Online Seminar 23 November - 4 December: David Graeber On the moral grounds of economic relations

Everyone has heard of Marcel Mauss's The Gift, some have even read it. But it remains one of the most misunderstood texts in the anthropological canon. This is mainly because gifts are usually thought of as a unitary category opposed to the self-interest on which commerce depends. David Graeber begins by showing that the idea of the gift combines transactions based on diverse sociological principles. In this he is closer to Mauss than are many contemporary interpreters of the essay. But what he takes from Mauss is a vision and method that is counter-intuitive from a modernist perspective. This is that the basic forms of economic life are present in all societies, but are given different emphasis in particular combinations. This means that radical alternatives to capitalism can build on established practices that have been subordinated to money-making, but by no means eliminated.

David rejects the bourgeois assumption that exchange is always the dominant factor in economic life. It is however one of three modes of economic organization that have a claim to being universal in varying degree. The others are communism and hierarchy. By the first he does not mean the pattern associated with socialist states in the twentieth century, but 'everyday communism', from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs, a principle that he claims is synonymous with 'baseline sociality'. Hierarchy often draws on a rhetoric of reciprocity, but its principle is quite the opposite of exchange.

David Graeber is a distinguished economic anthropologist whose Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value (2001) has been seminal and Lost People (2007), on a former slave community in Madagascar, is a unique historical ethnography. His reflections on economy have culminated in a synthesis, Debt: The First 5,000 years (January 2011). But to some extent all this work is a means to a political end. David is a well-known anarchist whose engagement has led to the publication of Direct Action: An Ethnography (2009) and several collections of essays.

David may be something of a revolutionary, but he is also a tremendous scholar with a passion for learning. There is no living anthropologist from whom I have learned as much as from him. I am sure you will too. Please do not hesitate to join in our discussions. On the moral grounds of economic relations: a Maussian approach may be found on the OAC Press main page and a pdf version downloaded, if you prefer.

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OK, I take your points Keith, though I did not intend to take up so much space in the conversation, so I will keep it relatively brief.

These days I am writing about what (among other labels) is called ‘flexible capitalism’. More specifically I consider the kind of heightened experience of ‘uncertainty/risk’ that is widely held to accompany new flexible forms of work and organization. My hunch (from fieldwork) is that, at heart, such uncertainty is not particularly novel (though its concrete contemporary forms and articulations may be), and that appreciating this in turn enables us to appreciate new dimensions of flexible work, having to do with representation, e.g. by means of the new information technologies that are so readily being embraced as part of this ‘flexible’ scene. It is a sort of ‘bottom-up’ perspective on the popularity of new information technology and flexible work I am trying to develop if you will (based on fieldwork which suggests that informal flexible work enabled by new IT is very popular; I try to find out why).

So I am looking to the literature for help in articulating this. Leaving transactionalists aside, Bourdieu’s point about the temporal dimension to gift exchange, and his related take on strategic symbolic practice, seems of some relevance, but in short, Bourdieu does not really seem to me the best way of approaching this.
Staying with Mauss’ classic, I think what David brings up both about representation, and about the complexity of motivations and moralities in transactions, is bang-on and fascinating stuff. But what I wonder then, is if this ‘complex’ perspective might not in fact entail some questions - about an inherent uncertainty and ambiguity of transactions, e.g. in terms of ‘which motivation pertains’ in the process of transacting, and how representation relates to that - which it might be worth commenting on, whether or not it can justly be based on Mauss? Though of course it is fair enough, if that is a project for another paper!

