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Gracias a la Vida.
On the paradigm of a gift economy
By Hildur Ve, Department of Sociology, University of Bergen
When, at a seminar at the Women's University in Løten, Norway, in the summer of 2001, I was introduced to the idea of a gift economy, I found it both interesting and and challenging, but also unsettling. I thoroughly agreed with Genevieve Vaughan's critique of exchange economy (Vaughan 1997) and it's devastating effect on the world economy, but I found it difficult to imagine how a complex, modern society might organise itself according to the idea of the gift. Then gradually, while learning about the many examples of various untraditional solutions to economic problems of communities, i.e. on how, on Barbados, as co participant Peggy Antrobus said, the economy of the society, for a great part depends on gifts from immigrant workers in the USA, my understanding of economy widened. Also, becoming more closely acquainted with some of Genevieve Vaughan's thoughts about what women as mothers contribute to the economy by their free giving of services to their families (ibidem), I was reminded of the Norwegian feminist discussions in the 70ties about the number of hours pr week women spent on unpaid production, i.e. homework, and how, if paid according to an average industrial worker's wage, their income would amount to an important part of the gross national product (Wæ?rness, 1980).
I was also reminded of how, in the late 70ties and early 80ties in Norway, one of our leading feminists, Bjørg Åse Sørensen, introduced a paradigm shift within women's research. She proposed that instead of discussing and doing research on women's difficult and oppressed position, we should go in for presenting positive data on women and develop theories of women's importance for society Sørensen .(1982) created a kind of revolution by claiming that instead of stressing the adverse situation of women, we should rather emphasise the dignity of women's lives. She herself had done very interesting research on how female industrial workers empathised with their fellow workers in difficult situations. She developed the two concepts of responsible and technically limited rationality respectively, in order to analyse differences in men and women's reactions in the workplace. For me this approach meant a new, and some times totally different interpretation of male and female teachers' situations and action patterns in schools, and for some of my colleagues, it meant new inspiration in their research on the situation of health-personnel.
Initially, in our various theorising on women's responsible rationality, we equated this with their ability to care for others and show empathy, and we took as our point of departure women's experience as mothers. For a while, within the Nordic countries, Norwegian women's research enjoyed certain recognition and had a fairly productive period. All this changed however, when, in the beginning of the 90's, postmodernism entered the scene, and we were accused by other feminists of working from an illusion of a women's essence.
Farewell to postmodernism
In revisiting the various research reports from the epoch mentioned above I was reminded of the old saying that "development moves in waves." Learning more and more about the ideas of a gift economy, I began to experience a new sense of freedom similar to the one Bjørg Aase Sørensen had initiated 20 years earlier. (Sørensen 1982) Already, due to the post-structuralist discourse, the respect in relation to many of our Western civilisation's theories and concepts within sociology, psychology, pedagogy and other social sciences, and even within the natural sciences, had somehow begun to wither away. In relation to the theme in this article, however, it is interesting to find that ideas basic to market economy, i.e. the necessity of competition and the freedom of the market, to my knowledge, for some reason have not been deconstructed, but are constantly gaining new ground. Neither has the utilitarian conception of the human actor, as someone who constantly seeks to increase his own winnings been contested by postmodernists.
In discussing my experiencing of a widening of insight and new ways of understanding world problems, I find it necessary to emphasise that it is NOT related to the extreme relativism advocated by many poststructuralist feminists, which has resulted in the eroding of the platforms on which criticism of exploitation and oppression, regarding gender, class and race has been founded. Quite to the contrary, the new sense of freedom is related to Vaughan's approach to knowledge based on women's work as mothers in combination with her Marxist based criticism of exchange economy (Vaughan 1997). It was especially stimulating to read her arguments after having been exposed to the above mentioned poststructuralist discourse which has effectively silenced debates on the possibility of a special women's epistemology. The catchword, which has had this devastating effect, has been "difference," meaning that differences within groups of women and men respectively are as important as those between the two groups. The idea of women as a special category, and of a special women's essence has for a time been anathema.
A new theory of knowledge
However, at the beginning of our new century, this poststructuralist position has been effectively challenged, and in many milieus it is again becoming legitimate to debate phenomena from a women's standpoint. In an instructive article, Norwegian postdoctoral candidate, Cathrine Egeland, discusses, among others, Gayatri Spivac's analysis of strategic essentialism (Egeland 2003). Especially, Egeland refers to Spivac's approach to Marxism and her analysis of how Marx de-essentialised the concept of class.
