the laughters. Here another term like joking relationship would be interesting.
You wrote: I'm a bit hesitant about generalizing about "the gift" in any way because "the gift" is a negative category - it's basically any transfer of something considered an economic good that isn't framed on an expressly commercial logic. There is absolutely no reason to assume that all non-commercial transactions should have any traits in common, aside from being transactions (and even that is tricky to define) - and indeed, my argument is that they need not. I do think that many of the most interesting gifts slip around between the three principles, partake of all of them to varying degrees, etc - they play off the ambiguities. This is one of the things that makes the lit on "the gift" so rich and interesting. But it's still very deceptive in assuming there's a single object. (My underlines)
It is this abstractness which I am criticising. I am much more practical. Maybe it has to do with political background. My reasons for discussing the gift isn't to see new alternatives. As you write: Understanding the range of economic systems that have existed also expands, or at least helps to focus, our conceptions of those that could exist. It is to understand the present.
I fail to see the difference between the selfish gene and your communistic disposition to share. A