I am sorry if this does not come across very clearly, I am in the process of trying to sort it out myself, which was a reason I thought this seminar might be helpful for my own conversation, and mine to yours…
Jens, could you tell us a bit more about the people with whom you are doing your fieldwork on flexible work? I ask because I am myself a beneficiary of the flexibility made possible by ICT technology. My wife and I are partners in a small but moderately successful translation and copywriting business with a number of regular clients with whom we have worked for years. Their indifference to the physical location at which the work they ask us to do is done means that we can do things like spend three months this summer in Cambridge, MA, helping their dad take care of our grandkids while their mother was doing an internship. When I think what work flexibility means to the people that Barbara Erenreich describes in _Nickled and Dimed_, to academic friends stuck in what appears to be an endless series of low-paid adjunct teaching jobs, or to software engineers or radiologists, whose jobs are outsourced to cheaper labor markets, I can see a serious downside to the kind of flexibility idolized by adherents of market fundamentalism. I cannot help wondering if your population includes enough divergence in income and other material circumstances to highlight these differences.
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.
Finally, for Keith, taking on board his arguments for the relevance of fiction to anthropological debates, allow me to point to Chapter 89 of _Moby Dick_, "Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish." The distinction is between whales to which the whaler has some material attachment, be it as thin as the cord attached to the harpoon or the chains by which the carcass of the whale is held to the side of the whaler while being butchered and those to which no such attachment exists. After a long discussion of the various ramifications of this distinction, Melville concludes with the following paragraph.

"What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What are all men's minds and opinions but Loose-fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the grate globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?"

Interesting questions these, especially in a world so filled with whalers with sharpened harpoons called advertising, marketing, rhetoric, ideology and physical force.
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.
Heesun brings up so many interesting points in her rich and generous comment (generous to everyone, to me, and to the participants in throwing out so much to enliven discussion) that it's hard to know how to address them all. I'll focus then on a couple - at least for starters. I number of her points circulate around one theme which she - so politely it's actually hard to tell - is suggesting, I think, that I sort of skirted over or at least didn't fully address - that of asymmetric forms of what might otherwise seem communistic relations. In this she's right. I did sort of dodge the issue.

In the value book I discussed a bit about why there was a problem here stemming from Mauss: in his lectures, Mauss included both relations in which two parties had equal rights to draw on one another's labor and resources if needed, and those where only one side had rights to draw on the other, in his "total prestation", which he did also describe as "communism." This allowed Levi-Strauss (who is incidentally responsible for the three-part 'exchange of words, exchange of goods, exchange of women' - that's how it's usually rendered in English - trichotomy) to speak of "generalized exchange" when A gives to B gives C gives A, and Sahlins to talk about "generalized reciprocity", which is, supposedly, when everyone gives everyone in such a way that we return to some kind of communism again, but which also allows him to insisting communism is really a form of indirect reciprocity. I tried to sidestep this entire snakepit - at least, it seemed like a snakepit to me, because if you fall into it bad things seem to happen - and just start over by putting unequal forms of communism to the side, and merely considering them as either ways that communism underlies all (including hierarchical) relations, or how communism can tend to shift into hierarchy, especially if people don't put egalitarian safeguards in place the way Clastres describes, to prevent this. I think this is good enough to in a piece that is just trying to clarify the issues, what are these three logics, but it's true, it's probably inadequate in the longer run and eventually we'd have to consider this problem head-on.

I think Heesun's point about emotional labor, anticipating the client's needs, the work of providing something that feels like domesticity (or even better an idealized version of what domesticity should be like but rarely is), friendship, love, etc, is extremely important. We have all heard, for instance, of young Japanese women who get paid hundreds of dollars an hour by bars catering to Japanese businessmen abroad, to just sit around making pleasant interesting conversation to whoever happens to drop by. It's an extreme version of a role that recurs constantly: the exchange of a fixed sum of cash for services which partake of what we consider the most personal aspects of personal relations: even, here, things like concern about your family problems or interest in your theories about the market. (I've been told high priced prostitutes who cater to itinerant businessmen half the time end up doing the same thing, often they don't even want sex, they want someone who will listen to them who they know they could have sex with even if they don't.)