Without arguing for a special women's essence, I find it important to take as a point of departure the experience and learning that result from the bearing of, giving birth to and nurturing of children. It has been both disappointing and alarming that in all the different sciences referred to above very few theories or concepts have been developed that may throw light upon, or fathom this experience and learning so close to life itself. From the perspectives of medicine and psychology we have learned about various types of risks, and about how to take care of pregnant women, women giving birth, how to care for the health of babies etc. Of course, this has been of very great importance but within these disciplines, the focus is often on how to prevent or eliminate danger. The sheer joy and wonder of conceiving, carrying, giving birth to and nurturing a living human being, is seldom made a point of . Within family sociology, the literature on women's roles has been of great importance regarding how society shapes both our acting patterns and our ideas about ourselves. But the theoretical approach is to a great degree created by men, first and foremost Talcott Parsons (1951). Reading Dorothy Smith (1987)(see below) makes it clear that we have not written very much about the everyday world of women from women's point of view. In an article on "Sociology and the conceptualisation of Women" (Ve 1992), in order to challenge the remote or depersonalised way in which the phenomenon of motherhood was generally treated within the discipline, i.e. by mostly discussing the norms constituting the mother role, I once introduced a calculation of how many litres of milk I might have "produced " for my three babies, and found that it must at least amount to 500 litres.While this fact, at the time of publishing, which coincided with the onslaught of postmodernism, got very few comments, - may be now, within a perspective of gift-giving, it may become relevant, again?
I have been especially inspired to think along these lines by reading chapter 10 in Genevieve Vaughan's book For-Giving (1997), with the sub-title "Gracias a la Vida." Here she writes: "A theory of knowledge could be developed which identifies knowledge with the gratitude experienced by the individual as the recipient of the gifts given by life, nature, culture and other individuals." In order to develop such a theory of knowledge, in my mind one would have to basically challenge traditional approaches within the various disciplines.
Below, after presenting the central themes of my article, I shall introduce two women scientists who, in my mind, have made some steps in the direction of a new theory of knowledge: Geneticist Barbara McKlintock and sociologist Dorothy Smith.
I shall then present some new knowledge about matriarchal societies, presented in African journals, which has some relevance to the question of a gift economy.
A paradigm of life
In a Swedish television program, in which some of the winners of the year 2002 Nobel Prices within the natural sciences took part, as a final question the participants were asked to state what were their wishes within their respective fields for future scientific development. The participants pointed to various fascinating intra-disciplinary challenges within medicine, chemistry, physics and economy respectively. The biologist, however, said that his most ardent wish was that they should all join in an interdisciplinary effort to try to solve the secret of the phenomenon of life. What his comment discloses is the really astounding fact that with all the progress within the natural sciences about important questions regarding the world around us, life as a phenomenon in itself is still a challenging puzzle.
For me, this served as a kind of revelation which awakened some dormant but very crucial memories: I relived - with extraordinary clarity - the totally unnerving and at the same time totally joyful experience of feeling my first baby stirring inside me. Suddenly I realized that I had never been able to talk about this enormously important moment when I felt that I was carrying a new life, because I had lacked the right words. -- In those days, back in the fifties, at least in Norwegian culture, to have a baby was a "natural" thing. One was not supposed to get excited about this first sign of the new being, and much less describe it as what it is: a wonder..
A very challenging thought presented by Vaughan is to equate knowledge and gratitude.(1997:155). Such insight may be exactly what women need in order to be able to put words to our strongest experiences.
I have started to question whether the natural scientists, while looking for the beginning of life, all the time have been going further and further in dividing matter into ever smaller particles, maybe have started from the wrong end. We have learned from physics that a scientist must dig ever deeper in order to get closer to this "beginning," from molecules to atoms to quarks etc., etc. But given a new approach to knowledge, what about studying the first stirring of life in a foetus?
Somehow, I think that this way of reasoning corresponds to other themes in Genevieve Vaughan's book referred to above (ibid.). Among other themes, she writes about how, if we take gift giving seriously, we can perceive apples as round, red apples, which we can eat, not as a collection of atoms. The idea intimated in these remarks may be thought to be related to a discussion in a book about " The Ethic and the Universe"(1997) by the Danish dr.theol. Jakob Wolf. Here the author explains how the natural sciences in the last decades have taught us that when we look around us and see colours, for example, the beautiful, blue summer sky, what "really" happens is that certain light waves hit our retina. Likewise, when we experience a wonderful concert by Beethoven, what "really" happens is that certain sound waves hit our hearing organs. The author's point is that by making us deny that the messages of our senses are having anything to do with "reality" , and overtake this objectified understanding of the world, (what the Germans call Weltanschauung), we at the same time come to believe that the world is a neutral place, where all ethical questions are superfluous and irrelevant.
In my view, a new theory of knowledge shall have to challenge some of the crucial ideas of the natural scientists. One of their aims has been to control the forces of nature. We have to accept that by doing this, even if they have had some devastating effects on nature, they have made life on earth infinitely easier for many of us. Most importantly, science has made it possible to eliminate hunger and poverty. At the same time however, scientists have developed ever more dangerous weapons, which today make it possible to end all life on earth.
