What is the difference between gift exchange

What is the difference between gift exchange and market minutess, and how do they both relate to gender dealingss?


Karl Polanyi ( 1968 ) , in his review of the rules that underlie the formalist attack to economic analysis, attempted to specify the tools by which the economic systems of ‘traditional’ societies could be analysed. Central to the substantivists’ claims was the apprehension that the debut of money destroyed autochthonal societal dealingss by presenting the impression of ‘equivalencies of value’ where none had antecedently existed. In this attack, the substantivists were following the bequest of Marcel Mauss, [ 1 ] who, in his seminalThe Gift( 1954 ) , had argued that in modern-day and antediluvian societies every bit widespread as North America, Polynesia and Ancient Rome the premises of economic analysis, as used in explicating market minutess, were non relevant as these societies weregift economic systems.

In this essay, I will foremost analyze what Mauss meant by the term gift economic systems, before supplying a modern-day illustration from the work of Usula Sharma ( 1984 ) who demonstrates how a gift exchange may be instrumental in the subordination of adult females. In the 2nd subdivision, I so look at market minutess and, by pulling on the work of Maria Mies ( 1998 ) , I reveal the gendered nature of the market. In the decision, I problematise the division between ‘gift’ and ‘market’ economic systems, proposing that both are weberian ‘ideal types’ and that neither is to the full equal to account for the complexness of both market minutess and gift exchanges, as both are profoundly embedded in societal dealingss and therefore in dealingss of power.

Gender and Gift Exchange

Marcel Mauss argued that in modern-day western society we make a differentiation between gift exchange and market minutess, and that in the West we presume the former to be free of duties ( Douglas in Mauss, 2000: seven ) . However, Mauss argued that the gift in fact entails an duty to reciprocate [ 2 ] and therefore creates ties between persons and/ or groups. For Mauss, this signifier of economic system differs from the ‘disinterested’ and ‘self-interested’ exchange of modern societies ( Mauss, 2000: 75-6 ) and he believed that all economic systems were originally gift economic systems: ‘ [ T ] he system that we propose to name the system of ‘total services’ , from kin to clan [ … ] constitutes the most ancient system of economic system and jurisprudence [ & A ; ] forms the base from which the morality of the exchange-thorough-gift has flowed’ ( Mauss, 2000: 70 ) . An illustration of gift exchange is that of Northern India, and the Dowry system as described by Ursula Sharma ( 1984 ) , complete with common duties and the creative activity of enduring ties.

Sharma describes a matrimony system whereby the household of the bride must pay a dowery to the household of the groom, making enduring ties between the two households, premised on the ability of the brides’ household to give:

when they arrange the matrimony of a boy, parents do non merely look frontward to the dowery they will have at the nuptials. They look frontward to the bride’s family’s general capacity to give ( Sharma, 1984: 64 ) .

Although, if asked, most participants would depict the dowery as ‘freely given’ in fact behind the scenes ‘explicit bargaining’ takes topographic point ( Sharma, 1984: 64 ) . In a society aggressively divided, non merely by gender but besides by age and caste, control over what is given and what happens to these gifts one time received is capable to division along lines of gender and age. Senior adult females in the family are responsible for ‘seeing that duties are met and proper dealingss maintained’ ( Sharma, 1984: 65 ) , but when the gifts are of hard currency, so it is the senior work forces who are most in control ( Sharma, 1984: 66 ) . The ties created by the dowery may hold terrible effects for the dis-empowered bride: ‘ [ vitamin D ] owry favor and is favoured by a cultural ethos in which brides can be viewed as objects to be passed from one societal group to another’ , farther, ‘in India the rapid rising prices of doweries [ … ] has led to a state of affairs in which brides are more controlled by than accountants of property’ ( Sharma, 1984: 73 ) . Finally, ‘dowry deaths’ may happen when the grooms’ household is defeated with her dowery and hope to negociate a better 1 for a 2nd matrimony ( Sharma, 1984: 71 ) . However, her impotence is eased by clip, as she moves to being a ‘dowry-taker’ on the matrimony of her boies ( Sharma, 1984: 72 ) . Therefore, we can see that in the gift exchange permanent relationships are created, and that these dealingss are differentiated harmonizing to age and gender.

