of The Gift Economy
Many Voices discuss The Gift Economy
return to top
In the 2004 U.S.presidential election, one of the issues used by the right wing
to divide and conquer the electorate was the issue of gay marriage. If we can
understand homophobia and heterosexism in terms of their connections with
Patriarchal Capitalism and the market, perhaps we can strengthen ourselves for
further political struggles, as well as clarifying our thinking regarding the gift
and the exchange paradigms. In order to do this we need to go back to the social
construction of gender as the basis not only of the division of labour but of the
division of economies.
Heterosexism and the Norm
The construction of the male gender in opposition to the mother and the con-
sequent denial of mothering gift giving as the main human principle and process,
creates a norm of heterosexuality and an economic norm of the distribution of
goods through exchange (not-giving), both of which are artificial and pernicious.
The denial of gift giving and the privileging of not-giving blight the individual
personality as well as the economy. The constructions of “male” in this deeply
mistaken way and of “female” as its opposite and complement, are motivating
privileged Euro/Americans1 to destroy everything we would otherwise celebrate and
love. Heterosexism becomes a way of affirming the Patriarchal Capitalist market.
That is, it affirms the primacy of not-giving except according to the upward flows
established by the market and male dominant heterosexuality. And conversely,
Patriarchal Capitalism affirms this norm of heterosexuality, not only in its use
of sexualized images for advertising and propaganda but also in its parasite/host
structure, in its motivation towards competition and economic domination, and
in its privileging of identity and penalization of difference, which is the logical
and emotional matrix of homophobia. The values of heterosexism and the market
promote each other, and this is made more powerful because the two derive from
a common root in “masculated” not-giving.
Despite the gift giving done by lesbians and gay men to each other and to the
LGBT movement as well as to the peace and social change movements at large,
and despite the challenge to biological gender determinism that we offer, neither
the movement nor most of the individuals in it have so far taken their true politi-
cal positions as opponents of a destructively heterosexist economy. Recognizing
a common derivation of the artificial constructions of heterosexuality and of the
capitalist market shifts the emphasis from the politics of the defense of personal
preference to a much more general socio/economic/political engagement.2 It can
constitute a step beyond issue-bound identity politics to a deep commonality
with the other progressive social movements. At the same time, thinking about
heterosexism and its connection to Capitalism can serve as a new perspective for
feminist and progressive thinking in general.
An early change of categories for boys from the model of the mother to that of
the father and thus from female (mother-identified) to male, makes masculinity a
lifetime mandate or behavioural agenda (see Vaughan 1997 for a more complete
discussion). In itself this change of categories, which I call “masculation,” seems
innocuous enough, but I believe the projections and paradoxes to which it gives
rise are now destroying the earth and all her creatures. We do not have much time
left, if any. Yet in order not to worsen the problems we need to calmly understand
them so that we can create change in the right direction.
Patriarchies place little boys in a category that is opposite to that of their moth-
ers. Since in infancy and childhood mothers are doing most of the caregiving (gift
giving) for their children, and this is the most important experience for the children
at the time, it appears that in order to achieve a masculine identity little boys have
to give up a model of behaviour, which is life sustaining and all encompassing.
The rejection of the model of the mother becomes the rejection of the behaviour
of unilateral gift giving, and in its place not-giving and domination are offered as
“male” characteristics. The not-giver receives gifts without acknowledging them,
on the basis that he deserves them because he is in a privileged (male) category. In
fact, the mother continues to give to the child even if he will never be a mother,
and she encourages him to behave in the not-giving ways of his father (or other
significant males) to whom she also gives.
An alternative to gift giving is available to the boy child: hitting. Like gift giv-
ing, hitting is transitive. By hitting, one person touches another and establishes a
relation, though this is a relation of domination rather than one of mutuality and
trust. I realize that this description of the boy child’s socialization is an abstrac-
tion—but actually he is abstracted,3 his motherliness, his gift giving humanity, is
held in abeyance indefinitely—as he is extracted psychologically from the moth-
ering context. For the boy child, the norm of the mother is replaced or cancelled
by the norm of the father (or other masculated male model) and this cancellation
itself becomes part of the male identity as does a mandate for the boy to become
the overtaking and canceling norm. This gender construction is Oedipal as well
as economic. The privileging of the phallus, patriarchal law, and the norm of
normativity all take place through an artificial construction of masculinity over
and against a prior mothering, gift giving model. The pre-Oedipal stage is not
just jouissance, a symbiotic merging between the child and the mother but an
economically primary stage of gift giving-and-receiving, a proto and (in Capitalist
Patriarchy still) just nascent gift economy.