A new theory of knowledge might have as its aim both to transform and transcend the products of the natural sciences in order to make them into better tools in shaping a world, which may be a good place to live in for all mankind.
Women and a new theory of knowledge
Happily, among important natural scientists and philosophers there are some women who question many of the ideas imbedded in the assumptions about the world that have developed within the natural sciences during the last decades. Evelyn Fox Keller, in "Reflections on Gender and Science" (Keller 1985) points to the history of science, and criticizes any claims to universal truth that the various scientists may have, while she argues for a gender-free science. More concretely, she is preoccupied with transcending the androcentric bias in science. In connection with the theme of this article, of special interest is her discussion of the Nobel Price winner, geneticist Barbara McClintock's research. In relation to the phenomenon of life, McClintock argues (in an interview with Fox Keller) that "[...] Nature is characterized by an a priory complexity that vastly exceeds the capacities of the human imagination." Her major criticism of contemporary genetic research is based on what she sees as inadequate humility. ."..They have the answer ready and they know what they want the material to tell them, so anything it doesn't tell them they ... throw out." Fox Keller gives a gripping description of how McClintock went about her research. In the biography : "A Feeling for the Organism" (Fox Keller1936), Fox Keller quotes some of McKlintock's sayings:
No two plants are exactly alike[...] I start with the seedling, and I don't want to leave it. I don't feel I really know the story if I don't watch the plant all the way along. So I know every plant in the field. I know them intimately, and I feel a great pleasure in knowing them.
Her approach is very different from that of male natural scientists, many of whom considered her eccentric and with ideas that made very little sense. However, after 40 years of very important scientific work, she finally became recognized as one of the most significant figures in twentieth century science.
I find two aspects of McKlintock's work especially fascinating. Firstly, she seems to look upon the plants she is investigating in an unusually personal way - as if she cares for them and identifies with them. She doesn't relate to them in the traditionally detached way of male scientists. This approach seems to be an important reason why many or her male colleagues found her strange. Fox Keller on the other hand, thinks that it is exactly this strong identification with her plants, which made it possible for McKlintock to grasp some of the vast complexity of nature that she writes about. To me, it seems that she is grappling with problems that have to do with the question the above mentioned Nobel Price winner in biology is proposing, i.e. : "What is life?."
Secondly, and just as crucial: It seems that some of McKlintock's discoveries have to do with Darwin's ideas about random selection. Not being a biologist or geneticist, I may only hint at the possibility that emerges from McKlintock's work : The theory of the survival of the fittest, is challenged by McKlintock for being too simplistic......
There are, in my mind, two reasons why this is of importance to our discussion on the Gift Economy. A: In the last decade, within biology, scientists are increasingly explaining the behavioural patterns of human beings within the neo-Darwinist frame of reference, to a degree that for some, the concepts and theories of the social sciences are appearing irrelevant: Any ideas about action and choice seem to disappear along with questions about ethics. "It is all in our genes." According to this view, the idea of the gift is without meaning. B: There is an important affinity between NeoDarwinism and NeoLiberalism, which seems to support the various theories of the latter regarding the "natural " inclination of humans to compete, and that society's interests are best served by arrangements that let the "fittest" survive in the market.
Referring to Genevieve Vaughan's remark about the need for a new type of knowledge, I imagine that Barbara McClintock has made some important steps in this direction in a field which is of great importance regarding the situation of women: She has presented a new idea of what a natural scientist may be like: Firstly: not to have an objective and detached attitude towards her/his work, but looking upon her data in a caring and engaged way. And secondly: looking without preconceived ideas about the world, but with a free and open mind.
The everyday world of women
Within another discipline, sociologist Dorothy Smith writes about a feminist sociology of knowledge. (Smith 1987, 1990) She wants to investigate a situation known to many women: " The experience of a split relationship to language, of the under nurtured woman's voice outside the "man's world." Especially she examines the properties of patriarchal sociology from the standpoint of women's experience. She criticises sociology for not being concerned with "the everyday world," i.e. the world of women in households.
In her various analyses she reveals how sociological concepts and models are developed in order to make sense of men's experience. In the world of male sociologists it is assumed that
[...] the power to act and co-ordinate in a planned and rational manner and to exercise control as an individual over conditions and means is taken for granted... The rational actor choosing and calculating is the abstract model of organisational and bureaucratic man, whose motives, and ego structure are organised by the formal rationality structuring his work role. At work his feelings have no place[...] (Smith.1987).
