of The Gift Economy
Many Voices discuss The Gift Economy
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A Radically Different Worldview is Possible
The conference, “A Radically Different Worldview is Possible: The Gift Economy
Inside and Outside Patriarchal Capitalism,” was held in Las Vegas, Nevada in November 2004. The conference took place just after the U.S. presidential elections
had left people of good will reeling from the re-election of George W. Bush, an
event, which some believe was his second theft of the presidency. Even if Bush II
had not won however, Patriarchal Capitalism would have continued in its life-
threatening course. The conference and now this book are attempts to respond
to the need for deep and lasting social change in an epoch of dangerous crisis
for all humans, cultures, and the planet. This goal cannot be achieved without a
new perspective, a change in paradigm, which brings with it a radically different
vision of the nature of the problems, and of the alternatives.
I have been working on the change of paradigms toward a gift economy for
many years, both as an independent researcher and as the founder of the feminist
Foundation for a Compassionate Society, which had an international scope but was
based in Austin, Texas, from 1987-1998, and then functioned in a reduced mode
from 1998-2005. When it became clear that the work of the foundation could
not continue for lack of funds, we decided to hold two conferences as the last two
major projects. This book about the worldview of the gift economy, presents the
first of these conferences. The second conference, which was devoted to Matriarchal
studies, under the direction of Heide Goettner-Abendroth (her second international
conference on the subject) took place in September-October 2005.
I believe that in discussing the gift economy we are naming something that
we are already doing but which is hidden under a variety of other names, and
is disrespected as well as misconstrued. It is thus an important step to begin to
restore its name and acknowledge its presence in many different areas of life. It
is also important to re-create the connections, which have been severed, between
the gift economy, women, and the economies of Indigenous peoples, and to bring
forward the gift paradigm as an approach, which can help to liberate us from the
worldview of the market that is destroying life on our beautiful planet.
Over the years as I have participated in the international women’s movement I
have met many, many wonderful women. Most of those invited to speak came from
those encounters. I have been honoured to get to know a number of Indigenous
women in this way and thus was able to invite them to speak at the conference,
which indeed could not have been held without their participation. All of the
speakers, academics, and activists, are gift givers in their own ways. Some had
thought deeply about the gift economy, others were new to the idea. I believe
that all of them found it enlightening to hear the gift economy being discussed
in so many different contexts. Some 35 women from 20 different countries
gave presentations. Women and men from across the United States attended
the weekend conference, which was held in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Municipal
Library Auditorium. The choice of location came both from the desire to take
advantage of cheap airfare, and to have access to the goddess Temple of Sekhmet,
a Foundation project in the desert near the U.S. government’s nuclear test site.
Perhaps Mililani Trask gave the best rationale for the venue, however, when she
commented, “What better place than Las Vegas to offer an alternative to casino
The conference and this book are attempts to justify the unity of the feminist
movement and claim leadership for the values and the work of women in the
mixed movement, which opposes patriarchal capitalism. An analysis that links
different levels and areas of life on the basis of an alternative paradigm can suggest
that much of what patriarchy has put into place is artificial and unnecessary. An
alternative paradigm that sees women as the model of the human, and patriarchy
as founded on males’ rejection of their own (female) humanity, can provide the
basis of a political program beyond present divisions. A radically different frame
would make different strategies possible, and eliminate some solutions that
would otherwise bring us all (women and men) back under patriarchal control
in different forms.
In order to make this analysis we make a basic distinction between gift giving
on the one hand and exchange on the other as two distinct logics. In the logic
of exchange, a good is given in order to receive its equivalent in return. There is
an equation of value, quantification, and measurement. In gift giving, one gives
to satisfy the need of another and the creativity of the receiver in using the gifts
is as important as the creativity of the giver. The gift interaction is transitive and
the product passes from one person to the other, creating a relation of inclusion
between the giver and the receiver with regard to what is given. Gift giving implies
the value of the other while the exchange transaction, which is made to satisfy
one’s own need, is reflexive and implies the value only of oneself. Gift giving is
qualitative rather than quantitative, other-oriented rather than ego-oriented,
inclusive rather than exclusive. Gift giving can be used for many purposes. Its
relation-creating capacity creates community, while exchange is an adversarial
interaction that creates atomistic individuals.
Our society has based distribution upon exchange, and the ideology of exchange
permeates our thinking. For example, we consider ourselves human “capital,”
choose our mates on the “marriage market,” base justice on “paying for crimes,”
motivate wars through “reprisal,” and teeter on the brink of nuclear “exchanges.”
However, Indigenous and Matriarchal cultures, based more on gift giving, had
and have very different worldviews that honour and sustain life, create lasting
community and foster abundance for all.
Introducing the Gift Economy
In the Americas, before colonization, there were 300 million people, more people
than there were in all of Europe at the time (Mann, C. 2005).2 Although Europeans
tended to interpret the Indigenous economies in the light of their own exchange-
based mentality, gift economies were still widespread when the colonizers arrived.
Women’s leadership was important in these so-called “pre”-market economies.
For example the Iroquois Confederation, where women farmers controlled the
production and distribution of agriculture, practiced gift giving in local groups
and participated in long distance gifting circles among groups. (Mann 2000)
Though wampum, made of shells, was seen as a form of currency by the Euro-
peans, Indigenous researchers like Barbara Mann (1995) consider it not to have
been money at all but a form of character writing in beads based on metaphoric
relations of Earth and Sky. Gift economies are typical of Matriarchies. In Africa
and Asia as well as the Americas, various kinds of woman centered-peaceful
societies existed and continue to exist today. (Goettner-Abendroth 1980, 1991,
2000; Sanday 1981, 1998, 2002).
My hypothesis is that not only were there and are there societies that function
according to the direct distribution of goods to needs, non-market gift econo-
mies, but that the underlying logic of this kind of economy is the basic human
logic, which has been overtaken and made invisible by the logic of the market
economy. In spite of this cancellation, gift giving continues to permeate human
life in many ways, though it is unseen and has been misnamed and obscured. The
worldview of the peoples of the Americas was indeed radically different from that
of the Europeans, so much so that the two groups had difficulty understanding
one another. Europeans consistently misinterpreted what the Native people were
saying and doing, their spirituality, their customs, their intentions.3
Colonization by the Europeans destroyed the civilizations of the Americas be
cause the mechanisms of Patriarchal Capitalism, which were developing in Europe
throughout the preceding centuries, needed sources of free gifts, which could be
transformed into capital. We live in the aftermath of this genocidal invasion, but
this should not blind us to the fact that alternative peaceful ways for organizing
the economy and social life did exist before colonization. I am not suggesting that
we directly imitate those societies now. However, I believe that if we can identify
the logic of gift giving and receiving, and see it where it continues to exist within
our own societies, we can reapply it in the present to liberate a worldview that
corresponds to it, as well as to create new/old ways of peaceful interaction.
At the same time that we begin to see the light of the alternative, we need
to use it to illuminate the problem. That is, we have to see how Patriarchy and
Capitalism work together to dominate and de-nature the direct distribution of
goods to needs and how they turn the gifts toward an artificial system of exchange,
not-giving, and property for the few. The radically different worldview that we
need now is not the worldview of the gift economy as practiced by Indigenous
peoples only, but a worldview that recognizes and derives from the gift economy
both in Indigenous societies and, though hidden and misnamed, inside Patriarchal
Capitalism itself; we might even say, inside every human being.
In 1484 The Papal Bull of Innocence VIII was published, marking the begin-
ning of the Inquisition, during which, by some estimates as many as 9,000,000
witches, most of whom were women, were killed over a period of 250 years. It is
perhaps not coincidental that these two genocides, of Native Americans and of
European women, happened simultaneously. (See Mies 1998 ) By finding
the connection between European misogyny and European/American oppression
of Indigenous peoples, perhaps we can identify the link that will allow us to create
the common platform that is crucial for social change.
One of the reasons why a common collective platform does not presently exist
is that approaches that are alternative to the status quo appear to have to do only
with self-interest, individual penchants, or personal morality. For feminists the
critique of essentialism does not allow the construction of such a platform on the
basis of a common identity, yet curiously, even if the identity is not common, the
problems are, and links among individuals and groups are made on the basis of
shared issues and responses to oppression.
In fact, if we look at the way identity is formed through oppositional categoriza
tion and how collective identity functions in “democracy” as the competition of
self interested groups, we could see the assertion of group identity as just one more
way of dividing and conquering the power of the broader collective. However,
perhaps it is not from identity anyway that we should try to derive a common
perspective, but rather we should trace such a perspective to an economic practice,
gift giving, which women everywhere (and non-patriarchal men and cultures)
engage in, often without realizing it. This practice is positive but it makes those
who engage in it similarly vulnerable to oppression by market economies. It would
be important not only to unite on issues sporadically to oppose the oppression
in its various manifestations but to link positively and long-term on the basis of
the hidden alternative economy and its perspective. In Capitalist Patriarchy the
practice of the gift economy has been assigned especially to women though it
has been misrecognized specifically under the names of “mothering,” “nurturing”
and “care-giving.” This assignment should at least qualify women as the (non-
patriarchal) leaders of a gift economy movement.
A recent re-visioning of Matriarchies sees these societies as having gift economies
and power structures different from those of Patriarchy (Allen 1986; Goettner-
Abendroth 1991, 2002; Sanday 1981, 1998, 2002). They are not women-domi-
nated societies but rather women-centered societies. They are not mirror images
of Patriarchy, but are egalitarian and consensus-based. A number of examples of
these Indigenous Matriarchal societies continue to exist worldwide.4
With this re-definition in mind, we can look at most societies now existing
as a combination of two modes, one of which is a distortion of the other and is
parasitically embedded in it. Capitalist Patriarchy, with its drive toward compe-
tition and domination, takes its sustenance from the gifts of the many, which
are still being given according to the gift giving values and patterns of so-called
“pre” Capitalist Matriarchal societies. Claudia von Werlhof’s article in this book,
discusses the drive of Patriarchy to negate Matriarchal aspects altogether. We can
also look at our present societies as the coexistence of two kinds of economies:
a gift economy and an exchange, or market, economy. Two value systems come
from the two economies. The exchange economy fosters competition while the
gift economy fosters cooperation. Moreover, the exchange economy competes
with the gift economy in order to dominate it.
The paradox of competition between a competitive and a non-competitive
behaviour carries within it the victory of the competitive behaviour unless it is
possible to move to a higher logical level and weigh the two as general principles for
organizing life.5 At this higher level it is clear that cooperation, as a better principle,
“wins” the competition. The question is how to understand the interrelatedness
of the two behaviours well enough to collectively move from one of them to the
other. In order to achieve this understanding we need to look at the underlying
logics of the two behaviours and the economies in which they are embedded, and
at the paradigms or worldviews these economies give rise to.
My proposal for this task draws not only on the idea of economic structures
that determine superstructures of ideas and values (Marx 1904 ), but also
on the simple consideration that what we do over and over in daily life influences
the way we think. The economy of exchange, on which the Patriarchal Capitalist
market is built, functions according to the self-reflecting logic of exchange: giving
in order to receive an equivalent. It requires an equation of value, quantification,
and measurement according to a standard. Gift giving, directly satisfying the needs
of the other, functions according to a logical movement of its own but has usually
been considered instinctual or illogical. The action (A gives X to B) already car-
ries with it implications, which are not contingent upon an equivalent return: (B
gives Y to A). The elementary gesture of gift giving is transitive and it gives value
to the receiver by implication. On different scales, from the small to the large,
from the family to the nation, when the gift economy and the exchange economy
behaviours coexist, the gift economy, consistent with its principle, gives to the
exchange economy, satisfying its needs, giving it value and thereby colluding with
its own oppression. On the other hand, exchange—giving in order to receive an
equivalent in return—cancels gift giving. It is ego-oriented and gives value to the
“giver” by implication rather than to the receiver. It is competitive, positions the
exchangers as adversaries (Hyde 1979), and creates a relation between products
rather than between persons.