The Norm of the Norm
Recently there has been a current in cognitive psychology and linguistics called
“prototype theory” (Rosch 2000 ; Lakoff 1987; Taylor 2003 ). Con-
cepts are seen as organized around a best example of a category, the prototype or
exemplar. So, in experiments in the U.S., in a mid-level category such as “birds,”
the robin is taken as the prototype by most people. This current implicitly recalls
an early (1920s) experiment on concept formation by the Soviet psychologist
Lev Vygotsky (1962), in which he provided exemplars of experimental categories
and asked children to select members of those categories by comparison with the
exemplars. By tracking the various ways in which they accomplished this task,
he was able to identify and describe different strategies of concept formation. I
noticed (Vaughan 1981) the similarity of this process with the process of the mar-
ket as seen by Marx (1930 ) and his identification of money as the general
equivalent—the prototype of value with regard to the many commodities which
are related to it. Jean Josef Goux (1990 ) wrote about the one-to-many
form of the general equivalent as incarnated in social structures, for example, the
relation of the king to his many subjects, of the general to his army, the patri-
archal father to his family, and the phallus to the other parts of the male body.
The exemplars or prototypes are the “ones” in the one-to-many structures and
may be seen as norms or standards. People take on these roles, which also often
permit them to impose legal norms and standards of behaviour. What I derive
from looking at this proliferation of similar patterns is the startling conclusion
that the form of a thought process, the concept, has become mistakenly embodied
in human social structures.
In the area of the market, money is the standard or prototype of value and func-
tions as “one” with regard to “many” commodities. This one-to-many structure is
repeated over and over in our society. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Mafia
lords, film stars and rock stars, popes and presidents are all examples of one-to-
many “prototypicality” and are used as behavioural norms by the many who serve
or emulate them. There is a somewhat similar relation also between the owner
of private property and the many items that are owned by h/er. Perhaps property
relations are more similar to one of Vygotsky’s (1962) “complex” stages, which he
sees as steps in the development conceptualization proper. In the case of property,
this would be the “family name” complex4 where each item relates individually to
the one exemplar, but this does not imply a common quality among the items.
Similarly a person can own many different kinds of items (chairs, a sack of to-
matoes, a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, a car), which do not have anything in
common with each other beyond this property relation to the one owner. In the
patriarchal family the “complex” of property includes people among the items,
the “chattel,” which are related to the “one” pater familias.
Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt (2004) have recently written a book,
Multitude, in which they describe the “swarm,” which is their conception of the
“many” beyond the relationship to the “one.” Unfortunately they leave aside
heterosexist gender relations, which nevertheless condition the members of the
“swarm” internally. Even if the multitude were to succeed in detaching itself from
political one-to-many power structures altogether, these structures would still exist
within individuals, families and among the masculated (one-to-many) males and
correspondingly femized (many to one) females who make up the many.
The one-to-many norm, of which there are so very many instances in our so-
ciety, self replicates at a higher logical level and becomes the norm of normativity
itself (whatever is not normative is not normal). Being normal is being a “one” or
being related as one-of- many to a “one,” as a star is related to her fans or fans are
related to a star. This kind of relation is so commonplace that it seems natural.
In the U.S. we use it in selecting our presidents, where the many choose which
person (of two) will be the “one” and the candidate with the greatest number of
votes of the “many” becomes the “one” for all.5 We derive our (normal) sense of
identity from being in these relationships, playing one or the other role, as well
as from being in one-to-many family or property relationships.
Patriarchal institutions such as the law, the prisons, the police and the military,
schools and businesses, are all set up according to the norm of one-to-many
normativity and they determine behaviour both within and outside their own
hierarchical structures. However, in a strange twist in an already unwarranted use
of the concept form, the market itself has displaced the concept of value from
human beings to objects, and has incarnated the one-to-many norm of value in
money. Thus the market broadcasts normativity to us in a transversal way, which
is difficult to recognize and remains largely unconscious, though it is part of our
In fact the market is a gigantic sorting mechanism, which includes commodi-
ties and excludes gifts, at the same time evaluating the commodities according to
the quantities of the monetary prototype. Quantification, measurement, and the
judgment of value according to the monetary norm become normal behaviour for
everyone and people judge each other and even themselves in this way. The existence
of this social sorting process influences the other one-to-many structures and vice
versa, so that all of them become “natural,” “objective reality,” the way things are.
Gift giving and receiving, which imply the value of the other, are left out of the
picture and sorting by evaluation in terms of the norm, takes their place.
Those who cannot relate themselves to the monetary norm because they are
unemployed or their (gift) work is not monetized, are sorted out, and they become
irrelevant, beyond the pale. Similarly, those who are themselves neither the one
nor one-of-the-many related to the one, as modeled in the patriarchal family, for
example, are also beyond the pale, irrelevant. Anyone who does not accept the
norm of heterosexuality can be seen as dangerous and socially deviant by those
who do. In fact homosexuals step outside the norm of normativity itself, beyond
the one and the many, challenging that structure in much the same way that the
gift economy challenges the structure of the market and Capitalist Patriarchy. Of
course, many homosexuals and transgendered people performatively repeat the
power relations they find in the society around them (Butler 1990). But being
beyond the norm of normativity brings with it a revolutionary potential, which
could be empowered if the connections between heterosexism and the economy of
the market were made more explicit. Unfortunately the market and heterosexism
validate each other in many different ways, which we may not identify as such,
and it is easy to be trapped in a hall of mirrors without seeing the connections.