Smith describes how for a long time she struggled within this paradigm of rational action, until she realised that if she wanted to understand the life of women, she would have to break out. She decided that she would try to make use of a Marxist approach, and she started by taking as her point of departure her own lived experience or praxis.. She found that characteristically, for women, their daily routines to a great extent "are determined and ordered by processes external to and beyond our everyday world." She began to see her past not so much as a career but as a series of contingencies or accidents, and she realised that this would be a good description of the lives of most women. Even though she had succeeded as an academic, she felt that she had become who she was almost by chance.
However, Dorothy Smith has done more than criticise the male approach to sociology. She describes how together with other women she has worked to change sociology into a tool that lets women speak about themselves and their own experience (ibidem). In order to do this, she conducted a very fascinating study of how mothers organise their daily life together with their children in a way that has the intellectual growth of the child as its aim. Smith captures "mothering" in a way that few researchers had done before her. From her research she is able to show that mothering is work. Also, she makes explicit the implicit ways in which school influences the lives of mothers and children, and how in this respect, social class serves to create different patterns in the interaction of mother and child. When reading the account of this project, one becomes very indignant, and angry at the authorities who would not grant her funding for a centre so that she might continue this very important work,
Smith has wanted to create a discourse that can expand women's grasp of their experience and increase the power of their speech by disclosing the relations organising their oppression in their "everyday world." In her work, like Barbara McClintock, she has created new knowledge by challenging the work of male members of her discipline, both through developing a new theoretical approach, and through her research, which has meant opening up an entirely new world, i.e. "the everyday world."
Even though none or the two women scientists described above have discussed economy as such, one might imagine that both of them might have felt related to many of the reflections in Vaughan's book about gift economy and gift giving, especially those which deal with mothering (Vaughan 1997).
Until now the discussion in this article has been on various aspects and dimensions of women's lives in the Western world. Recently, we are beginning to learn about societies in other parts of the world, and how they are organising women's lives. From this knowledge a new way of understanding motherhood is developing
A New Paradigm
A Conference on Matriarchies
In Genevieve Vaughan's very interesting report from a conference in Luxembourg in the autumn of 2003 she refers to a discussion on various matriarchal societies, both in pre-history and in the present. She writes:
The reason I want to write you about it is that if this kind of validation of the existence of matriarchies can be spread, and if the connection between matriarchies and peaceful, abundant and egalitarian ways of living can be made, we can have an alternative 'vision' ready for our use, that will help in diminishing the hegemony of patriarchy. (Vaughan 2003)
She goes on to underline that her impression from the many presentations is that mothering is the principle of matriarchy, and she lists the values of mothering as being: food and care for all, respect for the other, collective decision making and problem solving. Another important point that was made is that in the history of mankind, patriarchy as a societal system is a derivative, not an originary system .
Vaughan pays much attention to a discussion on the saying:" making the weaker the stronger," that originally came from the Minangkabau people whose society is matriarchal. She wonders about how it might be possible to make mothering stronger, without turning the motherers into dominators, and she reasons that theory might be a useful tool.
Finally she refers to an important discussion on the concepts of equality, reciprocity and exchange. She maintains that among other things the concept of reciprocity contains a dangerous ambiguity because it may disrupt the gift logic, making it seem as if it were really "the same thing" as the exchange logic. This is because giving without getting anything back is one face of exploitation. However it is also the positive basis of the gift. Here, in my opinion, Vaughan touches upon a very important problem, which she has also discussed in her book For-Giving (Vaughan 1997). In chapter 3, among other things, she poses a challenging question: "Is Reciprocity Exchange or Turn taking? " In further discussions on the gift giving problematic, I presume that also Marx' maxim about justice may be relevant, in which he argues: "From each according to ability, to each according to need.[...] "
Interestingly, at the same time as Genevieve Vaughan introduced the concept of matriarchy into the debate on gift giving, a new journal appeared at the Centre for Women Studies and Gender Research in Bergen. It was " 'Jenda ', A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies"(2002). From this journal I shall present and discuss two articles. The first one is written by Oyeronke Oyewumi, and is called: "Conceptualizing Gender: The Eurocentric Foundations of Feminist Concepts and the Challenge of African Epistemologies."
Some African perspectives on motherhood
The article opens with a short presentation of the last 500 years, which the author mentions, have been described as the age of modernity. Among a number of historical processes of this age, the author starts by mentioning the Atlantic Slave Trade, and attendant institutions of slavery, and European colonisation of Africa, Asia and Latin America. She goes on to present a number of historical happenings and ends with mentioning that gender and racial categories emerged during this period as two fundamental axes along which people were exploited and societies stratified.