However there is a side to this which is little remarked. The one-sided communistic element "you do whatever you can do that I need, but I will just pay you for that" is actually present in any form of wage or even salaried labor. This is obviously true to different degrees. There are job descriptions. But it very much distinguishes, say, feudal relations, where just about everything should in principle be established by custom, with capitalism, where what Marx refers to as "abstract labor" appears - sheer capacity to work as a commodity, you can buy the right to command someone to do whatever you feel you need them to do. Before that, you'd have to buy a slave to be able to do that. It is interesting that the wage labor relation emerges from a conjuncture between slavery (in many, many parts of the world wage labor contracts were entirely or largely limited to slaves, they were basically slave rentals where the slave got to keep a share for upkeep), and relations of domestic service: it being considered appropriate, in late Medieval and Early Modern northern Europe anyway, for most people to spend their time from maybe 12 to as late as 30 as a servant in someone else's household (whether as milkmaid, apprentice, page, etc) until they had acquired the wherewithal to marry and establish an independent household. Capitalism meant that millions of apprentices and journeymen in particular ended up stuck in permanent social adolescence, could never become masters, gave up, married early, and thus became proletarian (which incidentally etymologically derives from Latin for those who produce children). Anyway both that attentive servant aspect and the does-whats-ordered slave aspect could be said to be fused together here. Marcel Mauss actually did notice and remark on this in a sense at the end of The Gift, in a part of his argument nowadays largely ignored, in part I think because people don't understand his use of "total" (it's confusing because "total social fact" and "total prestation" are very different ideas and people entangle them.) He says the reason people are dissatisfied with the wage labor contract is that it's a had contract, specifically, because the wage you receive lacks the "total" quality of what you give, since when you are hired, you are expected to give the boss whatever he needs, and he is not expected to give you whatever you need, say, if you get sick or are disabled or have some kind of life crisis. Obviously the "total" quality of money (that you can buy anything with it) is supposed to be the equivalent but in practice it doesn't work that way. This would be why hierarchical patronage relations actually seem like they make more sense to people who have a choice, because at least there's something like a communistic base to the hierarchy, and indeed, that's what people in most parts of the world - probably all - ordinarily do choose if they have options.

So in that sense I would agree with Heesun that hierarchy can happen when communism and exchange are articulated, something which I think is particularly salient in patronage relations, where people often dance back and forth between the language of exchange and the language of hierarchy in a way which often seems illogical and puzzling. (I.e., I can never repay my debt to my patron in finding me a job, so I repay him by tokens of recognition that I can't repay him...). Like wage labor relations, (most) patronage relations are relations of formal equality, in that both are equally citizens, of the same jural status, but voluntarily creating a relation of hierarchy between each other. Debt of course is the same thing.

This was half reply, half digression, but it shows what important and fertile ground Heesun was opening up. Thanks much for the post - I'll leave off now (have to run to school) but hopefully this will suffice as a first reply and we can continue the conversation.

heesun hwang said:
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.

+ + +

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.

Yes I agree anthropologists - or at least, those of the current dominant generation - have largely taken themselves out of the big discussions and this is something I've always felt was the same. The reaction to my own work is telling here. I'm really just continuing the tradition of my own mentors, people like Marshall Sahlins and Terry Turner at Chicago, but that generation which produced them, which simply assumed that anthropologists have unique insights about human possibilities that should inform larger discussion and debate. As a result, the people who actually engage with what I say tend to be either older, often, emeritus professors who are still thinking in those terms and find it refreshing to find someone picking up what they feel to be the grand tradition, and students, who have not yet had the curiosity which drew them to the field professionalized away from them.