Those who are geographically and ideologically beyond the pale are now being
considered as potential threats to the security of those within it, whether they are a
many related to a “one” who is different from “our one”: another real or invented
leader such as Osama Bin Laden, or an “other” monotheistic God, or whether
they are simply “disaffected” individuals. Such individuals appear to be capable of
immense destruction, given the level of development of arms technology (see my
discussion of the “one” character of guns in my 1997 book, For-Giving). In fact,
with this technology, it only takes one to kill many. The fear that many will avail
themselves of this option drives the decision-making of the ones at the top who
(in order to solve the problem!) are continuing to provide the model of national
patriarchal aggression of one against the many on a grand scale.6
Since women have not been masculated, we are somewhat outside the one-to-
many structure, unless we are placed in a relation of gift giving to a one. Thus
perhaps we have a chance to do things differently especially if we do not cling to
(home or homeland) security. However, young heterosexual women are socially
encouraged at every turn to find the “one” to whom to relate themselves, and to
whom they will give long term. Without this “one” they remain in an outsider
position. Although this outsider position is made to seem inferior and women
who are not married or in relationships are often punished with isolation, there
is a revolutionary potential here as well.
I do not believe women should imitate masculated violence in order to change
the system. We have to find other ways of dismantling the structure, or shall I
call it syndrome, of patriarchy. There is no reason why the “one” prototype of a
concept should be invested with special value or why someone in that position
should be able to make decisions and act aggressively “for” all. Or receive the
gifts of the many. Or fight against the prototype of others, the “one” related to
other manys. We have misconstrued and misvalued this part of the way we think.
Knowing that this is what we are doing can allow us to strategize to collectively
change it in nonviolent ways.
I believe that by promoting the radically different worldview of the gift economy
we can undermine the power structures of Patriarchal Capitalism. The attribution
of reality and normality to these power structures constitutes one of the corner-
stones of the edifice of the “master’s house” (Lorde 1984). We can challenge and
dismantle the norm of normativity by which positions of power are validated.
The values of the gift economy, espoused by the many, could reabsorb the exac-
erbated and over emphasized “ones” into the midst of the many—given that this
reiterated one-to-many structure is actually a collectively constructed psychosocial
artifact. That is, though forming concepts is perhaps the human, species specific,
development of a modeling capacity shared by all life (Sebeok and Danesi 2000),
using a part of this process as a structure for social organization and individual
ego formation, is a mistake and an unnecessary and aberrant form. Indeed the fact
that there are many people beyond the norm of normativity (neither many nor
one) shows that this use of the one-to-many form is not a biologically determined
aspect of the human species. The general crisis to which these norms have led us
must deeply trouble both the ones and the many and signals the need for radical
change. In fact the swing towards Fascism that we have recently been experienc-
ing may be a reaction to this crisis, a mistaken attempt to solve the problem by
intensifying its cause.
On the other hand, beginning to practice the gift economy consciously and
recognizing the many ways in which we have already been practicing it uncon-
sciously, gives an accessible inroad into the alternative. It is not by behaving
according to norms that we create community and live in peace and harmony
with one another, but by satisfying needs, by giving and receiving at many levels.
These levels are material, and perceptual as well as linguistic and semiotic; they
are levels of gifts and services of all kinds as well as signs and signals, pheromones
and colour changes, tones and gestures, all of which can be seen as gifts that satisfy
our needs to know about one another. Our identities do not come from being
assigned to a category or from being related as one of many to a “one” or even
from becoming or having the potential to become a “one.” There is a whole other
fabric of giving and receiving, which makes us who we are regardless of whether
or not at the same time we are continually categorizing and being categorized
according to a norm.
Our thinking has become excessively categorical due to the exchange-based
economy, which excludes gift giving and thus (1) serves as a model of categorical
inclusion and exclusion, with money as the prototype and (2) places gift giving
on the outside where it is invisible. By (3) evaluating everything quantitatively,
the market creates abstract quantitative categories of similarity and difference,
which again serve as models for categorization. Then 4) the normativity of money
and the market resonate with the other one-to-many normative forms, setting
up a reciprocal validation.
The concept formation process functions by comparison and contrast, includ-
ing each item of the many in a category by virtue of its similarity with the one,
and finding the common quality among the many which are related to the one
in this way. In the relation between commodities and money the same process
takes place, as each product is evaluated quantitatively in terms of an amount
of the money standard. Each person confronts the other either as holder of the
“one” or as holder of an item of the many, as holder of money or of a product.
The exchangers often change roles as sellers and buyers.