In the next paragraph the author describes how in the modern era the hegemony of Euro/American culture was established throughout the world. Among the many results of this development, one of the most important was how this culture came to influence strongly the production of knowledge about human behaviour, history, societies and cultures One effect of Eurocentrism is the racialisation of knowledge in that Europe and Europeans become the centre of knowledge and the knowers respectively. Male gender privileges are an essential element in modernity. When trying to comprehend African realities , one must take these facts into account
The author then goes on to state that her objective is to.... "Interrogate gender and allied concepts based on African cultural experiences and epistemologies."(Oyewumi 2002: 1) She wants both to make it possible for African research to build on local concerns and interpretations, and at the same time - being well aware of the global system 's racism, - that African experiences shall be taken seriously when and where general theory-building occurs.
In my opinion, the knowledge that Oyewumi is presenting is of great interest, and it would mean a serious loss to general theory building if it is not brought to the attention of scholars on every continent. For the theme of this article however, I shall have to concentrate on only a small part of her information.
One of her main contentions is that Anglophone/American feminists have used the concepts "woman" and "gender" as universal concepts, overlooking that they are first and foremost socio-cultural constructs. She especially underlines the critique put forward by many African American scholars that in the States there is no way that gender can be considered outside of race and class.
Furthermore, in a very important paragraph Oyewumi argues that feminist concepts are rooted in the nuclear family, and that despite many feminists' maintaining that their goal is to destabilise this institution, it constitutes the very basis of feminist values. All the three main concepts of feminism, Woman, Gender and Sisterhood, emerged from the nuclear family. She then goes on to define the nuclear family, and emphasises that it is gendered, in that as a single-family household it "is centred on a subordinated wife, a patriarchal husband and children." Very important for her argumentation is this sentence: "The structure of the family conceived as having a conjugal unit at the centre lends itself to the promotion of gender as a natural and inevitable category because within this family there are no crosscutting categories devoid of it." (ivi: 2). She then points to patterns within African families, where the most important category is seniority. Also she argues that many of the concepts regarding family members which in Western social science often are gendered, like husband -wife, sister-brother, within African discourse is gender neutral, and she points to concepts like spouses and siblings.
Then Oyewumi presents her central theme: "The nuclear family, however is a specifically Euro/American form, it is not universal"(ivi: 3). And in spite of all the various agencies and organisations striving to introduce and promote it, it remains an alien form in Africa.
It is truly fascinating, but also in a way alarming, to follow her line of discussion in which she puts forward her analysis of the western conception of "wife." She argues that when methodologically, the unit of analysis is the nuclear family household, then theoretically such a practice reduces woman to wife......"The woman at the heart of feminist theory, the wife, never gets out of the household. Like a snail she carries the house around with her"(ivi: 3)
Oyewumi argues that it follows from this that (...)"There seem to be no understanding of the role of mother independent of her sexual ties to a father. Mothers are first and foremost wives." (ivi: 3) She contrasts this reasoning to the African one by introducing the concept "single mother," which from an African point of view is an oxymoron. or an impossibility. Motherhood in African, as in most cultures, is defined as a relationship between a woman and her child/children. From this contention, Oyewumi develops a very illuminating discussion on what it means in American/European culture regarding the understanding of the gendered division of labour, that woman is to be understood as synonymous with wife. She reasons that this may explain why procreation and lactation in the gender literature (both traditional and feminist) are usually presented as part of the sexual division of labour. "Marital coupling is thus constituted as the base of societal division of labour." (ivi: 4). In my opinion, Oyewumi to a certain extent presents an explanation of why these, for women so fundamental practices, i e . giving birth to and nurturing one's baby, has not from a feminist standpoint, been considered topics for theoretical analysis.
In the final paragraphs of Oyewumi's article, the author describes various African family patterns which serve to make us aware of the great possibility for flexibility concerning family relationship that exists throughout the world Running through her descriptions from many African cultures is the importance of the tie between mother and child. One of her conclusions is that a central challenge to African gender studies is the difficulty of applying feminist concepts to understand African realities. This is due to the incommensurability of social categories and institutions. For the problems raised in this article, it is especially important that Oyewumi challenges Western feminist concepts about woman and mother. Furthermore, and even more important is that as a consequence of her knowledge of African family patterns, she challenges Western feminist thinking regarding the universality of women's oppression.
The second article is written by the Danish sociologist Signe Arnfred, who has for many years worked in Africa. It is titled:."Simone de Beauvoir in Africa: "Woman=The Second Sex" Issues of African Feminist Thought." Arnfred outlines the purpose of her article by stating>: "The point is to open the mind to different ways of thinking about gender.... Freeing ourselves from old mindsets will allow us to envision new kinds of gender relations as we look forward to the future - both the future of Africa and the future of ourselves as Western (men) and) women. (Arnfred 2002: 1) The old mindset that she wants to free us from is the idea of "Woman as the other." And the point of doing this "is to open the imagination for different and more liveable feminist futures than the ones now on offer, which are embedded in the notions of modernity and development" (ivi 1) I shall return to this point in my discussion on how to understand progress within a women's perspective.