Competing with gift giving while coexisting with it, the economy based on
exchange exploits and discredits gift giving, often denying its very existence so
that exchange seems to be the source of the gifts it has received or taken. In car-
rying out this cancellation, the logic of exchange, which is self-reflecting and self
confirming identity logic, places gift giving in a non category with which (as
a category) it does not have to compete. Thus, the two fit together as parasite
and host. In spite of this collusion (and all of its variations), I believe the host is
much more extensive than the parasite and gift giving remains as a deep hidden
alternative, permeating Capitalist Patriarchy at all levels.
Mothering, which is usually socially identified with women, is an example of gift
giving in which goods are distributed to needs in a very detailed and continuous
way. We can consider this distribution as an example of an economic structure,
which as such, has the capacity to give rise to the values of care as its superstruc-
ture. By considering maternal practice as instinctive or natural, the ideology of
Capitalist Patriarchy has not only fettered women through essentialism, it has
blocked the consideration of mothering as economic. By looking at gift giving
as a hidden economy, a mode of distribution, which is the host of the economy
based on exchange, we can see women’s commonality as economic, having to do
with a way of distributing goods to needs, a practice and a process which are part
of a socially determined role, not an essence. Moreover, in societies based on gift
economies, men remain mothering. To be a leader for the Minangkabau, a man
must be like a good mother (Sanday 2002). Thus, women and men who are not
patriarchal have in common not an essence but the practice of a gift giving mode
The coexistence of gift giving and exchange is detrimental to gift giving but
advantageous to the market system. Many free gifts are fed into the Capitalist
machine, which re names the gifts as “profit” and channels them from the many
to the few. The 40 percent that would have to be added on to the gross national
product in the U.S. and elsewhere if women’s free work were counted (Waring 1988)
constitutes a gift that women are giving to the system of Patriarchal Capitalism,
which does not have to pay for those services. Surplus value, which according to
Marx is created by that part of the labour of the worker, which is not covered by
the salary, can also be considered as a gift, leveraged or forced from the worker,
but free to the capitalist.6
Both genders can practice both economies. Men can practice the gift giving mode
of distribution and women can practice the mode of distribution of exchange.
Mothering requires direct gift giving to children, however and since mothering is
socially assigned to women, many women practice the gift mode of distribution
during the time they are caring for children, and continue to do so even when they
are not (and often practice it even if they never have children). The boy child’s
male gender identity in Patriarchy is usually constructed in opposition to the
nurturing mother, so he has to reject the gift giving mode on which he is actually
dependent. Thus, gift giving is usually identified with women (who are socialized
to be mothers) while independence and self-assertion or aggression appear to be
male behaviours. The male gender identity finds an area of life, the market, in
which gift giving (nurturing) does not predominate; indeed it is cancelled and
denied. The market is thus open as a field for other “masculine” behaviours of
competition and hierarchy.
The values of care can be seen as the superstructure of the hidden economic
structure of the gift economy. The values of self-interest can be seen as a su-
perstructure deriving from the economic structure of exchange,7 especially as
combined with Patriarchy. Much ideological confusion arises from the fact that
the economic structures of exchange and gift giving taken together are also the
structure of a parasitic relation in which one economy gives to the other, while
the other economy actively takes from it. Thus the superstructures also reflect
this parasitic relation and are difficult to disentangle.
The above considerations suggest that we should take four basic steps to begin
to move from the exchange to the gift paradigm:
First: Distinguish gift giving from exchange.
Second: See gift giving as containing a basic transitive logic while exchange
functions according to a self-reflecting identity logic of exclusive and inclu-
Third: Look at maternal practice as gift giving.
Fourth: Consider gift giving (and therefore mothering) as economic, a mode
of distribution of goods and services to needs.
Summarizing, we can say that the logic of gift giving is a maternal economic
logic, the logic of the distribution of goods and services directly to needs. Us-
ing this description we can identify this maternal economic logic as expressed
in Indigenous societies, especially in matriarchies, where goods and services
are distributed to needs, and motherliness and care have a high social value for
everyone. By considering mothering as a particularly intense moment of a more
widespread gift economy from which Patriarchal Capitalism now parasitically
draws its sustenance, we can begin to change the familiar coordinates by which
we understand the liberation of women and other oppressed groups as achievable
through their more equal participation in the market economy. Indeed in what
follows, I hope to show that the market itself is the problem, not the solution and
that the gift economy and its values can be liberated from the exchange economy,
which is unnecessary and pernicious.
I. Extending Mothering
This approach in which mothering is seen as one example of an alternative mode
of distribution breaks the mold of maternity as limited to the relation between
mothers and children only. In fact gift economies, which embody many variations
of gift giving beyond exchange, use maternity as a general social principle, for
both women and men, for women who are not mothers as well as for men who
are not fathers. Breaking the mold of mothering as relating only to women and
small children also opens the way for considering gift economies as economies
of extended or generalized mothering.
Although much has been written in the twentieth century about gift giving,
mostly by men, its connection with mothering has rarely been made.8 Moreover,
the fear of essentialism has thrown the mother out with the bathwater for many
feminists. Instead we need to consider mothering/gift giving as a basic economic
logic and process, not an essence, for all humans. The gift economy gives not only
mothers but men (and everyone who does not have a small child) a chance to
continue to distribute goods to needs socially as well as individually (and without
nursing infants at the breast).
On the other hand, women as well as men can and do practice the logic of
exchange and participate successfully in the social system based on the market.
Capitalist Patriarchy is not exclusive to males, and women can participate in
it in roles of the oppressor as well as of the oppressed. Groups and even global
hemispheres also take up the roles of parasite and host. For example, the global
North takes the gifts of the global South (the gifts of the South are co-opted and
redirected toward the North). This takes place even if people in the North may
themselves be individually or collectively exploited as members of groups from
which wealth is being siphoned.
The colonial conquest of Indigenous territories and cultures may be seen as
motivated by the competition of market economies with gift economies, and
the extension of Patriarchal Capitalist parasitism over gift sources. Moreover the
struggles for territory among nations can be seen as the attempts of one Patriarchal
Capitalist parasite to control the gift sources of another.
Abundance is necessary for the successful practice of gift giving. Exchange com-
petes with gift giving by capturing the abundance, channeling it into the hands
of the few or wasting it, thus creating scarcity for the many. Gift giving, which
is easy and delightful in abundance becomes difficult and even self-sacrificial in
scarcity. Women have been read as “masochistic” when they sacrifice themselves
for others. In terms of the gift paradigm we can see that they are actually con-
tinuing to practice the gift logic in spite of a context of scarcity, which is usually
a product of the market and the exchange paradigm.
Looking at exploitation as the capture of free gifts—of surplus value, of cheap
resources, gifts of the environment, land, water, traditional knowledges and seeds,
connects these captured gifts with the gift labour of housewives and mothers,
and thus connects again the women’s movement with movements of workers,
and peasants, as well as peace, environmental, Indigenous and antiglobalization
II. Disbelieving in the Market
Direct giving-and-receiving has many derivatives and elaborations, which have been
misunderstood and divided and conquered by Patriarchal Capitalist ideology. As
we have been saying, they have been hidden to avoid competition with exchange.
We can bring these gift derivatives back to light by identifying them in the many
different areas where they continue to exist. For example, gift giving has been
excluded from academic disciplines as an interpretative key for centuries because it
threatens academic control over knowledge. In fact, the gift paradigm illuminates
many questions that remain opaque for academia. Moreover, the maternal logic
and mode of distribution as elaborated and extended in Indigenous gift economies
worldwide, give rise to values and spiritual traditions, which are antithetical to
those of Patriarchal Capitalist institutions.10 Indigenous epistemes, as described
by Rauna Kuokkanen in this book, can be seen as arising from the practice of
the gift economy. As Kuokkanen states, the gift of Indigenous epistemes has not
been accepted by academia. However, neither has the gift-based perspective of
women who are often living in the very families of these academics—and caring
for them—or of the women academics who are bearing double burdens of family
care and teaching. It is important to see both the care and the perspectives as gifts
and to receive them with celebration rather than ignominy.
Gift giving permeates the social life of both women and men. It can be con-
sidered (Vaughan 1997) the cause of communication and community, and can
be found at all levels from the biological to the linguistic. Exchange itself is only
one variation on gift giving, a gift constrained, turned back upon itself and made
reflexive. As the dominant mode of distribution, market exchange necessitates
common quantitative assessment, which requires a process of measurement ac-
cording to a standard. Western economics textbooks identify economics with the
market but we are extending the category “economic” to include both the practice
of mothering and gift economies. This change in categorization helps to bring
forward gift giving as a pan-human behaviour. Moreover, it can help to clarify
the relation between exchange and gift giving at the family level, at the level of
the colonization of Indigenous peoples’ gift economies by market economies,
and at the “new” level of globalization in which the gifts of nature and culture,
which were previously free for all (such as water, Indigenous plant species, and
traditional knowledges), are being commodified. The two logics also often coexist
internally to the individual. While it is clear that all of us practice both logics to
some extent, we may also hypothesize that the unconscious may function accord-
ing to gift giving and the conscious more according to exchange.
Rather than seeing the market as natural or as a prime achievement of humanity,
we need to look at it as problematic and unnecessary, a mechanism by which we
create scarcity rather than abundance by directing the flow of gifts from the many
to the few. The market gives gifts a single way of becoming visible, and that is
by transforming them into commodities, i.e., ceasing to be gifts. The globalizing
market is Capitalism in a stage in which, on a very large scale, it is performing
this transformation. By a sleight of hand it is showing that water, air, knowledge,
even genes should be considered commodities “by nature.”
We need to take a leap of imagination, which allows us to look at the market
from the outside or better, from the inside, but taking a position of total skepti-
cism. With the defeat of Patriarchal Communism, it would seem that Patriarchal
Capitalism is the only possible economy. However, the perspective of the gift
economy allows us to consider the Capitalist economy as unnecessary, transient,
harmful. Feminist economists usually work on creating changes for women inside
the market. The gift economy perspective sees the market itself as the obstacle,
not as something that can be fixed by allowing fuller participation. Nevertheless,
it is possible that changes in the market11 can help create the conditions for a non-
violent transition, which will allow us to start over again on a different basis.
It is not just the Patriarchal Capitalist market that is the cause of so many of
our problems but the market itself. This is because its logic stands in contradic-
tion to the panhuman logic of direct giving and receiving. The market is parasitic
because it absorbs gifts into a relational structure in which gifts are blocked and
cancelled though they continue to be given. Since gift giving is denied—not
acknowledged or even seen—the flow of gifts toward the market, as profit, is
understood as “deserved” or perhaps stolen—but not given. The “host” does
not recognize that it is nurturing the parasite. Historically, this relation between
gift and exchange can be materialized in different ways, but the market itself is
a mechanism for the extraction and accumulation of profit (gifts), whether of
the surplus value of salaried labour or of “housewifeized” (Mies 1986, Benholdt-
Thomson and Mies 1999) labour, of the low cost natural resources of the Global
South or the ecological inheritance of all the children of the future, whether of
women or of slaves, of Indigenous peoples or of immigrants, locally and globally.