The exercise of evaluation according to a norm becomes commonplace. Not-
giving to satisfy the need of the other and therefore not-implying the value of
the other, also becomes normal behaviour. Instead we give in order to receive
either a product or the incarnated value norm (money), giving value to ourselves
by implication. The exchangers are all similar to each other in this way. They
thus belong to the same category and only differ according to the quantity of
exchange value they own and exchange, while the transitivity of gift giving is
excluded from the process. What has been put out at the door comes back in
through the window as profit—what people “deserve” for having participated in
the process—gifts reframed as rewards, i.e. exchanges. The forcing of the gifts
upwards as profit seems to prove the superiority of those who have them and the
race to the top, to be a human “one” through the accumulation of gifts (capital,
which can then be reinvested) proceeds. The exchangers are placed in adversarial
positions, and are detached from the needs of others, which their products might
satisfy. Rather than creating community they create isolation by enacting these
ego-oriented patterns of inclusion and exclusion over and over again. The man
who is the “breadwinner” of the family, can be in a position of giving to the family
in exchange for nurturing of himself and his property. This creates a situation of
debt, dependency, and responsibility regarding his intimates, which is different
from the relations created in (egalitarian) mothering gift giving. The nuclear family
itself is fostered by market-based adversarial relations among families.
The compare-and-contrast thinking processes, which people engage in regarding
the norm of whatever category concerns them at the moment, is repeated in the
compare-and-contrast process of commodities and money in the market, which
feeds back into the thinking processes, and the categories people form regarding
themselves and each other. Judgment according to a norm seems to be the most
important process in community and communication, while transitivity and
needs are set aside. We are really barking up the wrong tree.
In spite of their seeming ubiquity, however, this tangled collection of norma-
tive structures is actually rather fragile and therefore needs to be protected from
the possible alternatives. Think of the “threat” communism was supposed to
pose—though in fact communism (as State Capitalism) was also set up accord-
ing to one-to-many structures. We do not need these psychologically invested
norms7 and the norm of normativity is false. Rather we need to allow and value
processes of giving and receiving which will let us all become completely human.
And we need to understand our thinking as based in these processes not just on
In the construction of heterosexism, imposing the male prototype of the cat-
egory human actually leaves out the female as a category altogether. Canceling the
female prototype leaves females as uncategorized, seemingly pre-categorical and
thus “childlike”! It thus appears that not-giving and prototypicality go together
while gift giving implies irrelevance to categorization. Gift giving seems simply
not important enough to be categorized. While males have been taken away from,
abstracted from the gift context, and the patterns of abstraction have themselves
been abstracted and used for understanding the world, the patterns of gift giving
have not been abstracted and used for understanding. This leaves large lacunae
in what we think of as knowledge. Why do we not know how words relate to the
world, for example? Too many explanations for experience and for human relations
are still being stuffed into the black box of biology because gift giving/mothering
is not being used as an interpretative key.
The Binary Norm of Heterosexuality
The norm of normativity is the norm of over valued prototypicality, a “one”
invested with special significance, with regard to which the many are related as
similar members of a category. This relation is binary (or polar)8 as an item is
either the “one” or one of the many. The norm of exchange is either money or
commodity; and the binary relation of property is similar with two aspects: either
object or owner and either mine or others’ (not-mine).
Heterosexuality is a common example of normativity but it is imbalanced
towards the male “one” since part of the character of maleness in our society
lies in being the “one.” Of course oneness cannot actually stand alone, but is
relational. The heterosexual norm requires at least two of which one is more one
than the other. It has binary poles of which one pole, the male, is the “one” while
the female functions as the eclipsed norm and eclipsed giver, sorted out, but giv-
ing to the one, who dominates. She can function as a giver of many things but,
more importantly, she herself is one-of-many when, having been cancelled as the
original prototype, she is grouped together with her children (or with property)
as “many” with regard to the “one” husband/father. She can also be one-of-many
women regarding a Don Juan male figure. In a way, in masculation, the privileg-
ing of the category “male,” functions to make all women “many,” to whom every
male is (or “deserves” to be) related as “one.” On the other hand the male “one”
is nothing without the many, and he also needs the eclipsed gift giver in order to
maintain his position. Following this model, playing these roles, in the family,
in the media and in the market, people unknowingly help maintain a norm of
dominance and privilege, which subjugates gift giving. Homosexuals as the third
or fourth sex, both/and and neither/nor, form a plurality, which destabilizes the
distorted binary heterosexual norm.
Once established, the psycho-logic of heterosexuality can be turned around so
that regardless of biological gender anyone who takes the “one” not-giving position
appears as “male,” while anyone who takes the “many” or gift giving position is
“female.” Since in patriarchy the many serve or give to the male one, the position
of the many appears to coincide with “female” gift giving. In fact what we call
“power” is the ability be the “one” and to force others into the femized gift giv-
ing position, whether the “one” is biologically male, female or an abstract entity
such as a corporation. The power of the corporation over the many can therefore
be seen as male, or masculated power, even though the corporation itself is not a
human being but a legal entity, which does not have physiological genitals. The
“male” one and the “female” many are thus relational positions that are imposed
as stereotypical sexual and economic roles.