I consider Arnfred's article to be of major importance for feminist discourse. She is taking it upon herself to deconstruct Simone de Beauvoir 's famous work on women as the second sex. She argues that she does this because in the last years this work has again become important in feminist discourse, and this she finds most undue. Arnfred underlines that Beauvoir ' s work in 1949 was both brave and pioneering, but now, fifty years later, it is time to question from which context and with which concepts she developed her analysis. Doing this, we must take into account that very much has happened during these fifty years, both in the world and in feminist thought. Arnfred especially points to the importance of non-Western thinking becoming known in various milieus in the West. For my purpose, I shall concentrate on those parts of the article most relevant to our understanding of motherhood.
For Arnfred, it is an aim to show that Simone de Beauvoir is firmly rooted in the modern, and that she thinks that women's chance to become emancipated has mainly to do with getting control over procreation and becoming economically independent. Moreover, women must strive for transcendence, which according to de Beauvoir is "all that is fun and worthwhile, creative, productive and essentially human" and "distinguishes humans from animals as culture from nature" (ivi: 3). Here she is influenced by Jean- Paul Sartre, and both of them see transcendence as inherently male. Then, for women, to become more like men means becoming emancipated.
The opposite of transcendence is immanence, which de Beauvoir describes as "passivity and repetition, the drudgery of daily housework in which giving birth, breastfeeding and motherhood are included"(ivi: 3). Important in this connection is de Beauvoir's view that having, and taking care of children are not to be considered as activities because no project is involved. They are to be looked upon as natural functions. A woman submits passively to these tasks, and in no way may she find in them "(...) a lofty affirmation of her existence." (Ivi: 4) Regarding the degree to which de Beauvoir identifies with masculine ideology, and the value hierarchy of male modernity, one quotation is especially illuminating: ."It is not in giving birth but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills."(ivi 4) Within the perspective of this article, it is difficult to understand how this argument could be accepted, or at least not severely criticised.
Arnfred also presents other parts of de Beauvoir's work, and discusses among others the one in which she has presented her famous dictum: "one is not born but rather becomes a women" (Ivi: 4). To Arnfred it appears that as to this opinion, her work is in contradiction with itself: de Beauvoir both believes and demonstrates that the conditions of women are socially determined. But all through her work it appears that women are slaves of their bodies, and . there is always this conflict between women's own interests and the reproductive forces.
In the middle of her article, Arnfred sums up three main themes within mainstream modern thinking on gender: "a, Man is posed as subject and woman as other. b, Development is conceived as a unilinear move from 'tradition' towards 'modernity' - the measure for achievement being the Western world. c, Third world women are conceived of as subordinated and oppressed" (Ivi: 7). In order to discuss these theses, Arnfred introduces concepts and lines of thinking which she considers especially important in African feminist literature. For her it is crucial that African feminist thinkers refuse to see woman as "other," and they deny that in their own societies the patterns of behaviour in any way support such ideas.
In order to make African family life understandable to feminists from other parts of the world, it is important to get some knowledge about kinship terminology. Here I shall only mention a few examples: it is possible to state that often in matrilineal societies there are no fathers and no mothers I.e. there are no words or concepts comparable to those developed in our societies in the West, and patterns of parenting are different. An important fact to bear in mind is that often in these societies seniority is more important than gender.
Arnfred quotes the author of the article I have referred to above, Oyewumi, and emphasises the fact that in Africa, the most crucial position of a woman is that of mother. Arnfred also mentions that in part of her work, Oyewumi has introduced the concept "the patriarchalising gaze" in order to warn against influence from Western social science. This gaze invents -women as other - , and introduces what she calls "body-reasoning" where "the cultural logic......is based on an ideology of biological determinism.". She argues that a mind/body hierarchy is deeply embedded in Western thinking. Here I find it relevant to quote Descartes' maxim "I think, therefore I am.".
Arnfred then goes on to present themes from another African author, Ifi Amadiume (1987). One key point of this social anthropologist's work is her analysis of power in African society. She argues that many societal positions may be taken up by either man or woman, and maintains that there is:" in African gender systems a flexibility which allows neuter construct for men and women to share roles and status" (Ivi 10). She strongly underlines that power is not masculine per se.
Arnfred has a very interesting paragraph on motherhood. Based on Amadiume's research she argues that the structural status of motherhood in Africa is very different from that in Europe. She goes on to explain this by outlining two systems that Amadiume has studied in the Nnoby society, the female mother focused, matricentric unit, and the male focused, ancestral house. These systems co-exist, and if one tries to understand the relationship between them by introducing a patriarchal paradigm, one might loose important aspects of how this society functions.