Gender and Market Transactions

In this subdivision I examine the ‘market transaction’ through the work of Maria Mies ( 1998 ) , uncovering the gendered nature of the supposedly ‘disinterested’ market. In a market dealing, instead than the exchange of gifts which so creates enduring ties betweenpeople, it is presumed that in the exchange of trade goods merely a relationship betweenthingsis created: ‘the transactors are aliens in a province of mutual independency which persists after the transaction’ ( Thomas, 1991: 14 ) . Such an apprehension is supported by our ‘common sense’ apprehensions of the different domains of exchange: for illustration, Paul Bohannan ( 1968 ) , in his treatment of the ‘spheres of exchange’ among the Tiv of Northern Nigeria, identifies a similar division in Tiv political orientation between the ‘gift’ and ‘markets’ . The former stand foring the formation and continuance of societal relationships, while the later ‘calls up no long-run personal relationship, and which is therefore to be exploited to as great a grade as possible’ ( Bohannan, 1968: 300 ) ; in this set of relationships, all points have an exchange equivalent. After all, when I exchange hard currency for a trade good I do non experience myself to be tied into a mutual relationship with the tradesman.

However, Mies argues that instead than the officially free, atomistic persons, engaged in disinterested exchange ( Polanyi, 1968 ) of theoretical liberalism, and hence of much economic idea, alternatively we find that histrions are no less entwined in power dealingss than in the gift economic systems outlined above. Indeed, she argues that ‘the exploitativesexual divisionis the societal paradigm upon which the international division of labor is built up’ ( Mies, 1998: 4, accent added ) . First, many have debated the manner in which the populace domain is dominated by work forces, but Mies argues that it is in fact the unpaid work of the homemaker, of lovingness and nurturing within the domestic domain ( Mies, 1998: nine ) , or ‘women’s work’ , that allows work forces to be free to come in the public kingdom ( Mies, 1998: 31 ) . Following, Mies argues that the ‘housewifization’ of labour [ 3 ] non merely naturalizes women’s limitation to the private kingdom, but besides means that her paid work is considered ‘only supplementary’ to that of her hubby ( Mies, 1998: nine ) : ‘ [ T ] he procedure of proletarianization of the work forces was, hence, accompanied by a procedure of housewifization of women’ ( Mies, 1998: 69 ) . Finally, Mies argues that 3rd universe adult females are valued by capitalist economy as manufacturers due to their ‘nimble fingers’ and as they are ‘considered to be the most docile, tractable labor force’ ( Mies, 1998: 117 ) : in short, due to impute gender stereotypes. The symbolic hierarchy of gender therefore has material effects as adult females are placed in an economically vulnerable place and are concentrated in low paid, parttime employment: adult females and their kids are the most economically disadvantaged group across the Earth. Further, adult females are locked into an international division of labor whereby the ‘third universe adult females produce non what they need, but what others [ first universe adult females ]can purchase’ ( Mies, 1998: 118, original accent ) . Thomson echoes this statement: ‘ [ vitamin E ] veryone is now tied up in a historical web of planetary dealingss [ … ] we are all caught up in international dealingss of production and appropriation which stretch across the infinites dividing us’ ( Thomas, 1991: 8-9 ) and this international relation of production is gendered.