Power relations make egalitarian gift giving and receiving difficult. However,
positive communication and community depend on human beings treating each
other as (communicative) givers and receivers. In our linguistic communication
we construct our variegated similarity ad hoc through the gift process, having in
common an egalitarian point of departure as speakers of the same language. As
speakers and writers we exercise a gift giving agency that has its fruition in the
understanding of listeners or readers whose communicative needs are both elicited
and satisfied by our linguistic gifts. They are able to receive these gifts because they
themselves are also communicative agents who in their turn construct similar gifts
for others, using the common verbal virtual gift mode of a particular language.
The performance of the masculated and femized roles beyond biological gender
might be considered a social bricolage, a game of exploration—here of the one-
to-many relation and of the relation between gift and exchange, in the intimate
interpersonal arena. Since, in Capitalist Patriarchy it is possible for women9 to
achieve the “one” position, as a rock star or a prime minister or in the family as
the (usually economically disempowered) single mother of many children, it is
clear that the capacity to be the prototype is not biologically determined as male,
nor is the capacity to be gift giving and one-of-the-many only female. Creating
these roles as conscious performance and even as parody calls the roles into ques-
tion; the ability to relate to one another outside the norm can be an assertion of
the generic human. It can also provide the kind of egalitarian relations that are
necessary for the liberated practice of the gift economy. Though heterosexuals do
also often relate to each other beyond the stereotypical roles, the roles themselves
in their case still seem deeply embedded in biology. It is perhaps a special gift of
the LGBT movement to show the way to the unmasculated gift giving human.
The Norm of the Un-Normative, Beyond The Pale
We could dismantle the binary norm of heterosexism, first by extracting gift giv-
ing from it. That is, we would recognize that gift giving is of a different order,
a different logical status, in that it is a human process already the possession of
everyone, whether male or female, one or many—an “operating system” put into
the “computer” very early on—and therefore it is pertinent to everyone beyond
the binary norm, not an aspect of gender. Looking at language as transposed gift
giving (as I have been trying to do for many years), confirms the pan-human
character of gift giving because the capacity for language itself is not determined
Second, if we could restore gift giving to the concept of “human” we would
no longer construct maleness in opposition to gift giving in a binary way, and
therefore would not misuse an exemplar of a not-giving father in opposition to the
gift giving mother, to construct the accepted masculine identity for boys. If the
prototype of the father did not take over and cancel the prototype of the mother,
the “one” position would be less emphasized and the father himself would be
seen as less dominant. He and like him, his sons, would also not be expected to
replace gift giving with hitting. As happens in matriarchies, the mother would be
seen as the model of the human practice of gift giving for both males and females.
However she would not need to be dominant, as her capacity to be the model
would not have to cancel a polar opposite model. Moreover, since gift giving is
other-oriented, it is not a self-centered dominant model, not focused on being
“one.” It includes others, and therefore is a link in a similarly constructed gift
giving “many” (which does not exclude males who in a gift-based society would
not be masculated anyway).10 We could do away with the norm of normativity
altogether, constructing ourselves and each other through gift giving-and-receiv-
ing processes at many different levels. In this way we would produce a kind of
subjectivity and agency very different from those we are now creating under the
dictates of the norm and the logic of exchange. Constructing ourselves and our
genders differently would allow us to defuse the motivation towards domination
and accumulation. It would also help us recognize the deeply dysfunctional con-
figurations of our institutions and would clarify the ways to change them.
The process of gift giving and receiving allows each person to influence and par-
ticipate in the other’s development. It creates relations of mutuality and reciprocal
recognition while exchange creates relations of competition or mutual indifference
(in which recognition is only “given” through a struggle). In the gift process, needs
are valued, not considered in terms of effective demand as the means for making
a profit. New needs develop according to the specific satisfaction of old needs.
The agency of each person develops during the process in which s/he, as a giver
is able to recognize the needs of the other and fill them creatively. Then the giver
also becomes a creative receiver in h/er turn and is able to use the gifts of others,
as well as to see the others as the source of the satisfaction of h/er need. S/he is
also able to know specifically the object or the service s/he has been given, often
by actually incorporating it. In fact I believe that the response to the gift, which
at a conscious level is gratitude, may be considered at a less conscious level as
knowledge. It is this giving and receiving interaction, this mode of distribution,
that socializes us as human, rather than the more abstract and adversarial inter-
action of exchange, with the equations and categories of which we continue to
identify and which we over-value as self-reflecting consciousness. In fact I believe
we should be called homo donans11 instead of homo sapiens or we should realize
that the two are really the same thing, that we cannot know anything without
first receiving and beginning to learn to give the gifts that satisfy our physical,
perceptual and emotional needs and those of others.
