“I also want to give you a typological gift. I believe that solving problems is a kind of gift-giving. The typological problem I want to solve is the one having to do with gender inclusiveness that is addressed in English at present by adding a slash to the gender pronouns he and she, as in s/he. I believe this is a disturbing slash, perhaps phallic and even violent. Including it in the feminine pronoun seems to include these masculine characteristics in the female. Instead, I propose using ‘: ‘ as a sign of nipples which both women and men have, but which directly recall the mother, as in s:he. With this I hope to show that both women and men can follow the maternal model, the model of the gift economy.” (p. 40)
Genevieve Vaughan has published her third book regarding the reality and transformative potential of the gift economy, a logic and matrix of practices that imply the liberation of all genders. The new theory provides solutions to the most urgent need in neoliberal capitalist societies: to overturn the civilizational crises that capitalism and patriarchy have caused with the distortion and appropriation of the Gift. The Gift in the Heart of Language provides sobering and mind-altering perspectives on the gift economy in all of its manifestations. The Gift has mostly been discussed in sociology and anthropology, and in relation to Indigenous people. Vaughan’s contribution is to have made its presence visible in many other fields, where it is taken for granted but where it, in fact, represents the pillar holding societies together. Where French feminism has invented bisexual or feminine writing, Vaughan shows that language, itself, is maternal at its root, not part of the Symbolic, or a symptom of the Law of the Father (Lacan). She shows that the Gift is a more typical matrix of values and worldview among women, but not exclusively so. References to societies still engaged in ecosocially sustainable gift practices serve to explode the taken-for-granted views claiming that patriarchy and exchange have been universal and without alternative.
The subject matter of this book – at the intersection between feminism and linguistics, economics, semiotics, and sociology – is a fundamental part of our humanity that we have not seen before, or named as such. Not that people have not studied what they call ‘gift exchange’, but they have not given it that fundamental interdisciplinary place that should occupy. Indeed many have believed that unilateral gift giving does not exist. I consider it both fundamental and commonplace.
The gift has been obscured for many reasons, which we will be discussing. It is strange that anything this important could have been invisible, but perhaps this also gives a measure of the importance of revealing it, not only for academic investigation but for politics. Why are we motivated to harm and egocentrism and why is our compassion dwindling? The answer may be found in the struggle between the parasite and the host, the exchange paradigm and the gift paradigm.
Another way of saying this is that gift giving has been deprived of its meta level. That is why we do not name this important aspect of life. Unilateral gift giving is not the same as unconditional love or gift giving. There are conditions – such as the identification of a need. The other person should not be hostile – in fact the hostility may mean that there is a need – for independence perhaps? – that is greater, and is not being seen by the prospective giver.
The identification of needs and agency for their satisfaction creates meaning, in language and life.
“Exchange creates and requires scarcity. If everyone were giving to everyone else, there would be no need to exchange. The market needs scarcity to maintain the level of prices. In fact when there is an abundance of products scarcity is often created on purpose. An example of this is the plowing under of ‘overabundant’ crops (which may happen even when people are standing by who are hungry). On a larger scale scarcity is created 1. by the channeling of wealth into the hands of the few who then have power over the many; 2. by spending on armaments and monuments which have no nurturing value but only serve for destruction and display of power; and 3. by privatizing or depleting the environment so that the gifts of nature are unavailable to the many. The exchange paradigm is a belief system which validates this kind of behavior. Individuals who espouse it are functional to the economic system of which they are a part. Exchange is adversarial, each person tries to give less and get more, an attitude which creates antagonism and distance among the players. Gift giving creates and requires abundance. In fact, in scarcity gift giving is difficult and even self sacrificial while in abundance it is satisfying and even delightful.”
Drawing on Maternal Gift Economy theory, the suppressed wisdom of women, and the traditions and ethics of Indigenous societies, this integrated programme of presentations sponsored by the International Feminists for a Gift Economy Network will offer new insights, perspectives, and challenges to the underlying market-based mentality of the dominant world order.
In this time of crisis and systemic upheaval, the model of the Maternal Gift Economy on which our survival depends at the beginning of life, is being revealed and celebrated. The interdependence of all living beings can now be made visible and honored.