Now the market also extracts the gifts of corporate profits paid by the money
coming from the salaries of the many, whose needs have been manipulated by
inventions and advertising.
By making the two economico-logical gestures—gift and exchange—and their
interactions the starting point of analysis, we can provide a picture that is very
different from that painted by economics proper. In fact we might say that the
society we live in is founded on a fundamental polar opposition, one pole of
which is not recognized as such. The invisibility of gift giving is the result of the
hegemony of exchange, while at the same time it is a tool for the maintenance of
its patriarchal power. By obliterating the gift or distracting attention from it by
naming it something else, by breaking its common thread, or by considering its
examples “primitive,” infantile or instinctual, the market and with it Patriarchy,
keep control over the gifts of all for the provisioning of life. In order to under-
stand and address the immense problems that come from Patriarchal Capitalism,
we need to restore the pole of the gift to visibility. I have been working on this
project for many years and the conference, which gave rise to this book, was an
important move in this direction.
III. A Self-Replicating Logic
Patriarchy and Capitalism have grown up together, twined around each other
like two thorny plants with their roots in the humus of gift giving. Capitalism
provides the economic system and Patriarchy provides the motivation toward
ever-greater phallic12 possessions of money, knowledge and power. The logic of
exchange is self-validating and creates a consensus around its values, while gift
giving, in its shadow, appears only as a feeble appeal to morality. Exchange works
like a deep magnetic template to influence all our thinking. The logic of exchange
can be seen in rewards and punishments, in guilt (psychologically preparing to pay
back) and reprisal. Even justice, seen as payment for crimes, is framed according
to the exchange paradigm, while identifying and satisfying the needs that give
rise to the crimes would be a gift-based approach. The logic of war is the logic
of exchange, attack and equal or greater counter-attack. Using exchange as the
basic key for the interpretation of the world around us casts exchanges of ideas,
of opinions, of love, of glances, (among many others) as events that might better
be understood as gift transactions. On the other hand many activities that are
framed as gifts are actually exchanges, such as, for example, donor-driven charity
and U.S. aid to other countries.
It is important to describe Patriarchal Capitalism negatively on the basis of the
gift alternative. Patriarchal Capitalist academia ignores the explanatory power of
the gift and thus obscures the parasitic character of the economy and the ideology
of which academia is an integral part.
Moreover sexism, racism, classism, xenophobia, and homophobia have issued
from the exchange logic that functions according to the standard of the phallus
and the phallic standard of the standard, creating categories based on the logic
of identity, self-interest, and the exclusion of the gift giving other. This exclusion
is a moment of the process of turning the flow of gifts of the “other” toward the
standard. Thus the category of the market excludes the non-category of the gift
which reappears as profit; the category “male” excludes the gift giving female
who gives especially to males; the category “white race” excludes the other races,
which are expected to take gift giving “female” positions toward white people.13
In spite of the immense tragedies Patriarchal Capitalism and the market continue
to perpetrate, they have maintained control of the paradigm through which most
people see the world, and continue to define reality while disqualifying the gift
economy and its perspective. The answers given within the market paradigm to
the question of why such tragedies continue to occur do not provide an under-
standing that would permit radical change.
With the hegemony of exchange, the transitive and inclusive character of gift
giving has been lost and the phenomena to which it gives rise have remained
mysterious or have been given false explanations that coincide with the ideology
of exchange. Bringing forward the paradigm based on gift giving while showing
the negative aspects of exchange, the market, and Patriarchal Capitalism, allows us
to see that a Radically Different Worldview is Possible. This in turn is a necessary
step for showing not only that, as the World Social Forum motto states, Another
World is Possible, but for showing that another possible world already exists in the
here and now. Then by bringing it forward and giving it value, we can make gift
giving define reality and reverse the polarity with exchange, non-violently liberating
this other world, which is the world of the gift economy, into the present.
IV: The Implication of Value
In order to look closely at gift giving it is a good idea to see it first in detailed slow
motion. Making, procuring, and providing something that satisfies the needs of
others is part of a dynamic, which gives not only material satisfaction to needs
but also gives value to the other by implication. The receiver is as important as
the giver in the gift transaction because s/he must be able to use the gift to bring
it to fruition. If the gift is not used, it is wasted, no longer a gift, and contradicts
the value of the work of the giver. The recognition of the giver as the source of
the gift by the receiver is not a necessary but is a common aspect of the process.
By itself this recognition does not constitute an exchange but is simply a response,
and is a sign of the completion of the transaction.
The fact that the giver gives to the receiver implies that the receiver is valuable
to h/er because s/he does not let the need go unmet, neglect h/er, or give the good
to someone else instead. This implication of value can be drawn by the giver, the
receiver, or by any onlooker and thus it appears to be not just anyone’s subjective
evaluation, but a fact. In exchange, using similar reasoning, the opposite implica-
tion is the case. One gives in order to procure the satisfaction of one’s own need,
and therefore gives value to oneself above the other, implying one’s own value.
In fact, in exchange, the satisfaction of the need of the other is an instrument for
the satisfaction of one’s own need.
Many have questioned even the possibility of unilateral gift giving.14 Exchange
appears ubiquitous and more real and rational. Western anthropologists read
reciprocity in the light of market exchange, rather than in the light of turn-tak-
ing, the repetition of a model, as happens when children imitate their gift giving
mothers. Giving, receiving and giving back appear very different in the light of
the market and in Indigenous gift economy and Matriarchal contexts. While the
logic of market exchange, like God, makes everything in its own image, in so-
called “pre”-market Indigenous societies the unilateral gift continues to inform
reciprocity. In market exchange the unilateral gift is cancelled, so every act of
reciprocity is understood as an exchange.
Even if there were no examples of pure, completely unilateral, giving (Caille
1998),15—and I believe that such gifts are actually quite commonplace—the
logic of the unilateral gift would, nevertheless, continue to carry the implication
of value of the receiver and this even when in practice the gift is mixed with
exchange. When people insist on the truism “there is no free lunch,” I counter
that at least part of most lunches is indeed free in that women have been cook-
ing them without payment for centuries. At the same time, the reception of
the unilateral gift stimulates a probable appreciative response of the receiver
and thus the gift can occasion mutual recognition of value as a basis of positive
bonding.16 In this interaction the gift itself becomes invested with positive value
and functions as a vehicle of the value of the other and a mediator of the rela-
tion of mutuality. Gift giving, which is not assimilated to exchange, produces
a reciprocity in which this relation of mutuality is not cancelled by the return
gift, but is maintained and enhanced. Sometimes an additional gift is given,
not as “interest,” as happens with debts in the exchange mode, but as another
unilateral gift, demonstrating that the return gift was not a cancellation but a
turn-taking “imitation” or follow-up of the first, by adding more.
The value that is given to the receiver along with the gift may appear to be
inherent in the receiver—a mother gives to her child because the child has
value—but her giving and giving value to her also maintain the value of the child
by allowing h/er to survive. Giving transfers value to the receiver along with the
gift, and the value is passed on along with the gift to others. In fact there is a kind
of gift syllogism—If A gives X to B and B gives X to C then A gives X to C. Gift
circulation allows this transitivity in which the original source participates in the
giving process even to the final receiver, and the implication of value flows from
person to person as well.
V. Exchange Value
According to Marx, a commodity is made of use value and exchange value. As we
have been saying, in the market, gift value is erased. Exchange, and especially the
process of exchange for money in the market, alters the character of value in that
it is no longer given as gift value to people other than oneself by implication, but it
is attributed as exchange value to commodities as expressed in money. The binary
process of exchange in which there is a symmetrical interaction of two ego-oriented
exchangers also takes attention away from the original source of the goods. (Thus
it is easy to deny the importance of mothering or women’s work in the home for
example, or on another level it is easy for multinational corporations to hide the
sweatshop conditions in which their expensive consumer items are made.)17 Each
of the interactors in exchange is implying h/er own value by using the satisfaction
of the need of the other as means, and at the same time is evaluating the value of
the commodity relative to all other commodities on the market by using money,
so that the exchange will be “equal.” The value of the other is no longer implied
by the satisfaction of his or her need, but at most, a value of identity of the two
exchangers is attested by the identity of value of their products. In other words
the identity of value of the products (or products and money) implies the identity
of the exchangers, their belonging to the same category because of their common
“property” of a quantity of exchange value. However this value depends on the
logic of identity, on what they have, and therefore what category they belong to,
not on an implication of value transmitted by or to them as human givers and
receivers of need-satisfying goods.
The value of the other is transmitted by implication in gift giving; as value, it
creates and depends upon a dynamic of transitivity between giver and receiver.
The value of the other is cancelled in the exchange transaction, and both of the
exchangers are taken as equal in their ego orientation, while their commodities
are also judged as equal through comparison with money. Thus, exchange value
is a kind of transformation of gift value.18
The gift transaction and the exchange transaction both confer value through
the transmission of goods, though they function in different ways with different
results for human relations and psychology. Where unilateral gift giving creates
other orientation, bonding, trust and mutuality, exchange creates ego-orientation
and adversarial positions, suspicion, and hostility or detachment as each exchanger
tries to surreptitiously make the other give more in the supposedly equal exchange.
For example, in cheating, the gift reappears in a negative sense and gives value
to the ego of someone who has forced or tricked free gifts from the other—for
example, by selling h/er overpriced items.19 This confrontation creates two levels,
a purportedly equal exchange and a private agenda of each exchanger to leverage,
force or extort unilateral gifts from the other. Moreover, the categorial identity
of the exchangers gives rise to their indifference to each other, in that anyone can
substitute for anyone else in their roles.
In gift giving, however, the interactors give and receive in a personal way not
just according to an accepted capitalist level of production but according to their
individual capacities and needs. Thus gift giving-and-receiving is creative and
informative while exchange can become repetitive and standardized. The atten-
tion of givers to needs creates sensitivity to the other. Emotional responses are
necessary to map the needs. Exchange, which instrumentalizes needs, promotes
desensitization, and emotional detachment.
In a context of scarcity, hierarchy, competition, and exchange it is easy for
gift giving to become manipulative. This possibility causes receivers to become
cautious and defensive and makes exchange appear to be a clearer interaction.
Sometimes the receiver has more need for respect, and for independence, than
for the gift itself, and the giver has to recognize and satisfy that need by not giv-
ing. Marketing is manipulative in that it uses the investigation of needs and the
stimulation of desires to determine what products people will buy. Although
advertisers themselves probably do not realize it, they are selling exchange itself
to us as more valuable than gift giving.
Though exchange is a variation on gift giving, it follows a very different logical
pattern, which makes the two really “apples and oranges” to each other. Moreover,
exchange has become the main basic logical pattern that we see, so that all human
reasoning seems to depend upon categorization, identity and evaluation—not
on the transmission of value. The equation of exchange even informs our idea
of self-reflecting consciousness, which we believe makes us members of a valued
category, “human,” while in other-directedness we become opaque to ourselves. At
the same time needs are ignored in favor of “effective demand,” the needs relevant
to the market for which the money already exists in the pockets of the buyers.