Actually, the process of giving and receiving is the process of knowledge. Our
perceptual needs are satisfied by our experience of the world around us, and this
experience also brings us the methods and means for satisfying our more complex
needs for knowledge. Thus homo donans and recipiens come before categorizing
homo sapiens and should be recognized as more descriptive names for our humanity.
We have been projecting the objectification we have learned from the market onto
the universe rather than projecting the mother as Indigenous gift-based societies
have done. Just as the male we have invented cancels female humanity, exchange
cancels gift giving, and the market economy cancels the gift economy.
The Market and Masculation
The logical contradictions in the constitution of binary heterosexism derive from
the misuse of the concept formation process in masculation. Logically there can
be only one “one” but there are many people, especially masculated males with
the same mandate to achieve that position. Social hierarchies are created so that
at least some of the contenders can achieve the top position. The one-to-many
aspects of concept formation are externalized, and transferred onto the plane of
interpersonal relations and the construction of gendered subjectivities.12 Lived
out, these artificial and mistaken heterosexist constructions of gender, which are
also re projected into group relations and institutional structures, cause huge social
problems, yet perhaps because of their similarity to aspects of the concept forma-
tion process, they seem to give meaning and structure to the lives of the individu-
als who are their bearers. The market as one of the projections of masculation,
provides a field in which the not-giving masculated identity of individuals can
exercise its mandate to get to the top. Corporate entities also act out a disembodied
masculated agenda though they have not gone through a gender construction as
such. Competitive capitalism is motivated by masculation.
In Capitalism, goods and services are produced by labour, which for Marx
(1930 ) is abstract (not-gift) labour. The common relation of commodi-
ties to each other is quantitatively assessed in money. If something cannot be
assessed in money it is irrelevant to the market, uncategorized. It is as if the
market replays the moment of transition from the gift giving mothering (non)
category to the category “male,” with the commodity playing the part of the boy.
The money standard/norm plays the part of the father norm, the one to which
all commodities are related as many, and to which “female” gifts are or appear
to be irrelevant. It is in this sense that the market appears to be a replay of the
construction of heterosexism. It repeats and rebroadcasts its mistaken logic into
our minds and behaviours from a different, object-based dimension—one that
seems to have very little to do with gender. The market also seems to be neuter
or neutral because women can participate as well as men in its not-giving (or
gift-canceling) mode of distribution. The emphasis on objects that the market
promotes, objects from which gift value has been deleted through the process of
exchange, leaves us with the idea that the market is objective, giftless, and “fair.”
Nevertheless many gifts of profit are channeled through the market, and value is
thus surreptitiously given to the ego-oriented exchangers and to the market itself.
Moreover, since gift giving is hidden or misnamed, the market appears to be the
only mode of distribution, and therefore also production for the market appears
to be the only mode of production. Similarly patriarchal heterosexism seems to
be the only mode of gender construction possible. The two social constructions
back each other up in such a way as to make both seem natural and unavoidable.
It follows that challenges to the market disturb the masculated identity and chal-
lenges to masculation disturb the market.
It is part of the market’s seemingly neutral and independent dimension that
there is an emphasis on equality after the fact. That is, after gift giving has been
sorted out, the equation of value between different commodities and different
kinds of productive labour or services becomes a moment of a process in which
all the market participants engage on a daily basis. The value given to, and seem-
ingly by, equality with the (money) standard becomes itself a model for human
relations. Unfortunately this is an equality, which is established after gift giving
has been excluded from the picture. Thus the fact that someone works harder
and longer than someone else for the same pay is not interpreted in the light that
h/er extra work is a gift to h/er employer. Rather it is seen as deriving from the
fact that h/er job is less important or that s/he is less skilled or less educated—or
the wrong gender. In fact the jobs which have most to do with gift giving such as
housework, childcare, and teaching, are notoriously poorly paid—as if to empha-
size their inferiority and irrelevance to the masculated market. The extraction of
gifts is treated as “injustice” because the payment does not reach the standard of
quantitative equality, while the gifts that permeate the market, and are extracted
at every turn, are invisible. Even if the wrongs are righted in some cases, justice
cannot solve the problem in general because the market itself is a mechanism for
gift extraction. It is not by giving value to equality from which gift giving has
been removed that we can create better selves or a society where the needs of all
are satisfied. Instead we need a shift from a market-based to a gift-based society.
There are two main opposing views in the U.S., as demonstrated by the two-party
system. These views very generally retrace the opposition between the gift paradigm
and the exchange paradigm, which retrace the construction of heterosexuality,
which we have been describing. However our understanding does not go far enough
to allow us to take a radical gift giving standpoint, because those on the “Left”
typically think that women are equal to men according to the male (masculated,
giftless) standard, and those on the “Right” think that women should be fem-
ized, nurturing men in their masculated roles. The femized woman is the one the
Right sees as gift giving. The masculated adult man protects her as he protects his
property (and his country). The gift giver has not been seen or recognized as the
human standard, the human prototype, though s/he pervades the society. That
is why the Right says that the Left does not have values—and the Left believes
the values of the right are false and based on cruelty, greed, deception—and the
stereotypical roles of heterosexism.