As for the particulars, well, I think the relation of the schema I'm proposing here and those of Sen, Etzioni, etc are clear enough. The main difference is that they are looking at a more immediately functionalist level (how do institutions gain allegiance or anyway compliance, etc) and I'm more talking about the even more elementary building-blocks. Also there's a matter long-term and short-term. For instance, you might convince someone to be loyal to the company by paying them, or appealing to company spirit, or threatening their children, but the _way_ that you organize relations within the company will likely still partake of cooperative, as I say, communistic logic. In a way, being the ground, that trumps everything. Oddly, whenever I think of this, my mind is drawn to certain old Jackie Chan movies where he used to make a joke of the fact - these are the ones still in Chinese, from the early '90s - where he'd have a fight scene, then something happens where the two parties will be faced with a danger so huge (the building is about to collapse) they'll be forced to temporarily frantically cooperate so they can put themselves in a situation where they can start hitting each other again.

John McCreery said:
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 must confess myself to be profoundly confused by Gustaf's use of the term "functionalist." My understanding of functionalism is that it is a principle of explanation, whereby social phenomenon are explained exclusively or primarily in terms of their purported function, that is, their role in answering certain presumed human or social needs - particularly, in the structural-functional version, the presumed need to maintain social harmony or cohesion. This imperative in turn caused structural-functionalists like Radcliffe-Brown to typologize types of social structure, i.e., matrilineal societies, patrilineal societies, etc, which is why Leach was able to object that all this was simply butterfly collecting, organizing butterflies by red, blue, green, rather than examining their underlying anatomical structure. In response he called on anthropologists to look at underlying structural principles that could be said to be present anywhere, in the same way that entomologists look at the different elements in a butterfly's anatomy that come together in different ways regardless of the color of the wings, or genetic structures that cause the wings to have those different colors. The problem is I would say that he and other structuralists had a simplistic idea of what those underlying structures were. Because of the obsession with reciprocity they tended to reduce everything to exchange. Thus I tried to emphasize that there are several such underlying principles. There is nothing simplistic about this. I say they exist in very complex relation to them, and obviously, an argument that there are a series of different underlying principles that come together in different ways is less simplistic than one which says there is only one (reciprocity). In this way I am obviously much more in the tradition of Leach than of Radcliffe-Brown, I am simply offering a richer and more nuanced approach to how to undercut functionalist arguments. Anyway I fail to see what is remotely functionalist about my argument, since I in no way say that institutions can be explained soley or primarily in terms of their function.

Gustaf Redemo said:
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.
Another response: I have no idea whatsoever why Gustaf thinks he is criticizing me by saying these terms have to be put in context to be made useful. Did I give any indication that I didn't think this? To the contrary I ended with examples that made it clear that I did, and anyway, anyone with the slightest degree of common sense would know that principles such as these can only help explain what's happening in particular contexts of action by being placed in those particular contexts of action, and one would think that someone who does not think himself to be dealing with idiot will take it for granted that all parties assume this to be the case. I am puzzled why Gustaf has concluded he is dealing with an idiot.

As for the free rider issue, it was directly addressed, again in the section where I deal with some of the complexities of contexts - making me wonder, to be honest, if Gustaf actually read the entire piece before writing what he did. If I must, I will cite the passage:

(begin quote)
We observe this all the time with friends: if someone takes advantage of your generosity, it’s often easier to break off relations than to demand they pay you back. This too is a common dilemma. The Maori tell of a notorious glutton who irritated fishermen along the coast by always asking for the best portions of their catch. Since to refuse a direct request for food was impossible, they would hand it over; until one day enough was enough, people formed a war party, ambushed and killed him
(end quote)

