Research on gift economies, or radical acts of gifting

Austin Kleon's mind map of Lewis Hyde's The Gift

Found a mindmap of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift by Austin Kleon

If you’ve seen my video artistic statement or we’ve chatted in the last 8 months, you may have noticed I’ve been obsessed about gifts / gifting / gift economies. I’m building a (snail) mailing list to give gifts (art) away to people, and I’m working on some ideas about decentralized hybrid gift-barter networks… Since lots of people have been asking me about how to find out more about gift economies, I thought I should post some links here to make it all more accessible.

1. Nipun Mehta’s TEDx talk gives great contemporary examples of radical acts of giving:

The best part is when he talks about the museum study that reveals people give the most when they are first told they have been gifted their admission fee, and then asked to donate any amount they wish for someone else’s ticket. I’m convinced this is the secret ingredient. Gifts beget gifts.

2. The inspiration for my obsession however, actually came from Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift. (And was fuelled by what’s happening in Greece right now.) I love what Hyde says about gift rituals: an obligation to give, obligation to receive, and obligation to reciprocate.

Many tribal groups circulate a large portion of their material wealth as gifts. Tribesman are typically enjoined from buying and selling food, for example; even though there may be a strong sense of “mine and thine,” food is always given as  gift and the transaction is governed by the ethics of gift exchange, not those of barter or cash purchase. Not surprisingly, people live differently who treat a portion of their wealth as a gift. To begin with, unlike the sale of a commodity, the giving of a gift tends to establish a relationship between the parties involved. Furthermore, when gifts circulate within a group, their commerce leaves a series of interconnected relationships in its wake, and a kind of decentralized cohesiveness emerges.

3. Ourgoods.org is a barter community for creative people / projects that I’ve really been enjoying. Barter communities are not gifting communities but there is a tremendous sense of openness that is both refreshing and resonates with gifting ideals. The key, I think, is that it’s happening at a human level. While you’re encouraged to be smart, pragmatic, even cautious, the vast majority of the postings I’ve seen on the network are friendly, not business-like. It’s not about nickle-and-diming one another: Propose a trade, step in to help, or let people know what you need. There’s more ambiguity about what is “fair” so that “fair” is just about whether you feel you can give “x” in return for “y.” In my own experience, I’ve been giving “x” without asking for “y” because sometimes people don’t have something I need, or not something I need right away. Go have a look. I bet you’ll find out about really interesting projects and want to pitch in that bit of time or help the organizer is looking for — regardless of whether you’ll get anything back in return.

Whoa this is getting to be kinda long. Will post more later.

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P.S. I’ve been planting seeds in the not-for-profit community – I don’t want to jinx anything – so let’s just say, fingers crossed that I may have more interesting news to post on gifting culture in Toronto. Keywords: polycentric, decentralized hybrid gift-barter networks – let me know if you wanna get involved or just chat and tell me why this will not work.

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