That is, the fulfillment of these needs can already be categorized as pertinent to
exchange when they are identified. Needs which are not pertinent to exchange are
not categorized as effective demand and are thus ignored. They do not “exist” for
the market except possibly as they influence the raising or lowering of prices.
Without a multi-level shifting of attention toward needs as such, the transitivity
that comes through the free satisfaction of needs cannot be seen. Nor can the wide
range of gifts and the implications of value that these gifts confer be recognized.
Gift giving is the interpretative key that unlocks the mysteries of transitivity, in-
teractivity, value and community. For example inclusiveness comes through giving
to the other, attending to h/er needs, not primarily through categorization—and
it is not primarily by being classified as similar to or different from each other that
we create community—but by giving and receiving gifts at all levels.20
Many new areas of needs are created by human interaction and this is also the
case for the interactions of the market. New needs arise according to the ways
society is arranged, and thus the possibility for new kinds of gift giving also arises.
In fact the gift is such a fertile and creative principle that it can never be completely
dominated by exchange and it re-presents itself again and again in different ways.
In a market-based society, the need for money also provides the possibility for
the gift of money. The need for jobs allows one to think of the job as a gift given
by the employer. The needs created by the exploitation of the global South open
the possibility for immigrants to send home billions of dollars as gift-remittances.
Each of these examples demonstrates gift giving within a market situation and
there are many others. These gifts would not be needed of course and therefore
would not be gifts, without the market. Many other kinds of gifts exist before,
beyond and around the market. In fact the market floats in a sea of gifts.
VI. Mothering and Masculation
Communication, which is an important human capability, begins in each life
between mother (or other primary care-giver) and child, and is deeply connected
to gift giving. Indeed, giving goods to needs without an exchange can be con-
sidered material communication in the sense that the bodies (and therefore also
the minds) of the receivers are created through this interaction and they become
the actual community members. Givers, who are also receivers, are altered and
specified by their giving. The receivers are nurtured and brought into social life
in specific ways, becoming givers in their turn. The vulnerability and dependence
of human children requires others to give unilaterally to them in order to ensure
their survival. Mothering, usually done by women, is thus a prime example of gift
giving behaviour, readily available to be perceived by all, which is also a necessary
(though always historically located) social constant.
Gift giving functions in mothering to imply the value of the child, but it also
functions in reverse mode to encourage the mother to give to the child because
s/he is valuable. In fact, the child may be considered inherently valuable, even if
the implication actually comes from the gifts of the mother to h/er. At the same
time the mothers, the source of this potential implication of value—and the rest
of society as well—do not give value to mothering and to gift giving by women.
They do give value to and nurture males. Identity logic regarding gender can thus
exclude girls from the category of those to whom the mother will transitively give
value by satisfying their needs.21 Since the mothers are in the same category as
their daughters, they devalue both themselves and the gift giving which is the
source of the implication of value.
In Patriarchy it appears that in order to achieve their masculine identity, boys
must not have the same behaviour as their mothers. When children are small, the
free satisfaction of their needs by their mothers is a very large part of their exis-
tence. Thus the mandate to be unlike their mothers turns little boys away from a
behaviour, which is crucial for them at the time and which carries the logic of the
gift. They are required to be non-mothering, non-gift giving in order to fulfill the
gender identity, which is imposed upon them by the society at large, the language,
the father, other boys and even the mother herself. “Male” becomes a privileged
category with the father as its “prototype”22 or model with respect to “female,”
which is identified with the gift giving mother. The father, who went through this
process himself as a child, replaces the mother as the prototype of the human for
the boy child. Then as the child grows up, becoming the prototype, taking over
the father’s position, becomes the agenda for masculine identity. I call this process
“masculation” and I believe it is the psychological root of Patriarchy.23
In Indigenous cultures, especially matriarchies, which have gift economies, the
process of becoming male can be very different from the process in Patriarchal
cultures. This is because there is no clean break between the gift giving, which
occurs in childhood and the larger scale gift giving that takes place in the society.
The transitive logic of the gift is not seen as limited to the relationship between
mothers and infants or pushed into the subconscious mind, but it is expressed
consciously and explicitly in the social relations within the community. Therefore
the boy child does not have to give up gift giving in order to create his masculine
Such circulations of gifts as potlatch (Mauss 1923)24 or the Kula of the Trobriand
Islanders (Malinowsky 1922) can be seen as a kind of social bricolage, a way of
collectively and ceremonially thinking through the logic of the gift and exploring
its implications. Different kinds of gifts and giving create different kinds of bonds
between givers and receivers, and value is implied and passed around from person
to person or from one group to another, through gift circulation. Giving to and
receiving from nature is practiced as sacred communication.
When there is no market based on exchange, but the society as a whole functions
by direct giving and receiving, there is a continuity for both males and females
with the caregiving-and-receiving that they learn from their mothers from in-
fancy on up. The mothering model of economics—the gift mode of distribution
(and distribution also elicits a mode of production (see Marx “Introduction” to
Grundrisse 1973 )—functions for both genders. The kinds of behaviours
and qualities (cooperation, sensitivity, and respectfulness) appropriate to gift
economies therefore have a survival value in those economies.
Conversely, the combination of patriarchy and the market creates an altered
and alienated world, which is antithetical to mothering/gift giving, de-classifies
and exploits it, making it the behaviour of an unvalued or non-category. (Though
this non-category is identified especially with women, who give to the privileged
category and also give value to it by implication.) The kinds of behaviours and
qualities (competition, domination, and greediness) fomented by Patriarchal
Capitalism have survival value in market economies. Traditions of food sharing
and hospitality that continue to exist inside market economies maintain some of
the qualities of the gift mode and provide a sense of significance and community
in spite of the general context of exchange.
Gift giving can be enlisted in the service of patriarchy, hierarchy, and the
market, and power itself can be understood as the ability to control gifts to one’s
own advantage. For example controlling the flow of gifts functions in a similar
way, whether it takes place in a family, a community, a business, a government
agency, a religious or academic institution, or between the Global South and
the North. The market mechanism itself is a kind of pump siphoning gifts from
one area to another. This pump works because it is invested with the motives of
Patriarchy, which promote the masculated agenda of striving to have the most
in order to be the prototype, the one at the top. (Like pistons, some go up only
because others go down.) The possibilities for achieving this top position vary
historically, but typically involve violence, which in Patriarchal Capitalism becomes
systemic economic violence. Wars on the large historical scale, cultural violence
on the level of class and race (and internationally), and violence against women
and children on the intimate interpersonal scale uphold the flow of gifts to the
top and impose the market mechanisms.
The interaction of exchange and the use of money as the prototype of exchange
value are taken as standards for “right” human behaviour. While equal exchange
appears to be a principle of the highest order in our society, it is not only the
“cover” for the extortion of gifts, but it is the model for negative interactions like
revenge and retribution, which are used as the justification for violence and war.
In fact, war is really the replay of the market on another plane. The purpose of
war appears to be not only to create the most killing “exchanges” so that more
people of other nations will have to “give” their lives for their country, but the
reward for winning is to capture the largest amount of resources, including the
money standard, and actually to become the standard, the prototype country, the
Father of the nations.
Other more “civilized” methods for controlling the flow of gifts include art and
monumental architecture, as seen for example in ancient Rome or Egypt, where
size seems to demonstrate superiority and obelisks show the phallic deserving of
tithes and taxes. Skyscrapers in the modern metropolis have a similar function.
With Capitalism the rewards for success include the possibility of becoming the
masculated human prototype by accumulating stratospheric wealth or by stardom
of various other kinds. Hypervisibility of the few is opposed to the invisibility
of the many. The position at the top is given by the gifts of the many, whether
economic gifts or simply gifts of the groups’ admiring attention (which often
translates into money).
Human history in the West has not really begun because from the beginning
of Patriarchy until now it has been only the history of an artificial parasitic male
gender construction, which leaves out the agency of the rest of humanity. In fact,
it is the history of patriarchal (and/or market) mechanisms fighting each other
for dominance. Perhaps we could say it is the history of a disease, which infects
or destroys all the healthy cultures it meets. Western history on the basis of the
gift economy will have to begin over again, and try to link with the gift cultures,
which have preserved a memory of what came before and an example of what
could be. Women mothered by women do not go through masculation and,
though they can succeed in the Patriarchal Capitalist system, their capacity for
gift practice usually remains more or less intact because it is not nipped in the
bud as happens in masculation. Women should therefore be the non-patriarchal
leaders of a movement to dismantle Patriarchal Capitalism and replace it with a
We may be forced to begin history on a gift basis by a traumatic crash of the
market, by environmental devastation or nuclear war. If we start now however, we
can try to extricate society from this perilous situation, methodically and carefully
like a person climbing down from a tree—instead of falling. We can avoid the
impending devastation, satisfying the needs of the future by stepping back from
present conditions. It is not enough to consume less in the North however. We
have to change the market mechanisms that take advantage of this consumption
and of the gifts that feed it.
VII: Controlling the Gifts
By severing the connections between the many instances of the gift logic Capitalist
Patriarchy has clouded the picture of what may be done as an alternative, making
the gift paradigm unavailable to conscious choice and elaboration as the basis of
a social project. It has achieved this also by considering gift giving instinctual, as
opposed to the rationality of exchange, or super human, the province of saints and
madonnas, while denying its presence in the rest of life. In this way the gift logic
appears special, something not for the common people, something that religions
can seize as their own. Authority regarding gift giving is turned over to male priests
and Patriarchs, who legislate it, and who judge whether people—women (actual
gift sources)—are acting in an altruistic way. (This altruism includes giving gifts
of obedience and of money to the religious institutions.)
A theory of gift giving that sees it as an economic logic, not a morality of
sacrifice or as an other worldly behaviour, can serve to protect this logic and its
carriers from cooptation and colonization by religions and right-wing ideolo-
gies. Unfortunately, lacking such a theory, this cooptation has already happened
extensively and Patriarchal religions’ and governments’ versions of gift giving are
widely imposed. They thus discredit the gift paradigm for many feminists who
rightly fear their dominance, the hypocrisy of their motives, and the power of their
hierarchies. Because of this justifiably negative assessment however, feminists risk
ceding the whole field of other-orientation to religions and right wing ideologies
instead of claiming it for women—and for all humans—with the basis in the gift
economy and the values of care.
In this book, Paola Melchiori asserts that we have to distinguish between the
gift economy and the nurturing role that then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope
of the Roman Catholic Church, attributes to women. I would counter that
authority about gift giving should not be turned over to Patriarchal religions at
all, but should be reclaimed by women. If feminists reject other-orientation they
fall into the trap of relinquishing its practice and its values to those who have
given up the gift economy as part of the construction of their gender identities.
Women, who have the social role and experience of gift giving personally and as
mothers should be the authorities on this important aspect of human life. It is
not by giving up our claim to other-orientation that women can end exploitation
or liberate ourselves and others from the authority and control of Patriarchal
religions or right-wing governments. Indeed, by rejecting other-orientation we
simply fall back into that opposite of gift giving that Patriarchy has invented,
the market with its ideology of self-interest, which is the rationale of Capitalist
Patriarchy. Even if this is the self-interest of a group, a gender, an ethnicity, a
class or a sexual orientation and even if in practice it promotes solidarity—and
thus practical gift giving—within the group, it does not raise the logic of gift
giving to the meta level at which it may be used as a guideline for creating a
radical and far-reaching alternative.