If we cannot find a radically different point of view from that of the mascu-
lated men of the Right wing, we cannot hold back their rush to domination. But
we on the Left also need to go beyond the equality with the masculated norm
of the equation of value from which gift giving has been removed and beyond
normativity itself. We are all wearing the eyeglasses of Capitalist Patriarchy. To
find the alternative we need to reveal gift giving as something that has a status
and logic of its own, which is (at least) as important as the logic of the market.
We need to understand and embrace gift giving as autonomous, not see it as an
adjunct to exchange.
We have appealed to the legal system devised by Patriarchy to restrain some
of the worst aspects of masculation. However, law and justice are based on crime
and payment by punishment, on the logic of exchange, and do not offer a real
alternative to exchange. The perspective of the gift, where we actively investigate
needs in order to unilaterally fill them in an effective way, is more basic and is as
powerful as the perspective of exchange. Reprisal, vengeance, exacting payment
for a wrong done (“bringing the perpetrators to justice”) are part of the exchange
paradigm reasoning of balancing the accounts, and they leave aside gift giving. War
with its attacks and counter-attacks is the logic of exchange played out large. The
cold war arms race was also a replay of exchange, in which the equation between
weapons systems was repeatedly established, re “valued” and re established. By
unilaterally giving way Gorbachev at last broke through the escalation and satisfied
an impelling need for peace. Unfortunately Patriarchal Capitalism immediately
extended its parasitic tentacles to the former Soviet Union to take the gifts that
had been made available by many years of socialism.
We are playing out the masculated syndrome large, causing worldwide devasta-
tion. We need a point of view that is radical enough to offer a real alternative. The
gift paradigm can satisfy that need. Instead what we have now is the Patriarchal
dominance model and the market equality-and-justice model.13 We need to go
farther than that, to the gift paradigm. The reason for this is that the dominant
father model and the market model are really part of the same paradigm. Money
has the place of the norm in the market, while the father has the place of the norm
in the family.14 Heterosexism is the imposition of the masculated norm bolstered
by the norm of normativity, while femization is the casting of gift givers—women
and men—in the roles of the many who adapt to and nurture the masculated
norms. (These norms are both individuals in top positions and the one-many
structures projected into society at large. Masculated men and ideologies of course
attempt to keep women, and other men in gift giving roles, roles of the many,
which they control and dominate.) We need to imagine and construct ourselves
outside the norm(s), recognizing and validating gift giving, the unmasculated and
unfemized gift giving of women, of men, of the many.
For the transition to a gift economy we need to take the mother as an easily
available prototype of the gift giving human, but not the only one—disestablish-
ing the hegemony of the norm of normativity. We can do this by showing how
widespread gift giving is in society at large and by considering normativity not
as important in itself but only as an element of the process of concept formation.
In this way we can create a gift economy, in which boys are not required to reject
mothering, and the economy of adulthood is nurturing. In gift economies, where
there is no market based on the (mis)construction of the male gender, sexual
orientation is sexual and affectional, not economic.15
Genevieve Vaughan is an independent researcher, author of For-Giving, a Feminist
Criticism of Exchange (1997) and Homo Donans (2006). A documentary on
her life, Giving for Giving, has just been released. Her books and many articles are
available free on her website www.gift-economy.com.
Heterosexism exists of course in many other groups but it is presently in the Euro-
pean/American culture that the structures of dominance at many levels have united
to form a collective non-nurturing mechanism of power over the many. There are
alternative constructions. Discussing the continuation of matricentric structures in
a number of African societies, Ifi Amadiume (1997) says, “The presence of these
fundamental matriarchal systems generating love and compassion also means that
we cannot take the classical Greek Oedipal principle of violence as a basic paradigm
or given in the African context... (156).
The same may be said for the feminist movement and abortion rights. See that
discussion in the Introduction. In fact the exchange economy pushes us into hyper
I think this is similar to what Alfred Sohn-Rethel (1965), talking about commodities,
called a “real-abstraction.”
Vygotsky’s (1962) discussion of complexes in the ’20s is probably prior to Wittgenstein’s
(2001 ) conceptualization of meanings as family resemblances or strands in
a rope, and both came long before Lakoff’s (1987) discussion of similar categories.
Vygotsky sees complexes as developmental stages of thinking coming before conceptual
This U.S. election process is strikingly similar to the way the model of the father is
“chosen” over the mother as the prototype of the human, for boys and eventually
also for girls who accept their secondary status. The president and the party that win
the election are thus “male” while the ones who lose are “female” and give way.
