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The Gift Relationship

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Abstract Derrida (1992 / 1991) made the case (following Mauss, 1990 / 1925) that the ‘pure gift’ is impossible. Because of the element of obligation and reciprocity involved, gift relationships are inevitably reduced to relationships of economic exchange. This position echoes the exchange theory of the social behaviourists, the cost-benefit analyses of evolutionary psychology, and other reductionist conjectures. In this paper, 18 written accounts of gifting are analysed using established phenomenological tools of reflection. It is shown that the dynamics of the gift relationship are complex (for example the statuses of giver and recipient are problematical, as is the expression of gratitude) and, specifically, reciprocation in gifting is not akin to ‘repaying’ the gift, but should rather be seen as a response to the gift as an expression of affective affirmation, rendering this mutual. Gift giving is in the expressive realm rather than the practical (Harré, 1979). This was, intriguingly, known explicitly by Adam Smith (2006 / 1790).

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Development and Society Graduate School Sheffield Hallam University


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