It is not self-interest that needs to be liberated but other-interest and the process
of other-interest—the gift process. We get stuck in the formulation: A gives X
to B, and do not add a parenthesis. According to the transmission of gift value,
we look at B as having value and probably more value than A. But if we put the
parenthesis around the transaction itself (A gives X to B), we can pay attention
and give value to the process itself, not to say A is more valuable because s/he
gives or B is more valuable because s/he is given to, but the process itself (A gives
X to B) is more valuable than the process of exchange, which is (A gives X to B
if and only if B gives Y to A).
The ego-orientation of Patriarchy and Capitalism has been extended to women
by their participation in the market. This has had a positive effect for many
women, especially in the North, who have been liberated to some extent from
poverty, domestic slavery and psychological servility. However, it is not primarily
the claiming of self-interest that will allow women to create deep and widespread
social change but the claiming of control over other-interest.25 Patriarchy takes the
values of motherliness, as imperfectly understood and practiced by masculated
men, and recasts these values as morality to mitigate the cruelty of its behaviour,
to offset the possibility of revolution and to pay for some of the costs the cruelty
incurs. By looking at gift giving as an economic structure with an ideological
superstructure, we can see the values of motherliness not as morality but as the
traces of this hidden economy, of a better world which is not only possible but
Generalizing exchange-based self-interest creates a collection of isolated indi-
viduals. Generalizing gift-based other-interest creates community. Generalizing
other-interest not just for personal conduct but for social change, and giving the
control of it to women (Give the land to those who cultivate it!) is a necessary
step in creating a radically different worldview and therefore making another
VIII. Gifts and Communication
Those who talk about a moral economy are accessing the idea of the gift economy
without discerning the thread of the gift, which unites so many different disciplines
and activities. I believe that the logic of gift giving is also the logic of communica-
tion and thus of our becoming human. Recognizing this possibility also contributes
to breaking the mold of mothering as only concerned with mother-child relations
by extending it to a pan-human capacity in an area considered by linguists to be
autonomous and biologically-based.
I have been working personally for years to show that language can be con-
sidered as a virtual verbal gift economy, the transposition of gift giving onto the
vocal/auditory (or visual) plane where words, sentences, and texts function as
verbal gifts given by speakers (or writers) to listeners (or readers), satisfying com-
municative needs. Syntax is not just the governance of rules but a system of gift
transactions among words, transferred from the interpersonal to the interverbal
plane. Words combine or “stick together” by being given to and received by each
other. For example, the word “red” modifies the word “ball” because it is given to
the word “ball,” which receives it. The two words taken together satisfy the need
of the listener for a human relation-creating device (gift) regarding something (the
red ball) on the non-linguistic plane. It is not only the creativity of our language
capacity that defines our humanity, but our ability to give language gifts that others
can receive, and to receive language gifts that others give, using them to satisfy
as well as to stimulate and elicit communicative needs. In other words, language
is a kind of individual, and collective, nurturing on the verbal level. The practice
of a verbal gift economy, which satisfies communicative needs using word-gifts
given by the collectivity and by individuals, creating gifts which are not lost but
are enhanced by the giving, humanizes us while at the same time we are becoming
de-humanized by the processes of exchange. This conception of language puts
it back into the women’s camp, from which it seemed to have been removed by
biologism, Phallogocentrism, and the symbolic order of the Father.26 Meaning
comes from the assertion of gift giving and the recognition of gifts at different
levels, the verbal/syntactic level, the material/nurturing and community level as
well as the perceptual level, where we receive/perceive the gifts of our experience
and environment. By projecting the mother onto nature, considering nature as
actively satisfying our needs (though in fact we have become adapted through
evolution and culture to the use of the perceptual and material gifts we are given),
we can persist in an attitude of gratitude, which will allow us to respond to and
therefore know our surroundings as sacred and treat them with respect. In this,
the theory of knowledge of the gift paradigm is consistent with the Indigenous
epistemes Rauna Kuokkanen describes in her article in this book.
VIII. The Gift of Social Change
Gift giving continues now inside “advanced” Patriarchal Capitalism though it
does not have that name. It continues in the U.S. and internationally, inside
families and in community groups, groups with a common purpose, feminist,
environmental, peace, ethnic solidarity and other activist groups, AA, spiritual
and religious groups, therapy groups, social and art groups of various kinds, in the
free software and free information movement, in such initiatives as Wikipedia, in
movements against privatization and patenting, in online gifting circles, in soli-
darity economics, in progressive philanthropy, in immigrants’ remittances and in
alternative communities. Each group grapples with the control of gift giving and
the context of exchange and scarcity that surrounds their attempts to give. Their
struggle is more difficult because most of them are presently operating without
a conscious grasp of gift giving at a meta-level, which would allow them to see
the situation in terms of the relation between two paradigms. They frame what
they are doing as morality, as cooperation, as family values, as independence or
co-dependence, as right livelihood or grace or political commitment—even as
revolution. Viewing the difficulties that arise as caused by the conflict of paradigms
makes the big picture easier to understand and it also provides the possibility of
intervening in different ways, creating feminist leadership and alternative strate-
gies, which do not turn over the gift paradigm to the authority of religions or
right- or left-wing Patriarchal politicians.27
There are many initiatives now of people trying to find ways of living beyond
Capitalism, even in the Global North. For example there is the movement for
alternative currencies such as Interest-and-Inflation-Free Money, LETS (Local
Exchange Trading Systems), and mutual credit Time Banks, which I believe
could constitute a step along the way to a moneyless gift economy, though these
currencies are mostly still based on exchange in one form or another.(see also
Raddon 2003). Some, like the Toronto Dollar, where a local dollar is traded for
a Canadian dollar but a percentage is given to social projects combine giving for
social change with alternative local currency. I would like to mention that these
and similar initiatives are themselves social gifts in that they are attempts to fill
the need for change and they should be understood as such. Some of them come
close to viewing gift giving at a meta-level but they do not usually have an un-
derstanding of the negativity of the logic of exchange itself. Without a critique of
exchange some initiatives, such as micro-credit for example, try to give the gift of
social change by extending market participation. While the desire to satisfy needs
is certainly operative in this kind of initiative, it is not surprising that extending
poor people’s participation in the market is not a long-term solution for social
change and that it also brings with it many other negative consequences. The
same can be said about debt-for-nature swaps, where countries of the South give
up ecologically endangered areas in exchange for debt reduction. These initia-
tives have been discussed critically by Ana Isla (2004) and in her article in the
The open source technology movement, which provides collaborative develop-
ment of software (See Andrea Avarado’s paper in this volume) and publishes the
source code of new programs, defines itself as a gift economy, but it embraces
the reward of recognition, which sets up a dynamic of exchange and Big Man
patriarchal privileged categories. Moreover, the exchange economy, which has
been put out through the door comes back in through the window, as some of
those who have gained recognition for their free software are now being offered,
and are accepting, high paying jobs in corporations.
Then there are entire experimental communities where people try to live ac-
cording to the gift economy. Burning Man is a short-term experiment of this sort
(see Renea Robert’s article in this volume). Functioning as a week-long festival
once a year, it has grown exponentially in many different locations around the
world. Based on the work of Lewis Hyde, this festival revolves around the gifts of
artistic expression. I believe that the other-orientation that goes with the gift logic
requires that we not use it just as an end in itself, to enjoy or improve ourselves
or to save our consciences but to create social change for everyone, especially in
these apocalyptic times. Therefore, communities that want to be gift economies
should find ways to further social change. They can do this to some extent by
proposing themselves as models for others but they need to look at the multiplier
effects of their actions and also actively work for change. In each case people have
to think their initiatives through and figure out how to connect their immediate
realities with the wider context.
All of these groups and movements would benefit by looking at the gift economy
at as a maternal economy engaged in a paradigmatic struggle with exchange and
Patriarchal Capitalism. Reconnecting gift giving and mothering so that we see
gift behaviour as motherliness, whether it is performed by males or females—or
by groups or governments—can supercede the masculated gender construction
and the valuing of hyper-masculinity that has caused and is presently exacerbating
so many of our problems.
Gift giving has been discussed a lot in the last 30 years though the connections
between mothering and gift giving have seldom been made, nor have they been
made between gift giving and language, nor between gift giving and the construc-
tion of Western gender. Most writers, as they have described the gift, have not
seen the logic of exchange itself28 as a major problem nor have they made the
connection between Patriarchy and Capitalism. In fact most of them are male
and they have once again succeeded in occupying a field of research and practice,
which by rights would belong to women.
It is important not to allow the confusion arising from the competition between
a patriarchal and a gift giving mode to once more eliminate women’s non-Patri-
archal leadership of the gift economy movement. Men who are conscious of the
negativity of Patriarchal Capitalism can acknowledge and support women in their
non-Patriarchal leadership. Rather than competing with them, men can follow
the mothering model and give authority to women. Women can do this as well,
rejecting Patriarchal Capitalism.
In this way the international women’s movement together with all the other
movements for social change can put together a project for shifting the paradigm,
a project to end wars by altering the construction of gender, to heal the economy
by restoring and extending the mothering model, to save the environment by
revising our epistemology to recognize knowledge as the creative reception/per-
ception of gifts of all kinds coming to us from our environment, thus enhancing
our capacity to treat Mother Earth with gratitude rather than with nonchalance
or attempts at domination. By shifting the paradigm we can realize that human-
ity is not an evil self-destructive species but a species that is creating its own
devastating problems because parts of it are misconstructing their gender and
are acting out this misconstruction on a wide social scale. We can begin to heal
ourselves and the planet by recognizing that we all create our common humanity
through giving and receiving material and linguistic gifts, co-muni-cating. The gift
economy gives us a rationale for radical social change under the non-Patriarchal
leadership of women. By giving value to gift giving, we can dismantle Patriarchy
and resolve the paradoxes that have been keeping it in place, so that it will not
recreate itself or come again.
The conference, “A Radically Different Worldview is Possible,” was held at the
beautiful semi-circular auditorium of the Las Vegas Public Library. The audience
was composed of women and men who had traveled from many places in the
U.S. and around the world to attend. From the comments afterwards, it was a
groundbreaking experience for many.
Because mothering is an important example of gift giving and women’s voices
have rarely been given prominence in the present discussions of the subject, we
decided to claim a space for women in the discourse on the gift by inviting only
women to speak at the conference. Some of the speakers were well versed in
the ideas of the gift economy, especially the speakers coming from Indigenous
societies. The African, Hawaiian, Native American, and Sami contributions to
this volume demonstrate the life experience of traditional and present day gift
economies, and their survival in spite of the context of scarcity and deprivation
imposed by the market economy. For Indigenous women, the struggle between
the two paradigms is no mere theory. They have experienced gift economies
and have been forced to experience and participate in exchange economies,
by the gradual or violent encroachment of Patriarchal Capitalism upon their
territories and traditions. It is a tribute to the possibility of women’s solidarity
that they accepted the invitation to speak at this conference, and for that I
particularly thank them.
There were many presenters at the conference who did not know about the work
of the others, and a few of the speakers had not thought about the gift perspective
in the areas of their competence before. Nevertheless even those relatively new to
gift economy thinking found the approach useful in describing what they were
doing as gift giving and thus finding their commonality with one another in very
The conference gave evidence of a variety of points of view regarding gift giving, each of which can be used to frame the others. Each is strengthened because,
taken together, the many points of view provide a wider context, and a continuity,
which has been lacking for each instance of gift giving taken singly. In fact gift
giving may be seen as a widespread phenomenon, which (in the West) has been
deprived of its meta-level. Gift giving has been given many names that bring it
into the Patriarchal Capitalist fold, names like “profit,” “housework,” “moral-
ity,” “charity,” “remittances,” “solidarity,” “political commitment,” even “love.”