Mother Earth provides the model of an economy based on gifting that we receive as young children from our nurturers—before we are alienated into market exchange. We must make the transition from the exploitive Euro-American patriarchal/dominating and capitalistic ideology to a gift-based economy and culture grounded in the values of nurturing and care rather than competition and greed.
We invite you to join us in exploring the possibilities in this series of presentations and dialogues that bring together those who have been laboring to articulate the principles of the Maternal Gift Economy, protect Indigenous values, and practice peaceful and just community building. The time is now for all humans to cooperate rather than compete. Please join us!
A Gift Economy is the material interaction of a community based on the direct provisioning of needs without the mediation of exchange.
I believe that in every life there is an original economic mode that is based on unilateral giving and receiving and that is prior to the interaction of exchange, which is giving in order to receive an equivalent return.
Unilateral giving has been made problematic by religions that frame it as extraordinary and saintly and by structures of domination that force one-way giving by the weak to the powerful. There is a very commonplace and necessary area of unilateral giving in every life, however, and that is in the mothering of little children who cannot give back an equivalent of what they have received. Someone must give unilaterally to them or they do not survive. This requires the identification of the child’s needs and the provision of appropriate goods and services that will satisfy them.
Unilateral gifting , which occurs at the beginning of life, can be practiced by anyone , female or male, family members or even by whole villages, though in our society it is usually considered the work of the birth mother. Nurturing establishes bonds of mutuality and trust between giver and receiver and it is extended (replicated) more by imitation than by obligation.
This giving/receiving need-satisfying mode can be seen as the logical forerunner of all other economic modes and they can be seen as variations upon its theme. For example, bilateral transfers or exchanges are a variation, a contingent doubling, of unilateral transfers.
When there is a time variation the transfers can take place in a mode of debt or obligation – which still maintains a root in the first step of the unilateral gift. Gifting can continue into adulthood as the basic principle of distribution in groups without markets such as hunter gatherers and it also remains as a main mode within family units even in market based societies.
The maternal gift economy is a relational economy. It differs from Maussian gift exchange in that the ongoing relationships are not created by the obligation to give back but by the mutual alignment of the direct need satisfying interaction. There is also turn taking, in which each takes on the role of giver or receiver in turn but without constraint or conditionality and giving forward, passing on the gifts to others in the community, creating mutuality with them as well. Property held in common can appear in the role of giver, which those who use it align together in receiving, sharing and passing on, creating a ‘commons’.
The mode of distribution of goods to needs that is embodied in mothering gives rise to strong emotions in both parents and children and these reinforce interactive templates that are elaborated throughout life. Gift based communities maintain positive emotions and high levels of trust while the ego oriented logic of exchange produces suspicion, defensiveness and exacerbated individualism.Even when market economies have changed or depleted the context, gifting among individuals and groups continues to create positive community bonds.
The gift economy has its unconscious origin in the womb (Jordan) and it is the structure of the early childhood Evolved Developmental Niche (Narvaez). After the child is born, it is thus the economic and social context in which the brain development studied by interpersonal neurobiology takes place, where brain organization is sculpted epigenetically by human relations (Siegel).
The maternal economy is the setting of our mental development, and giving-receiving is the template for basic functions like knowing and communicating.Both in the history of the species and in the trajectory of every life, giving-receiving comes first.
The economy of a community that has retained its continuity with maternal provisioning and its logic, is what I am calling a ‘gift economy’. The gift interaction has its own transitive logic which can coexist with the market’s ‘identity logic’.
Giving gives value to the receiver while exchange gives value to the things exchanged and to the self interested exchanger.
Reproduced from: http://www.gift-economy.com/articlesAndEssays/maternalgifteconomy.html Statement on the Gift Economy 2010 Published by International Museum of Women COMMUNITY VOICE: The Maternal Gift Economy An Alternative Economic Model Genevieve Vaughan Our current economic system is based on exchange, most frequently the exchange of money for goods or services. Author and researcher Genevieve Vaughan says that this model is… Read More