A (M)otherworld is Possible: Two Feminist Visions

Matriarchal Studies

The Gift Economy

October 23-25, 2009, York University, Toronto, Canada

Presented by Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) The international Academy Hagia the Gift Economy Network This conference is embedded in ARM's 13th Annual Conference Mothering and the Environment: The Natural, the Social, the Built Oct 22-25.

Conference scholarships available


In this time of world economic crisis it is more important than ever to find deep alternatives to a system that is proving itself to be dysfunctional. It is not surprising that such alternatives would have to do with women, and especially with mothers, whose roles of directly providing for the needs of their children form patterns of care that can be generalized.

 Mothering can be seen as a mode of distribution, a vestigial or nascent gift economy, which co exists with the market but could be taken as the model for a way of organizing society as  a whole. The fact that the values of care,  necessary for mothering, are in opposition to the values of greed and domination, which have motivated the present economic crash, demonstrates that an economic system based on mothering could be a radical and positive alternative. The fact that mothers are now uniting in movements of consciousness and solidarity can allow us to expect that  they will support a change of the economy towards care and away from exploitation.

There are a number of initiatives at present having to do with gift economies. The internet and the knowledge economy provide the abundance necessary for gift giving to function without being self sacrificial. Not only free software and the free copyright movement but Wikipedia, Freecycling, Facebook, You Tube, Skype etc. provide information and goods free. There are numerous attempts at gift giving on the material plane such as volunteerism, solidarity networks, alternative communities, free stores, yellow bikes, time banks and cooperative gifting circles. Other examples are the  remittances made by immigrants to their home countries and philanthropy.This movement can be framed as a mothering movement, even when it is often implemented by men. Unfortunately it has not been clear that the unilateral gift giving, which is necessary for mothering even in a society based on market values, is the foundational logic of all these attempts. Rather studies of 'symbolic gift exchange' have suggested that the logic of debt and obbligation and the reward of reputation are what moves the participants. Even in societies which have 'gift exchange' however, mothers continue to give directly to their children and families. Symbolic exchange and market exchange can both be seen as  elaborations of direct provisioning and its logic.

Matriarchal societies had and have distribution of goods to needs, as well as  celebrations and festivals where different groups take turns in distributing their goods to other groups. The leadership of women, decision making by women, matrilineality, matrilocality, and prototype of the mother are characteristics of these societies, which are not mirror images of patriarchies, but peaceful , balanced societies in which men, if they are to be leaders, must be 'like good mothers'.

Both matriarchal studies and gift economy studies  generalize maternal values to the society at large.  Mothering is not relegated to the nursery and there is not a break between the adult economy and the economy of childhood. Rather the importance of the relationships developed in giving and receiving is elaborated in understanding and developing  all relationships in these societies. Many aspects of the world view coming from the society based on the market and homo economicus can be seen in radically different ways when mothering is the premise of social value. Modern matriarchal studies rejects the opinion of Bachofen and his followers who believed that matriarchy was a mirror image of patriarchy.  Instead matriarchies are egalitarian societies that embrace the model of the mother as the model of the human.

The feminist vision based on the logic of the gift economy and the feminist vision of matriarchal studies support each other. The discourse of the gift economy emphasizes the distribution of goods to needs and the circulation of gifts while matriarchal studies provides concrete historical examples of matriarchal societies as well as modern societies that still function according to matriarchal principles.



October 23, Friday evening

7.00- 7.10 pm Opening Invocation Agnes Williams (Seneca, New York)  
7.10-7.20 pm Welcome words of Andrea O'Reilly  
  Keynote speakers Gift Economy   
7.20-8.00 pm Genevieve Vaughan: (USA, Italy)  
  A Maternal Humanity and the Gift Paradigm  
8.00-8.40 pm Wahu Kaara:  (Kenya)  
  Feminist thinking in Context of African experience in the struggle for space, place and contribution to Human Prosperity  
  Keynote speakers Matriarchal Studies:  
8.40-9.20 pm Heide Goettner-Abendroth: (Germany)  

Matriarchies as Mother-centered Societies

9.20-10.00 pm

Barbara Mann:  (Seneca, Ohio)


Listen to Your Mother

(Each keynote speaker lectures for 30 min., 10 min. questions and answers)