By bringing forward the presence of the gift in many different fields, describing
it and naming it as such, we can restore it to the primacy in our thinking that is
necessary to create deep social change.
Is everything gift giving then, at least everything that is not exchange? (And I
have been saying that exchange itself is just a doubled and contingent gift). And
doesn’t this make it uninformative? I think it may be indeed that everything is
gift giving at different levels, in different tempos, transposed, material, virtual,
rematerialized, natural and cultural, microscopic and macroscopic, at the atomic
level and at the level of galaxies. Obviously only a few of these levels are based on
what humans do, except for the fact that what humans do makes up or should
make up the lens with which we look at them. The objectivity of the market
has broken these lenses and we have tried to look at the universe without the
mother. Although this view helps us make more bombs and missiles, more new
profit-making products, more genetically modified organisms, more clones, it
takes away our view of all the gift aspects that we would otherwise have seen. We
become color blind to the gift-color. We lose our understanding, our caregiving
and our respect for human mothers and for the mothering environment, which
is all around us, even in the ungiving cities—because our perceptive apparata
evolved to receive the gifts of nature and culture, which surround us. The Indig-
enous people’s idea of Mother Nature and Mother Earth, is true. That is because
it is as mothered children that our perception and perspectives are developed.
Unfortunately, as Claudia von Werlhof says, Patriarchy is trying to take over
the power to give birth. It is also altering our conception of mothering/gift
giving, so that it appears as if all our interactions were disengaged, heartless,
ego oriented. It has taken nurture out of our nature, so that we cannot see it in
nature outside ourselves or in culture. It is replacing nurture with indifference
and violence. What a different sense it has to say, “light hits the retina” rather
than “light is ‘given’ to the retina,” which creatively receives it. Why do we say,
“Nature abhors a vacuum” instead of “Nature rushes to fill a lack?” We are stuck
in the wrong metaphor, and continue to construct a worldview from which gift
giving has been deleted.
Thus it is important to take the hypothesis that everything is gift giving and try
to put back what has been taken away over the centuries. This means reworking our
lens so that we can see the gift again, healing our gift-color blindness. In doing this
we may make some mistakes, overgeneralize, see gift giving where it is not there.
However, once the point of view is established the mistakes can be corrected.
This volume is divided into four sections according to general themes. All of
the presentations necessarily address the themes of the other sections, however
because gift giving as we now know it coexists with exchange, which, as part of
the dominant paradigm and the paradigm of dominance, necessarily conditions
gift-giving and fractures its continuities. Nevertheless, the first section, “The Gift
Economy, Past and Present,” attempts to provide a glimpse of gift giving beyond
and before the context of Patriarchal Capitalism. It includes articles that give us
an idea of what living in a gift economy is actually like and what perspectives
emerge from gift-based thinking. These presentations give a sense of community
life and worldview in the present and the past where Patriarchy and Capitalism
were/are not the central focus of society but instead the gift logic orients human
beings towards others, the community at large and nature. They help us see the
gift economy as the basic human mode of distribution of which exchange is only
a (harmful) variation. Unfortunately the worldview based on exchange has made
most Euro/Americans distort our perception of gift giving, so that we have rejected
out of hand the important model it provides for organizing society. This section
presents the gift as it exists not only among Indigenous people but also as part
of the European heritage, and as a perspective that can be used in disciplines as
distant from each other as semiotics and biology. Wherever Patriarchal explana-
tions have worn thin, malfunction, or do not exist, the logic of the gift shines
through as an ever-present life-giving alternative.
In the first article, Jeanette Armstrong (Canada) gives us a brief but clear de-
scription of what life in a gift economy feels like and how it can be organized for
collective survival, given that her people, the Okanagan Synyx are presently living
in a desert environment. Her sense of the importance of the land and the com-
munity comes from a way of life that avoids the pitfalls of Capitalism because it
is egalitarian and has gift giving as its core principle. She provides examples from
her language of conceptual nuances, which are radically different from those to
which Euro/Americans are accustomed.
Kaarina Kailo’s (Finland) article discusses the ancient European cross cultural
imaginary, which is visible in myths based on non masculated life-centered val-
ues, prior to the take-over by the master imaginary. Tracing back the roots of the
gift to the epochs preceding patriarchy in the West can allow Euro-Americans to
recognize their commonality with Indigenous peoples beyond the divide-and-
conquer categories of the master narrative.
Rauna Kuokkanen (Samiland/Canada) speaks of the gifts of Indigenous epis-
temes, which, like the gift paradigm generally, have appeared incomprehensible
or even threatening to the academia of Western Patriarchal Capitalism because
of their emphasis on non-productive expenditure. She makes explicit the spiri-
tual traditions of the Northern European Indigenous Sami people in which
giving to the land is the way of communicating with and honouring nature.
She emphasizes the importance of recognition of gifts as part of a network of
relations, which are built upon responsibility towards the other and sees this
gift-based worldview as an urgently needed alternative to patriarchal global
Vicki Noble (USA) tells us that “the central icon of matriarchal agricultural soci-
eties was the Goddess—the abundant and generous Mother of All Things—whose
centrality begs to be re-established today along with women in leadership as her
ministers.” Noble traces the image of the life giving Goddess from prehistoric
cave drawings of vulvas through the venus figurines and ceramic vessels discussed
by Marija Gimbutas. Ancient Asian women leaders functioned as Dakinis and
Yoginis, female shamans in Mongolia and the bakers of bread in ancient Greece
were connected with rituals around pregnancy, healing and birthing, while,
contrary to patriarchal interpretations, female communal agriculture provided
an early model of a peaceful society without private property. Modern witches
belong to a long line of powerful women of many cultures who have threatened
patriarchy and bourne the brunt of its reprisals.
Patricia Pearlman (USA) is the Priestess emeritus of the Temple of the Goddess
Sekhmet in the Nevada desert, a project of the Foundation for a Compasionate
Scoiety based on the gift economy. Patricia, a modern witch, describes the project,
which has had thousands of visitors over the 15 years of its existence, and gives
us the gifts of her wit and her will.
With Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s work on Matriarchies, the Gift Economy
finds its wider context. Goettner-Abendroth (Germany) tells us that matriarchies
are not, as European patriarchal scholars have defined them, based on women’s
rule. Rather, these societies, many of which still exist worldwide, are egalitarian
and consensus based. Products of the experience of millennia, they function
according to the principles of motherliness and gift giving. We do not have to
invent an abstract utopia but can turn to these societies that function according
to the most intelligent patterns of social organization for a radically different
perspective. A professor of philosophy who gave up her position in order to
concentrate on the study of matriarchies. Goettner-Abendroth demonstrates the
gifts of dedication that have been necessary to start her own Akademie Hagia
outside patriarchal academia.
Susan Petrilli (Australia/Italy) brings to the women’s movement the gift of her
work on the semiotician, Lady Victoria Welby (1837-1912), who was an impor-
tant predecessor for thinking about language and gift giving. “With Welby and
beyond Welby,” Petrilli sees the direction towards the other, beyond identity logic
as “the logic of humanism, the humanism of otherness,” Her discussion of global
capitalism as communication-production, -exchange, -consumption denounces
the present phase of capitalism as alienated from the humanism of otherness and
proposes a semioethics as an antidote to this alienation.
Evolution biologist Elizabet Sahtouris (USA) expands the term “business” to
include cooperative as well as competitive economic practices, which she finds in
the natural as well as the human social world. Darwin’s ideas were influenced by
Malthus’ belief in competition for survival in scarcity, which as Hazel Henderson
has said, were projected into social Darwinist interpretations of economic behavior
and are still part of the rationale of the institutions of globalization. Instead from
Sahtouris’ point of view, throughout Earth’s history, competition in evolution has
been superceded repeatedly by negotiated cooperation at a higher level. Organizing
cooperatively and “glocally” can transform corporations away from competitive
behaviour and towards collaborative maturity.
At present Patriarchy and Capitalism weigh heavily upon gift giving of which
they form the context and from which they draw their sustenance. Other-ori-
ented gift giving is the ground and complement of self interested exchange,
which takes from it, exploiting the gifts of the many. This second section, “Gifts
Exploited by Exchange,” addresses the context in which gift giving is presently
embedded, and gives examples of some of its destructive effects, which are
legion. Lies and propaganda follow the ego-oriented model of the exchange
economy, while the truth is a gift to the receiver. By revealing the truth about
Patriarchal Capitalism, the speakers follow the gift model and satisfy the needs
of everyone to know.
Claudia von Werlhof (Austria) tells us that “patriarchy is much more than just
a word for polemical purposes. It can instead be understood as a concept that
explains the character of the whole social order in which we are living today, so-
cialism included.” Patriarchy, she says, is a war system based on the negation of
matriarchy, which still exists within patriarchies as a second culture. Von Werlhof
gives a deep analysis of how Patriarchy crystallizes into Capitalism and advises us
how to move towards an alternative.
Louise Benally, Dineh, Navajo (USA), talks about the difficulty of living in a
gift economy while the gifts of the community are being taken by the market. The
coal from Big Mountain, where her tribe lives, is used to supply the electricity to
Las Vegas where the conference was being held. In fact, the waste of electricity
on the neon lights of the city of gambling is notorious. In Big Mountain there is
nothing—no electricity, no running water.
Ana Isla (Peru) demonstrates the importance of not accepting the false gifts of
Patriarchal Capitalism, which are hidden exchanges, Trojan horses of the market.
Her analysis shows that micro credit projects and debt-for-nature swaps can be
deadly in spite of what may appear to be good intentions. In supporting the gift
economy it is important to recognize what is not a gift, as well as what is.
Condemning the glorification of virtual technobodies in corporate cyberspace
and the extraction of the life out of real flesh and blood, Mechthild Hart (Ger-
many/USA) describes the parasitism of Capitalist Patriarchy on the gift-giving
bodies of women in international sex trafficking and immigrant domestic work.
She places hope in the web of reciprocal obligations of care that develop bonds
across great distances.
Sizani Ngubane, is a South African HIV/AIDS activist. Before colonization,
she tells us, food was produced by individual families but it was not individual-
ized. There was food for all in the great grandmother’s house and Mother Earth
was regarded as a sacred gift. Colonization took 87 percent of the land for the
whites. Now there is widespread poverty, a break down of the community, and
a widespread AIDS epidemic.
Margaret Randall (USA) denounces the Orwellian double speak with which
the right-wing and the market are raping our language, while “speech that is
truthful and beautiful is the currency of the gift economy.” She gives us the gift
of two true stories—one of the propaganda attempts of the US government and
the other a story of human constancy and rebirth in the face of the paramilitary
Carol Brouillet (USA) reveals the background of 9/11, asks us to look at the
dark side of U.S. government and question the official story. The Big Lie cannot
stand; researchers from all over the world are trying to bring us the truth.
Genevieve Vaughan (USA/Italy) attempts to understand the logical and psy-
chological connections between heteronormativity and the market. The Western
construction of gender as heterosexual brings with it the construction of a non-
nurturing mode of distribution based on exchange. The norm of heterosexuality,
which privileges the “masculated” male engenders the gigantic sorting process of
the market and incarnates the value norm, money. The gift economy provides an
alternative for living and thinking beyond the norm of normativity.