Would this not be an example of a free rider problem? (since obviously, the whole point was that Te Reinga, the character in question, didn't catch much fish of his own or otherwise reciprocate.)
My point there was that it is extremely difficult to shift from communistic relations to exchange ones, if someone seems not to be holding to the principles of "from each according to their abilities." It is true that observers dedicated to the principle that humans are best viewed as selfish individuals whose relations are governed by principle of exchange always point out the breakdown of cooperative or communistic relations when people suddenly start making claims of lack of reciprocity as proof that they were always, as Gustav says, there underlying the whole thing. But I do not believe this to be true. People do not do favors for others only because they think they will do favors for them later, because if so, no one would do favors for people they didn't think physically or socially or economically capable of reciprocating, and obviously people do help people in those circumstances. I would be much more likely however to refrain from helping someone if I thought they were the sort of person I felt WOULDN'T help me even if they could, regardless of whether there was any objective possibility that such a situation was ever likely to come up. In other words, in the case of communistic morality, you don't go by someone's ability to reciprocate, or likelihood of reciprocating, but rather, their disposition to do so; are they also disposed to treat your needs in the same way as they want you to treat theirs? However, the moment you call someone on this sort of thing, it's almost impossible not to frame the argument in terms of reciprocity and exchange - thus, again, my emphasis on how underlying hierarchical or communistic morality is regularly reframed in the language of reciprocity the moment people start talking about the matter in the abstract. However, my argument that it was _not_ really exchange all along is actually reinforced by the fact that the solution is almost never to insist people do an equivalent favor of some kind, or repay the offended party in some way ("I demand you listen to my problems for exactly as long as I've been listening to yours!"), but rather, a breaking of relations entirely ("fine, I refuse to speak to you from now on"), or even, in the extreme case of Te Reinga, outright murder.

Gustaf Redemo said:

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.
Gustaf mentioned my name, so I should respond. I find it hard to critique a paper as a whole. It's not a film I can reduce into a paragraph or two because, well, it needs no foundation and ethnography.

I reread my posts in the last two seminars. Maybe out of respect, I could not blatantly say "you are wrong" or "you misread this" or "you over-analyze or over-generalize." I ended up posting what I thought, hoping someone would make sense of them. I wanted to be neutral as I believe correct and wrong ideas are both knowledge.

My posts in the FB seminar were mostly ethnographic. In this one, foundational. How can we meaningfully talk about communism if we don't discuss reciprocity as a separate phenomenon? Bourdieu's critique of Mauss, symbolic violence, and his Algerian example are enough to treat reciprocity separate from exchange-- contracted formally or informally, commercialized like the use of money, and traded as in value-for-value exchange. Maybe we can view communism's “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” as act-for-act not value-for-value.

One poster mentioned Derrida, expounded Deconstruction in relation to meaning, and complicated things. I could have engaged and talked about meaning, but I did not because, as I said, I go for foundations. I used a Deconstructionist point of view in refuting David's "everyday communism." I clearly expressed that anything communistic can be capitalistic. The contribution of Deconstruction to Social Science is its usefulness in dissecting and demonstrating inherent contradiction and internal opposition in everything.

I guess I should stop sharing my thoughts in seminars because my method--exposition rather than opposition-- does not work.
Well I think I stand with Mauss in holding there is no necessary contradiction between the two imperatives. But maybe that's just me. Again, for me, ultimately the question really comes down to: "does it really give you a richer notion of what's going on in any one specific ethnographic situation to start by assuming that all economic morality at play can be reduced to one principle (reciprocity, hence exchange), or to start from the assumption that it's a complex mix of three?"

Gustaf Redemo said:
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 would like to call this non-exchange to a halt. It is in danger of dissuading others from participating and David has been drawn into defending himself against representations of his work that are frankly absurd. You have had many chances to develop a coherent critique, Gustaf, and I would be grateful if you left us to pursue other angles.

I must remind you that we are pioneering a medium of conversation here and it places considerable demands on our speakers. We may well fail to recruit more of them if they see the treatment David has received here. In a two-hour seminar, speakers from the floor are restrained usually to making one point or question, maybe sometimes two. Here there is no limit to the number of times people can return, but I may have to consider introducing some such rule. What offends me most about some of the criticisms David has had to face is the combination of aggression with lack of understanding. Unless we collectively moderate ourselves more effectively, this kind of behaviour will deter new paper-givers. Show some modesty and self-restraint, please.

Gustaf Redemo said:
I fail to see the difference between the selfish gene and your communistic disposition to share. A



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