October 24, Saturday morning

Session one:   Giving and Mothers  
9.00-9.20 Debbie Weingarten: (USA)  
  Legacy of Gift Giving Mothers  
9.20-9.40  Nané Jordan: (USA)  
  A Poetics of the Placenta. Placental Cosmology as Gift and Sacred Economy
9.40-10.00 Rhonda Shaw:  (New Zealand)  
  Gift or Exchange - Human Milk Banking in the Contemporary Context
10.00-10.20 Paola Melchiori (Italy)  
  From Destiny to Choices  
(10 min. questions and answers)  
Session two:    The Gift in Society at large  
10.45-11.05 Nina Simons: (USA)  
  Restoring the Feminine in Education, Economics and All Our Institutions
11.05-11.25 Bernedette Muthien: (South Africa)  
  Egalitarianism and Nonviolence as Gift of Life the KhoeSan of Southern Africa and Lang Elsie of the Hessequa in the Overberg
11.25-11.45 Mechthild Hart: (USA, Austria)  
  Giving, Taking, Giving Back, and Eco Centric Gift Economy  
11.45-12.05 Erella Shadmi: (Israel)  
  Feminism, Gift-Giving, Matriarchy - and Anarchism  

(10 min. questions and answers)

12.15-1.30 pm Lunch Break 
Saturday Afternoon  
Session three:  Aspects of Matriarchal Cultures  
1.30-1.50 Malika Grasshoff: (Berber, Kabyle)  
  The Meaning of Motherhood among the Berber of North Africa
1.50-2.10 Gudrun Frank-Wissmann: (Germany)  
  The most sacred Ritual on Palau: Initiation of a Mother after first childbirth
2.10-2.30 Andrea Nicki:  (USA)  
   Immigrant Mothers of China and Taiwan: Matriarchal Aspects of their Cultures
2.30-2.50 Mariam Irene Tazi-Preve: (Austria)  
  What can we learn from Matriarchal Societies?  

(10 min. questions and answers)

3.00-3.15 pm
Session four:   Aspects of Matriarchal Spirituality  
3.15-3.35 Marguerite Rigoglioso: (USA)  
  Divine Motherhood: The Case of Ancient Greece  
3.35-3.55 Kalli Rose Halvorson: (USA)  

Peacewalk through the Mother and Daughter Bear Constellations: Bearings of Love and indomitability for our Maternal Humanity

3.55-4.15 Nadine Mc Neil: (Jamaica)  

Yoga Ethnochoreology: Bodily Practices/ Matriarchal Collectivizing Memory

4.15-4.35 Mary Louise Stone: (USA)  
  Andean Spirituality: Maternal Thinking and Inclusive Community
(10 min. for questions and answers)   
4.45-7.00 pm  Dinner Break
Saturday Evening  
  Keynote speakers Gift Economy  

Pilwha Chang: (Korea)

  Gift Giving, Mothering, and Ancient Ways  
7.40-8.20 Rauna Kuokkanen (Samiland, Finland, Canada)  
  Creating an Indigenous Feminist Agenda for a New Economy
  Keynote speakers Matriarchal Studies:   
8.20-9.00 Marina Meneses  (Juchitán, Mexico)  

About the Life of a Juchitecan Mother

9.00-9.40 Valentina Pakyntein  (Khasi, India)  
  Khasi Matriarchal Social Structure: Tradition and Incessancy  
9.40-10.00 Lydia Ruyle: World Icons of Mothers and Grandmothers  

October 25, Sunday morning

  Keynote Speaker:  
10.00-10.30 Sobonfu Somé:(Burkina Faso)  

Session five:

10.45-11.05 Agnes Williams (USA Seneca)  

Original Instructions Practised Today: Law of Peace and Code of Handsome Lake


Political Significance of the Gift Paradigm for Feminist Transformation

11.05-11.25 Linda Christiansen Ruffman: (Canada)
Myths of "Progress": Women, the Gift Paradigm Gender Relations and the Patriarchal Growth of the Modern World System (1400-2000)
11.25-11.45 Angela Dolmetsch: (Colombia)
Mothering Values as the Source of Sustainable Eco Village Building
11.45-12.05 Angela Miles (Canada)
C2 The Politics of the Gift
12.15-1.30 Lunch Break

Session six:


Final Panel


A (M)otherworld is Possible - Visions of the Future Keynotes and others discuss the future


Conference scholarships available.