“Gifts in the Shadow of Exchange,” the third section of this book, provides
examples of gift giving that sustain and strengthen community in spite of the
exploitation and poverty imposed by the system based on exchange. Survival and
even thrival are fostered by gift giving at new levels, not only beyond but within
and around the market.
Yvette Abrahams (South Africa) speaks of the gifts of the African Khoekhoe
stories, which satisfied the community’s needs to know and to follow the telling
together. She describes the present scarcity imposed by the system and the con-
tinuation of gift giving and sharing in spite of the widespread poverty. Sixty-six
percent of food is produced by the gift labour of women’s subsistence farming
in Africa. The “compassion economy,” where everyone chips in to help someone
in need, survived slavery and colonialism but unfortunately is not surviving the
HIV/AIDS epidemic. Khoekhoe spirituality is based on gift giving; hospitality,
and ceremonial giving are a spiritual necessity. Abrahams’ description of how
her people living in abundance in the past, without private property, related to
each other is a key for looking at gift giving as communication. Says Abrahams,
“When you have enough and I have enough our giving can taken on a symbolic
Scarcity in the Global South, already a result of exploitation by the North,
has been intensified by globalization. Thus migrants have been driven from their
home countries by poverty, and forced to go to work in the North to provide the
necessary sustenance to their families. These individual contributions cumulatively
form a huge monetary gift to the economies of the South. According to immigra-
tion activist Maria Jimenez (Mexico/USA), women and men of the “two-thirds”
world have been engaged in gift giving through the one hundred billion dollars
per year that they collectively send home in remittances of $100 to $300 every
month or two, gleaned from the salaries they earn in the North. Strong networks
based on family bonds facilitate this gift giving and maintain community in spite
of distance. The migrants transform the experience of exclusion and exploitation
into one of liberation for themselves and their families.
As Peggy Antrobus (Barbados) says, there is a community-building solidar-
ity of gifts between those who have emigrated from the “Creole” culture of the
Caribbean, who take or send home useful products from the North, and those at
home; bonds are maintained in this way over great distances. At the time of the
conference, Grenada, the island of her birth, had been devastated by a hurricane,
and Antrobus knew that much gift giving would be necessary by the people of
the Diaspora to restore the resources upon which the local economy was based.
She believes that the gift economy needs to be recognized and affirmed or it will
die, negated by the values of neo liberal, capitalist globalization.
The youngest speaker at the conference, Madeline Assetou Auditore, (Ivory
Coast/Italy), eleven years old at the time of the conference, gives an impassioned
plea for support for the poor children of the world who are suffering due to the
selfishness of the rich.
Rabia Abdelkarim (Algeria/Senegal) describes women’s economic solidarity
networks in Senegal where “the heart of the economy of women is relationship
and they don’t want to lose the capacity of the circulation of the gift.” Calling
upon traditional gift-based rituals and relationships of mutuality, women are
trying to create an economy for life, in which values other than money, such as
dignity, are primary.
The non-profit sector in the U.S. now counts for more than fifteen percent of
the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Tracy Gary (USA) talks from the point of
view of a donor and philanthropic organizer. She tells the story of her decades of
work in the women’s philanthropy movement and describes how she helped to
create an exponential leap in women’s giving by empowering wealthy women to
donate for social change.
Andrea Alvarado (Costa Rica) talks about FIRE, Feminist International Radio
Endeavor, which is a women’s internet radio station and began as a project of the
Foundation for a Compassionate Society. She discusses open source technology
as a gift and gives an example of the way FIRE is sharing it with women.
Erella Shadmi (Israel) discusses the importance of forgiving, that is, shifting
into a mode that is not one of retaliation/exchange/paying-back. The mode of
for-giving concentrates attention on the unmet needs behind the offense, and
attempts to satisfy them. Gift giving re-presents itself at many levels, shifting from
theory to practice and vice versa. This presentation was given in tandem with a
presentation by Palestinian Sylvia Shihadeh, which was not revised in time to be
included in this volume. Together the two activists gave an example of peaceful
collaboration and mutual respect, which was a much needed gift to all.
Linda Christiansen-Ruffman from Nova Scotia (Canada) looks at the gift
economy features of women’s community work. She realizes there are millions
of unseen gifts that women give to each other and to the women’s movement
beyond Patriarchal Capitalism’s economic fundamentalism and its appropriation
of the commons. However she wonders if recognizing these gifts will not make
them more vulnerable to appropriation.
The articles in the fourth section, “Gift Giving for Social Transformation,”
present conscious strategic uses of giving in struggles for a better world, and point
to ways of gift giving that can lead to social transformation. Hawaiian sovereignty
activist, UN advisor and lawyer Mililani Trask opposes the commodification of
knowledge and nature, the theft of intellectual property and bio piracy that are
now being promoted by globalization. Traditional knowledge and relationships
with nature are sacred for Indigenous people. The bounty of Earth must be part
of the commons so that all may share in the gifts of the creator. She makes the
important point that Indigenous women should be in the leadership of the move-
ment for a gift economy. In fact, if they come from gift economies they have the
experience of generalized social gift giving, which makes up the context in which
their roles as mothers and daughters are formed.
Taking the point of view of the other is an important aspect of an other-ori-
ented gift economy. By taking the point of view of our sisters in the South who
have been on the receiving end of “our” economic policies of structural adjust-
ment and globalization, women in the North can recognize that we are part of a
much larger international movement, which can give us both hope and direction.
Corinne Kumar (India/Tunisia) tells us that we need an imaginary beyond the
universalisms of the dominant discourse, a new knowledge paradigm, which
refuses to accept the one objective, rational, scientific discourse, cosmology and
world view as the only world view. Kumar looks at the worldview of the future,
of women of the South, the people on the margins, the South in the South and
the South in the North. In it she finds the voices of radical dissent that can give
rise to a new imaginary. They show us that the development models, the models
of democracy, progress, human rights, “enduring freedom” that we have been
“sold” are deeply destructive. In contrast they give us an alternative vision where
people on the margins are subjects of their own history.
Marta Benevides (El Salvador) life-long peace activist, tells us how the right
created the fear of losing the remittances in order to influence recent elections in
her country. As a strategist she says we have to vision what we want, do discern-
ment and manifest power by being the future now, being peace. We should give
the gift of living for the ideals of peace, freedom and justice, not just of dying for
them. She believes we should be peace, be the revolution, changing the situation
locally, with peaceful actions of the people, appropriate to each place.
Paola Melchiori (Italy) worries about the gift economy bringing back women
to their traditional roles as proposed by then Cardinal Ratzinger, proponent of
women’s complementarity to men for spousal harmony, who is now the Pope
of the Catholic Church. She believes that the only way to protect women from
this subtle justification of enslavement is that they be freed from forced giving
and practice gift giving beyond patriarchal control. Melchiori also finds hope in
women mothering each other, creating relationships in the feminist movement as
well as in alternative economic experiments, such as those created under women’s
leadership during the recent crisis in Argentina. Melchiori grapples with ques-
tions within the women’s movement, which must be resolved in order for it to
assume the leadership role that is necessary for the gift economy and paradigm
Frieda Werden (USA/Canada) of Women’s International News Gathering
Service (WINGS), discusses the models of private and public ownership of radio
in different countries and time periods, and suggests that non commercial com-
munity radio and television can be seen as gifts, not just of information but of
channels of information for and by the many. These channels run counter to the
prevailing capitalist morality of information for sale and present a transformative
model of co-muni-cation as “giving gifts together.”
Filmmaker Renea Roberts (USA) showed a clip from her film, Gifting It. In
her article, she describes what the feeling is at Burning Man, the gift economy
festival, which is based on the work of Lewis Hyde. There are now many such
four-day festivals, where people share their works of art and imagination free,
around the world. Participating in this social experiment it is possible to get a
glimpse of what a world based on a gift economy might be like. The festivals thus
“normalize” an alternative within the capitalist monolith.
Brackin Firecracker gives examples of activism from her own life, including
examples of the innovative new genre of radical cheerleading. She describes the
“Rhyzome Collective,” a group she helped to form of young activists, who are
trying to create a living example of an alternative, while they are at the same
time helping to build a global movement of resistance to oppression and injus-
tice. She believes it is important to recognize that gift giving is what activists
have been doing all along, and that through this recognition, their values are
more generally validated, giving them greater power to satisfy impelling needs
for social change.
Angela Miles (Canada) makes important points emphasizing the utility of
the gift paradigm as a “critical and visionary perspective that is broad and deep
enough to speak to all our struggles and move them all forward.” It lets us see for
example that “in the non-patriarchal world we aspire to, men will not be mas-
culated; their maleness will be lived through and not against their giving human
qualities,” and “in a feminist movement seeking giving alternatives to exchange
rather than escape from giving, remaining women’s sub-cultures and matriarchal
Indigenous cultures are honoured as precursors of a more human future, not
dismissed as vestiges of the past.
The “Feminist Gift Economy Statement” concludes this book. It was prepared
by International Feminists for a Gift Economy, a loose-knit group, which began
in Norway in 2001 at a meeting of women called by the nascent International
Feminist University Network, makes a collective statement, which affirms the
gift economy and critiques the market in the context of globalization. Members
and non-members of this informal network have presented together at panels on
the gift economy at international conferences such as the World Social Forums
and Women’s Worlds meetings as well as other activist and academic conferences.
Some of the authors of the articles in this book are members of the network. This
statement was first presented by the group at their workshop at the World Social
Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2002. See the website www.gift-economy.com
for furthur information and to join the network list serve.
...In the light of the conference and the articles in this book, I invite the reader
to seize the time and change the paradigm!
This is only the beginning.
Genevieve Vaughan is an independent researcher, activist, social change philanthropist,
and founder of the feminist Austin, Texas-based Foundation for a Compassionate Society
in operation from 1987–1998 and in a reduced form until 2005. She is the author of
For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange (1997) and Homo Donans (2006),
and the editor of an issue of the Italian journal Athanor titled Il Dono/The Gift: A
Feminist Perspective (2004). She is also the author of two children’s books, Mother
Nature’s Children (1999) and Free/Not Free (2007), and has produced a Cd of her
Songs for the Tree of Life. A documentary about her life, Giving for Giving: Not All
Texans Are Like Bush, coproduced by Cara Griswold and Becky Hays of Full Circle
Productions, has just been completed. Showings can be scheduled and copies ordered
from www.givingforgiving.com. Vaughan’s books and many articles are available free
on her website www.gift-economy.com. She is now based in Italy and devotes her time
to writing and speaking about the gift economy. She has three daughters.
Patriarchy and Capitalism have similar values and motivations: competition for
domination and the desire for accumulation in order to be the biggest, the one at
the top. Like Capitalism, patriarchy is systemic. I discuss this more in the text and
in my article below.
New information has come out about the numbers of Native people killed by diseases
brought by the Europeans. In fact the lands seemed uninhabited because the people
who lived there had all died due to epidemics of measles and smallpox brought from
Europe. So first, the Europeans were carriers of diseases, which destroyed the Indig-
enous people. They ignored the extent of the Indigenous civilization because they
did not know it. Secondly they attacked the remaining Native people ferociously,
taking over their land, eliminating them as competitors. They developed a worldview,
which hid the rapacity of their behaviour from themselves, and this worldview was
added to their original ignorance. Similarly we do not consciously recognize the gift
economy, which we are actually practicing and we also attack and exploit it so we are
in denial about it, and this denial is added to our lack of recognition of it.