Amadiume refers to her study in which she finds that "[...] the traditional power of African women had an economic and ideological basis, and derived from the sacred and almost divine importance accorded to motherhood." (Ivi: 11). This means that motherhood is in itself empowering. Amadiume realises that "the very thought of women's power being based on the logic of motherhood has proved offensive to many Western feminists." (Ivi: 11). She argues that it is easy to see why this is so since in the European system, wifehood and motherhood represented a means of enslavement for women
In her work it is important for Amadiume to raise awareness of the often implicit patriarchal paradigm in the social sciences. She is deeply engaged in crafting concepts that are fitted to deal with motherhood - not abstract motherhood - but with the concrete sociological phenomenon of "the mother-focused, matri-centric unit." Arnfred explains how Amadiume introduces the term "matriarchy" in order to strengthen the awareness of the centrality of motherhood . She wants to make "the matriarchy paradigm" into a useful concept. In her writing about matriarchy, she refers to the concept's long and complicated history in European social science. She maintains that she is not interested in creating "a total rule governing a society," but discusses how in her studies of the Nnobi society, as mentioned above, it appears that the female mother- focused, matricentric unit, and the male- focused ancestral house coexist. Amadiume argues that the matricentric unit is a female gendered, paradigmatical cultural construct, which goes against the generalising theory that man is culture and woman is nature.
In Vaughan's letter from the conference on matriarchy mentioned above (Vaughan 2003), she refers to an article written by the German social anthropologist Heide G.Abendroth (now in this volume) "Definition and Theory of Matriarchal Society." Here Abendroth seems to be interested in constructing the type of "total rule governing a society," that Amadiume seeks to avoid, and lists 4 criteria for such a society . In the future discussion on gift economy, it may be productive to compare these two somewhat different approaches to matriarchy.
In her concluding remarks, Arnfred comments that she has enjoyed presenting these two brave feminist scholars "who have the courage to go against established power structures in feminist thought." But more importantly she looks at these African contributions as a source of inspiration for western feminists to think differently about gender. Finally, - and this is a crucial point - , she has learned through the African perspective that Western patriarchal thought has managed to naturalise and trivialise motherhood. to an appalling degree, and that very little protest has come from the feminist camp.
Regarding the discourse on motherhood in what Arnfred defines as the feminist camp, some interesting contributions have come from France, where especially Julia Kristeva has worked with the different images of "the mother" and of "woman" found in Greek and Christian tradition (Kristeva 1989). In both places the story is deeply ambiguous. In Christianity, on one hand we have woman as virgin in man's conscious thought, on the other hand woman as whore in man's unconscious thought. This woman is capable of feeling "jouissance." Kristeva argues that between these two one finds the mother, and that this is the virgin-mother. One of Kristeva's main contentions is that the woman's body, which is capable of feeling "jouissance" can have nothing to do with the mother.
In the US, two feminist theorists who have had great influence on feminist thinking in the Nordic countries, Nancy Chodorow and Carol Gilligan, have contributed to the discourse on motherhood in a somewhat different way. Chodorow has been especially interested in the mother's influence on the identity development of her son and daughter respectively (Chodorow 1978), while Gilligan has studied differences in girls' and boys' approach to ethical questions, especially regarding relationship to the other (Gilligan 1982). While these various contributions to our understanding of motherhood in Western feminist thought are important, they are all - though in somewhat different ways, - engaged in a patriarchal discourse in that they are in one way or other involved in a discussion with Freud and his followers, to a great degree on Freudian premises.
Regarding arguing for the gift paradigm, it shall become necessary to challenge the fundamental ideas of this discourse if we want to tear away from the tendency to the trivialization and naturalisation of motherhood. In doing this, we shall have to question one of the most cherished ideas of our Western culture, i.e. that modernity means enlightenment and progress.
The gift economy and the idea of modernity
To my mind, one of the most illuminating aspects of Oyeronke Oyewumi' article ( 2002) is her analysis of the last 500 years, which she defines as the modern epoch of the Western world. She maintains that from an African perspective, both gender and racial categories emerged during this epoch along with exploitation and stratification based on these two fundamental axes. Arnfred goes further in her deconstruction of one of the crucial idea of modern social science, i.e. that modernity has offered more liveable futures for women than have non-Western or pre-modern societies. Drawing on her experience from working for several years in Mozambique, she emphasises that modernity has many faces, but lists three of its basic assumptions: "1, a human being is a man, and the male position is believed to be gender-neutral. 2, In this context development has been a unilinear motion from tradition to modernity with the Western "developed world " serving as the model for achievement 3, African and third world women are being particularly oppressed, and are hopefully and gratefully awaiting the blessings of modernity.