It is just the paradox of the mandate of masculinity that in order to achieve their
gender ideal males have to become the “one.” The patriarchal family provides this
possibility at an individual level and a number of hierarchies are available for this
purpose at a societal level. In fact by separating fields of activity from each other and
creating vertical hierarchies, the possibility is given to some of the many to become
“ones” even though logically there should be only one “one.” With the break down
in the patriarchal family and the present scarcity of jobs in the system, there are not
enough “one” positions available. Thus people enact the one-to-many activity of group
killing, as when schoolboys shoot their classmates. They do this to become normal.
Nations do it as well.
So we can see a kernel of “truth” in the contention of the Right that feminism
“causes” male violence by challenging male dominance, ie, not allowing males to take
this “one” position in the family. However the construction and belief in this “one”
position, masculation and the norm of normativity are what are actually causing the
problem.It is not surprising that the “one” pope of the “one” church of the “one”
God would promote such a belief.
Judith Butler (2004) thinks we do need norms for community though she would
like to change the ones we have. I believe that while we may need prototypes for
developing concepts, the investment of the prototype with normativity, and with a
special value and the power to elicit or force gifts from others, is unnecessary and
unwarranted. Categorization itself is only half of the picture of thinking, to which the
transitivity of gift giving needs to be restored as the other half. Giving-and-receiving
creates relationships of mutuality and trust from which community as co-muni-ty
and communication as co-muni-cation arise. (Muni means “gifts” in Latin).
Marx (1930 ) discusses this configuration when he is discussing money: “the
character of being generally and directly exchangeable is, so to say, a polar one, and
is as inseparable from its polar opposite, the character of not being directly exchange-
able, as the positive pole of a magnet is from the negative” (41).
Or corporate entities or nations.
The very characteristics of gift giving, which penalize it in a context of exchange: for
example its inclusiveness and lack of a drive towards domination become functional
in a context where exchange and masculation are not dominant.
See my book by that name (2006). In her essay in this volume Kaarina Kailo suggests
instead using the term femmina donans.
The prototype is not “better” than any of the other items of a category. However
masculation invests it with value. The people who use the prototype and aspire to be
a “one,” attribute value to it and the many who are not the “one” give value to it by
giving to it.
George Lakoff (2004) has proposed the Dominant Father and the Nurturing Parent
models as typical of the Right and Left in the U.S. Significantly he does not identify
the female mothering model as such.
We seem to be looking for a nurturing dominant father, trying to make Patriarchal
Capitalism nurturing look at Dr. Phil, Bill Gates, perhaps even the Bushes themselves
The creation of nurturing males to be done by socially dismantling masculation,
however, and not by including the nurturing father in the package of masculation. A
more truly gift giving male leader is Hugo Chavez. Not surprisingly he is of Indigenous
Even where there is a market, but women are in control, heterosexuality is less op-
pressive. For example, see Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen’s (1994) work on Juchitan,
Mexico, where women are in control of the market, the queer muxes are highly
respected and considered a blessing for the family in which they are born.
Amadiume, Ifi. 1997. Reinventing Africa: Matriarchy, Religion and Culture. London: Zed
Bennholdt-Thomsen, Veronika, ed. 1994. Juchitan-Stadt der Frauen, Hamburg, Rowohlt
Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York:
Butler, Judith. 2004. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge.
Goux, Jean-Joseph. 1990 . Symbolic Economies: After Marx and Freud. Ithaca:
Cornell University Press.
Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. Chicago: University of Chicago
Lakoff, George. 2004. Don’t Think of an Elephant. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea
Lorde, Audre. 1984. Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.
Marx, Karl. 1930 . Capital. Trans. E and C. Paul, London. J. M. Dent and Sons.
Negri, Antonio and Michael Hardt. 2004. Multitude, War and Democracy in the Age of
Empire. New York: Penguin Press.
Rosch, Eleanor. 2000 . “Principles of Categorization.” Concepts: Core Readings. Eds.
E. Margoulis and S. Laurence eds. Cambridge: MIT Press. 189-207.
Sebeok, Thomas A. and Marcel Danesi. 2000. The Forms of Meaning. Modeling Systems
Theory and Systems Analysis. Boston: Mouton de Gruyter.
Sohn-Rethel, Alfred. 1965, April. “Historical Materialist Theory of Knowledge.” Marxism
Taylor, John R. 2003. Linguistic Categorization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Vaughan, Genevieve. 1980. “Communication and Exchange.” Semiotica 29 (1-2): 113-
143. The Hague: Mouton.
Vaughan, Genevieve. 1981. “Saussure and Vygotsky via Marx.” American Semiotic 4 (1):
Vaughan, Genevieve. 1997. For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange. Austin: Plain-
Vaughan, Genevieve. 2006. Homo Donans. Online: www.gift-economy.com.
Vaughan, Genevieve, ed. 2004. Il Dono/The Gift: A Feminist Analysis. Athanor: Semiotica,
Filosofia, Arte, Letteratura 15 (8). Roma: Meltemi Editore.
Vygotsky, Lev Semenovich. 1962. Thought and Language. Cambridge:The MIT Press.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 2001 . Philosophical Investigations. London: Blackwell.