Barbara Mann tells us with her characteristic wit that the word “How” with which
Native people typically greeted the Europeans meant “Go away! ”
Examples of matriarchies range from the relatively small group of the Mosuo in China
(See the television program Frontline/World 2005, “The Women’s Kingdom”) to the
Minankabau in Sumatra, who number some four million (Sanday 1998, 2002), from
tribes such as the Navajo, the Hopi and the Iroquois in Northern America (Allen 1986;
Mann 2000), and the Khasi in Northern India, the Arawak in South America, and the
Cuna in Central America (Goettner-Abendroth 1991, 2000). There are many more such
societies but intense polemics have raged around them because of the threat women’s
egalitarian leadership poses to patriarchy. As Paula Gunn Allen says “The physical and
cultural genocide of American Indian tribes is and was mostly about patriarchal fear of
gynocracy” (1986: 3). By defining Matriarchal leadership as egalitarian, not “women’s
rule,” Paula Gunn Allen (1986), Heidi Goettner-Abendroth (1991), Barbara Mann
(2000), and Peggy Sanday (1981, 2002) have reframed the discussion so that the non-
hierarchical and inclusive leadership style of women can be included among the options
for social transformation.
Studies of cooperation and “partnership” (Eisler1988) propose that a better world
can be built on cooperation by diminishing dominator values. The discussion of the
gift economy and patriarchal capitalism attempts to find where cooperative (partner-
ship) and competitive (dominator) values and behaviours come from and to use this
knowledge in constructing the alternative.
The Bielefeld School in Germany, consisting of Maria Mies, Veronika Bennholdt-
Thomsen and Claudia von Werlhof among others, considers work beyond wage labour,
such as women’s life-giving subsistence labour, the source of capital accumulation.
I agree with this approach but I look at this labour as gift labour, which I believe
establishes a common thread of continuity with other kinds of gift giving.
Because exchange is adversarial it creates a focus on the individual and an ideology
of the individual as opposed to others or “the masses.” In a society based on the gift
economy the individual would appear different, more inclusive of others. I am not
proposing the end of individuality but that it develop on a very different basis.
An early exception making the connection with mothering is Helene Cixous (Cixous
and Clement 1975). Among the men writing about the gift economy are Marcel
Mauss (1990 [1923-24]), Bronisalw Malinowsky (1922), Lewis Hyde (1979), Alain
Caille (1998) Jacques Godbout (1992), Caille and Godbout (1998), the MAUSS
Revue publishing since 1982, as well as Jacques Derrida (1992), Pierre Bourdieu
(1990) Serge Latouche (2004) and many others. On the other hand some women
have written extensively on the “love” economy, the “informal” economy and the
commons without connecting them specifically to gift economies. See for example,
Hazel Henderson (1991, 1999). Others have theorized the care economy within the
framework of the market (Nancy Folbre 1994, 2001).
There are important women’s organizations in all of these areas and women are also
very much involved in mixed gender movements, often doing much of the gift giving
work under male leadership.
In this they are similar to the opposition and threat to the institutions created in
Europe by the Nature religion of witchcraft.
For example, initiatives for economic justice, for equal pay for comparable work, for a
living wage, for Fair Trade instead of Free Trade, initiatives for community currencies,
for socially useful investing, for solidarity economics, and experiments like the Work
Less Party, provide alternative models, help to create a less monolithic economy and
empower grassroots agency. These attempts at partial change can make it easier to
transition to more radical change without violence. I believe it is important not to
consider them the final goals but steps along the path to a gift economy.
Since the male genitals are the physiological “possessions” by which males are assigned
to their category in opposition to females who lack those possessions, it seems that
having greater possessions can place them in a superior category generally. More on
gender categorization can be found in my article in this book.
African gift economies as the “other” of European Patriarchal Capitalism were plun-
dered and their members became “property” through exchange, their gifts turned
toward the slave “owners.”
For example Derrida (1992) sees gifts as almost impossible because if they are done
for recognition, and even if they are recognized, they become exchanges. Isn’t the
lack of recognition of housework then a proof that it is a unilateral gift?
Godbout and Caille assert that it is not necessary for the gift to be pure.
Matriarchal gift giving is egalitarian because it is not invested with Patriarchal motiva-
tions. There is less occasion for a struggle for recognition in egalitarian gift economies
because recognition is easily given and passed on. (see Trask and Kuokkanen in this
volume) We might look at the give-away competition of potlatch of Native Ameri-
cans of the Northwest as the struggle to be recognized as the prototype however,
and similar to the struggle that must have been going on at the time consciously or
unconsciously between the Western and the Indigenous prototypes of the human.
Similarly, after the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, there were many people on line
calling for an investigation of the root causes of the attack in the poverty and injustice
the U.S. had helped to create through globalization and wars in the Middle East.
It was hoped that by giving aid to impoverished people of Afghanistan these causes
could have been alleviated. Instead, a culprit was found to punish, i.e., with whom
to “exchange,” retaliating for the harm the U.S. had “received.” If anything this
punishment aggravated the conditions from which the original attack arose. That is,
if the attack was not an “inside job” as many suspect.
For Marx (1930 ) this is abstract labour value. We can say it is labour abstracted
from gift giving. The concentration on the need of the other and the creativity involved
in filing it, including personal details and tastes, along with the value transmitted, are
left aside for this abstraction. In the market a product derives its quantity of value from
the relation of similarity or difference with regard to the value of all other products
within a given branch of production. These are abstract and general relations. The
quantity of exchange value that products have depends upon the socially necessary
labour time required to produce them (also calculated abstractly) at a given level
of technology and productivity of labour. When the exchanger sells the product to
another, the return is not a gift but only an exchange value, which s/he then passes
on in a new exchange. The “expenditure of living labour” creates value. But unless it
has a direct receiver no gift value is transmitted by it because gift value is the implied
value of the other. Marx’s metaphors, such as the commodity being “congealed labour”
show how hard it is to imagine labour materialized as value in something when it is
separated from the receiver of the gift. Such labour is the service or gift-production,
which does not reach its destination because it is stopped by exchange or privatization.
In her article in this book, Jeanette Armstrong tells us about a word in her Okanagan
Syilx language that means to “stop the giving, to put an obstacle between the giving
Retailers use gift giving to promote sales with gimmicks; this is a gift used for the
purposes of exchange. One can of course buy something for someone else as a gift;
this is a gift beyond the exchange interaction itself.
Women seem to want to include men in their meetings and events while men typi-
cally do not include women. This perhaps shows that the women are practicing the
gift logic, which is inclusive. They identify a possible need of men to be included
and try to give them that gift while the men are practicing the identity logic, which
is categorical and exclusive and does not stimulate them to perceive a need of women
to be included. Even in the cases where they do perceive the need, they usually do
not feel compelled to satisfy it. By including men, women run the risk of embracing
those who are practicing an opposing and oppositional logic.
The practice in some countries of allowing girl children to starve while boy children
are fed demonstrates how gifts and the implication of value can be withheld. The girl
dies because to her parents and the wider society she is valueless and unvalued (and
because she is allowed to die she is valueless).
The idea of a prototype or best example of a kind for the formation of categories can
be found in the field of cognitive linguistics. See George Lakoff (1987) and John
I have discussed this process extensively in my books For-Giving (1997) and Homo
donans (2006), and the reader can find more about it in my article in this volume.
The Freudian mythical murder of the father by his sons can be read as the overtaking
of the prototype position by boys, which, seen in this way, is a moment of the early
concept forming process in the child’s gender development, not a real historical mur-
der. Even if he overcomes the father as the prototype however, the boy still does not
have the access to the gift economy he had when he was identified with his mother.
In matriarchies and gift economies he never loses this access.
Where male chiefs compete to be the greatest gift givers—the most mothering men.
For example, look at the gift perspective and the issue of abortion rights. The idea
that women can choose not to undertake years of maternal gift labour demonstrates
that gift giving (or not) is a rational choice, that not giving birth, choosing not to
give, can be based on other-orientation (recognition of one’s own limitations as a
giver in a context of scarcity for example), thus giving value and authority to the
person who considers or takes that alternative. The ability to choose abortion gives
back to women some of the authority over gift giving that Patriarchal religions have
taken away from them for centuries. Moreover if the masculated male gender iden-
tity rejects the mother and imposes an identity based on not-giving, the ability of
women (mothers) not to give, challenges the male gender construction by removing
its oppositional cornerstone. The question of abortion is not so much a question of
the right of the fetus to life (a right, which seems to end at birth anyway) but the
right of the mother to give or not to give, and her authority over the gift logic itself.
If religions (and governments) lose their authority over gift giving, what authority
do they have left?
Though much has been written on women and language the writers have mostly
taken their points of departure from within linguistics, semiotics, the philosophy of
language as provided by Patriarchal academia. Similarly feminist economists have
continued to work within the market paradigm. Writing about language, feminists
discuss for instance how women use language differently from men (Lakoff, R. 1975;
Tannen 1990) or how to produce an ecriture feminine (Cixous and Clement 1975).
What is needed is a different conception of language itself in tandem with a different
conception of the economy, reformulating both in terms of the gift paradigm.
Initiatives as widely divergent as the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chavez, which
provides free health care and education to the poor and free petroleum products to
poor countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, demonstrate gift giving
being practiced by men “at the top.” I would say that even when men do gift giving
at this elevated level they are still practicing the economy of mothering (and Chavez
was probably positively influenced by his Indigenous heritage) although the fact
of being men in the prototype position again obscures the mothering model. For
masculated men this is perhaps an apotheosis of what they gave up as children, the
“return” of what in the Freudian sense has been “removed.” This “return” in which
the men as philanthropists, become even more gift giving than the mothers whose
identity they had to relinquish, paradoxically becomes the reward for acceding to
the “one” position. It is in this sense that Patriarchal Capitalist philanthropy should
be read. See the excellent book The Better Angels of Capitalism by Andrew Herman
(1998). This also is the moral veneer of such organizations as the World Bank, the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Patriarchal
control of gift giving is normalized once more.
The group of the MAUSS (Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste des Sciences Sociales) Revue
critiques what they call “utilitarianism” but they continue to talk about “gift exchanges.”
An important critique of “economics” can be found in the writing of Serge Latouche
The idea for the temple had its beginnings in in the 1960s when I went to Egypt
on vacation with my husband. The tour guide showed us the statue of the goddess
Sekhmet, and said that she was the goddess of fertility, and that by making her a
promise, a woman could get pregnant. I did that, promising her a temple and that
very week became pregnant. I knew I had to keep the promise and finally bought land
near the nuclear test site in the Nevada dessert where the was temple built in 1992,
and after which I gave the land back to the Western Shoshone. Cynthia Burkhardt
was the temple priestess for the first year, and Patricia Pearlman was the second, from
1993 to 2004. Statues of Sekhmet and Mother Earth, by Indigenous sculptor Marsha
Gomez, grace the temple along with smaller images of goddesses from many cultures.
The temple and its guest house are free to visitors according to the principles of the
gift economy. The present priestess is Anne Key (see www.sekhmettemple.com).
Patricia Pearlman died of cancer in March 2006. We mourn her passing.
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