Before elaborating further on the relationship between modernity and motherhood, I shall, because I find that there are certain similar traits, comment shortly on how some important male sociologists have evaluated tendencies within the epoch we call modernity. Already at the beginning of the 20th century, Max Weber was warning against certain development trends following the capitalist bureaucratisation of the world( Weber 1920). He used very colourful expressions, writing about demystification(entzauberung) of the world, and the iron cage of rationality. Nearly a century later the Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, while analysing the development in Nazi-Germany in order to try to understand how the phenomenon of Holocaust could be possible, intimates that typical aspects of late modernity is lack of social responsibility and empathy (Bauman 1998). Like Weber, he blames these development trends on tendencies within capitalist bureaucratisation where the aim of the civilising process is to foster rationality. Bauman maintains that this modern rationality in a way "set free" people when it comes to morality For the purpose of this article, of great interest is his analysis of sociology, and his focusing on the conceptualisation in this discipline of what it means to be human. Bauman emphasises that the idea of "the other" is lacking in sociology at the same time as he argues that "To be with others" and "Responsibility for the other" are basic traits in human existence and human subjectivity. He qualifies what he means by referring to Martin Buber's ideas about how we may relate to other people as either "you" or "it" (Buber 1958).
Arnfred's message to women is that it is imperative to analyse how the strengthening
of male gendered privileges have been the goal of most of the political endeavours
in modernity, and how these goals have been reached to a great extent at the
cost of women. Regarding modernity's idea of a good life for women, let us take
as our point of departure the extracts of the writings of Simone de Beauvoir
quoted above. From them it appears as obvious that for a woman, the best way
to create a good life for herself is to get control over procreation and becoming
economically independent. To become a mother is to be caught in the drudgery
of daily housework, including various aspects of motherhood. In
other words, if women can model their lives more or less along the same lines
as men, they will be successful.
One may ask by what standards this type of woman is being measured and found to be successful? The importance of introducing the Gift paradigm is , among other things, that it renders a new model for interpreting the way we lead our lives, and what will be the consequences of latter day development trends within modernity. Looking at Dorothy Smith's description of "the rational actor" one gets the impression of a person in a strait-jacket. Recently, when reading or looking at many successful women's descriptions in newspapers, magazines, TV discussions etc. of "life on the job," the feeling of stress becomes overwhelming. Lately, one of the strongest arguments I have ever heard against the way business firms are organising work was presented in a TV interview by a women leader: "They do not take into consideration that the workers have children. In our society, there is little understanding of the necessity of having children at all."
From another angle the situation concerning motherhood is also threatened by some alarming trends. It seems that the possibility of cloning ones babies is coming within reach. We have already the technology available to program our babies, we may rent women who will bear our babies, women may sell their eggs at a high price in the market, young women are taught to look like young boys: tall, thin, flat stomach and narrow hips etc etc.
It seems that Aldous Huxley's famous and coldly frightening future fantasy epos, "Brave New World," is no longer to be considered a wild nightmare (Huxley 1932). It is of importance to remember that the ugliest and most feared word in his Utopia was "mother." There was absolutely no place for the feelings between mothers and children in the thoroughly commercialised society Huxley had imagined. The message is that in this society there is no room for warm feelings since they cannot be controlled.. The contrast between Huxley's horror picture of a future society and the image of a matriarchal society described by Genevieve Vaughan in her article in this book is dramatic indeed.
Society, gift giving and motherhood
Interestingly, in France, a group built around the studies of social anthropologist Marcel Mauss, works with some of the same ideas of gift giving as Vaughan, being inspired both by Marxist thought and by research among Kwakiutl Indians in British Columbia. .A main difference between this group' approach and that of Vaughan, however, is that the concept of motherhood doesn't seem to have influenced the thinking of Marcel Mauss or that of his followers. It may be productive to learn more about their reflections, but it seems that to concentrate on gift giving from the perspective of motherhood. is infinitely more promising, but at the same tie also more challenging.
We are socialised within the patriarchal paradigm to a degree that is difficult to comprehend. In order to break out, we shall need courage because we shall have to learn to enter theoretically totally new territory, while at the same time there will be a strong temptation to use the familiar, old "rational" maps. At the same time, however, to many of us it may become a great joy to, for the first time, take into consideration what this new territory has to offer regarding new knowledge. Looking at Genevieve Vaughan's listing of the values of mothering mentioned above as being: food and care for all, respect for the other and collective decision making and problem solving, the fascinating thing is that it sounds at the same time both new - regarding theory making, - and well known regarding experience. I think we are lucky in that to join these to - theory and experience, into knew knowledge about gift giving, the job shall be easier with the help of our African feminist sisters.
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