Nicholas Thomas rejects Mauss’ statement that the economic systems of Melanesia and Polynesia can be regarded as ‘gift economies’ , which are therefore opposed to the market economic systems of Europe. He argues that this division misses the manner that these ‘traditional’ economic systems are in fact profoundly entangled with the planetary capitalist trade ( Thomas, 1991: 4 ) : ‘a wider scope of grounds from autochthonal Oceanic societies suggests that there is a wide continuum between systems in which it is possible to replace merely people for people, or nutrient for nutrient, and those in which a broad scope of expansive transitions are permitted’ ( Thomas, 1991: 4 ) . Divisions, such as Mauss makes, between ‘gift exchange’ and ‘market transactions’ are portion of the hypostatization of difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ ( Thomas, 1991: 34 ) , farther, ‘the expansive mutual oppositions about ever turn out to be implausible’ ( Thomas, 1991: 27 ) . Thomas argues that by size uping our constructs via the lens of gender we can uncover the theoretical defects or failings that we might otherwise lose ( Thomas, 1991: 2 )

For Polanyi, the economic sphere – as defined by the subject of economic sciences – is based on a conflation of two distinguishable significances: the ‘substantive’ and ‘formal’ . ‘The formal significance of economic derives from the logical character of the means-ends relationship [ … ] it refers to a definite state of affairs of choice’ ( Polanyi, 1968: 122 ) , whereas in the substantial definition ‘the economic system here is embodied in establishments that cause single picks to give rise to interdependent motions that constitute the economic process’ ( Polanyi, 1968: 125 ) . In short, formal economic sciences is based on the impression of officially free persons, doing rational economic determinations and which create no permanent ties, whereas substantive economic sciences positionsalleconomic systems, whether regarded as gift economic systems or those based on market dealing, as embedded in societal dealingss. Thomas concurs: ‘ [ vitamin E ] xchange is ever, in the first case, a political procedure, one in which wider relationships are expressed’ ( Thomas, 1991: 7 ) for exchange relationships are ever differentiated by power ( Thomas, 1991: 22 ) , by race, category, gender and age.

Thomas would non hold us abandon the differentiation between gift and trade good wholly ( Thomas, 1991: 29 ) , possibly it would be better to see them as points along a continuum, with each ‘ideal’ type at the opposing terminals but the bulk of existent instances lying someplace in between ; further it is necessary that we recognise the coexistence of both types ( Thomas, 1991: 33 ) . Whether or non the debut of money destroyed autochthonal societal dealingss, by presenting the ‘equivalencies of value’ , as the substantavists claimed, the ties that are created by modern-day trade good exchange may be less apparent, but Maria Mies reminds us that however the planetary division of labour links 3rd universe manufacturers to first universe consumers in an asymmetrical power relationship that makes a prevarication of the supposed disinterestedness of market minutess.


Bohannan, Paul ( 1968 ) ‘Some Principles of Exchange and Investment among the Tiv’ ,Economic Anthropology: Readings in Theory and Analysis, LeClair & A ; Schneider ( Eds. ) , London: Holt, Rinehart & A ; Winston, pp 122 – 143.

Levi-Strauss, Claude ( 1969 [ 1949 ] ) ‘Nature and Culture’ & A ; ‘The Problem of Incest’ , The Elementary Structure of Kinship, London: Eyre & A ; Spottiswoode, pp. 3-25.

Mauss, Marcel ( 2000 [ 1954 ] )The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, New York: W. W. Norton.

Mies, Maria ( 1998 [ 1986 ] ) Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Womans in the International Division of Labour, London: Zed Books.

Polanyi, Karl ( 1968 [ 1957 ] ) ‘The Economy as Instituted Process’ , inEconomic Anthropology: Readings in Theory and Analysis, LeClair & A ; Schneider ( Eds. ) , London: Holt, Rinehart & A ; Winston, Inc. pp 122 – 143.

Sharma, Ursula ( 1984 ) ‘Dowry in North India: Its Consequences for Women’ , Women and Property: Womans as Property, Hirschon, R. ( Ed. ) , London: Croom Helm, pp. 62-74.

Thomas, Nicholas ( 1991 ) ‘Introduction’ and ‘Objects, Exchange, Anthropology’ inEmbroiled Objects: Exchange, Materialism and Colonialism in the Pacific, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 1-34.