On The In/Compatibility Of Giving and Exchange

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: Booth 68
Oral Presentation
Olli PYYHTINEN , Departmanent of Social Recearch, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
The paper argues for the importance of making a distinction between gift-giving and ceremonial gift exchange. Ever since Marchel Mauss and his pioneering essay The Gift, sociologists and anthropologists have considered the gift largely on the basis of exchange. However, there are also forms of giving that are not reducible to the reciprocity of exchange. While in ceremonial gift exchange (e.g. Christmas and birthday presents, reciprocal dinner invitations, etc.) gifts are perhaps best conceptualised in terms of reciprocal recognition (Hénaff, 2010), the practices of giving presented by self-sacrifice and humanitarian aid, for instance, escape or at least suspend the strict economy of exchange. What is more, the paper suggests that modelling the gift solely according to exchange significantly undermines the giving (up) involved in the gift. Whenever what is given is given only 'in exchange', so to speak, the giving with abandon is annulled already by definition. Nevertheless, it is not that giving would be completely separate from reciprocity. The paper argues that gratuitousness and reciprocity comprise two dimensions of the gift that at once presuppose and exclude each other. The gift of ceremonial gift exchange needs to involve some generosity and thus at least be guided by the ideal of the pure, absolute gift, if it is to avoid being turned into sheer market exchange. And, from the other way around, even the gratuitous giving in pure loss seems to presuppose at least a minimum of reciprocity – insofar as the gift is accepted by the givee – if it is not to remain illusory, utopian, and abstract.