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Gift Economy

It has long been assumed that there is something beyond economics involved in the proliferation of free goods and services on the Internet. Although Netscape's recent move to give away the source code for its browser shows that the corporate world now believes that it is possible to make money with free software - previously eyed with cautious pessimism - money is not the prime motivator of most producers of the Internet's free goods, and neither is altruism. Efforts and rewards may be valued in intangibles, but, as this paper argues, there is a very tangible market dynamics to the free economy of the Internet, and rational economic decisions are at work. This is the "cooking-pot" market: an implicit barter economy with asymmetric transactions. --Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, 1998, http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_3/ghosh/

Bataille and the Gift [...]

The fourth obligation Mauss recognizes--the gifts made to gods--has been relatively neglected. Yet gift objects and gift-giving remain inextricably, if often covertly, linked with the sacred. French sociologist and erotician Georges Bataille emphasized the latter aspect in his influential writings on the potlatch and sacrifice. Bataille associates "expenditure"--the principle underlying gift giving--with poetry, but his attempt to connect the realms of economy and culture foundered on his inability to distinguish between their quite different forms of capital. The essays in Part Three, then, seek to transcend Bataille's (and Derrida's) double-bind by tracing the relationships between economic and artistic commerce, and by examining their impact on ideals of personhood, property, and authorship. Jacqui Sadashige scrutinizes legal prohibitions on gifts in republican Rome, using the poetry of Catullus to outline shifting definitions of property and subjectivity; Nicoletta Pireddu demonstrates how Italian modernist Gabriele D'Annunzio rejects the logic of commodities for a principle of collective ritual that seeks to resacralize economic behavior; Anthony Fothergill juxtaposes a story by Joseph Conrad and the writings of Georg Simmel to expose the performative aspects of gifts and to illuminate how narratives themselves may participate in a gift economy; and Stephen Collis adduces the literary and personal correspondence between the poets H. D. and Robert Duncan to demonstrate how ambiguous and fraught are the links between patronage and presents.--Mark Osteen

The Question of the Gift: Essays Across Disciplines (2002) - Mark Osteen (Editor)

  1. The Question of the Gift: Essays Across Disciplines (2002) - Mark Osteen (Editor) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    This is the first collection of interdisciplinary essays on the gift. Bringing together scholars from a variety of fields, including anthropology, literary criticism, economics, philosophy and classics, it provides paradigms and poses questions concerning the theory and practice of gift exchange. In a culture awash with the rhetoric of self-interest, understanding the gift is more essential than ever. The questions of the gift raised in this collection address essential issues in social life: How do non-commercial exchanges form and solidify communities? How do humans and objects interact outside of consumerism? What are the relationships between gifts and commodities? To what degree are artworks gifts? Is a truly free gift possible, or even desirable? In addressing these questions, contributors not only challenge the conventions of their fields, but also combine ideas and methods from both the social sciences and humanities to forge an innovative way of tackling this universal phenomenon. --amazon.com

  2. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) - Edward Osborne Wilson [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    E.O. Wilson defines sociobiology as "the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior," the central theoretical problem of which is the question of how behaviors that seemingly contradict the principles of natural selection, such as altruism, can develop. Sociobiology: A New Synthesis, Wilson's first attempt to outline the new field of study, was first published in 1975 and called for a fairly revolutionary update to the so-called Modern Synthesis of evolutionary biology. Sociobiology as a new field of study demanded the active inclusion of sociology, the social sciences, and the humanities in evolutionary theory. Often criticized for its apparent message of "biological destiny," Sociobiology set the stage for such controversial works as Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene and Wilson's own Consilience.

    Sociobiology defines such concepts as society, individual, population, communication, and regulation. It attempts to explain, biologically, why groups of animals behave the way they do when finding food or shelter, confronting enemies, or getting along with one another. Wilson seeks to explain how group selection, altruism, hierarchies, and sexual selection work in populations of animals, and to identify evolutionary trends and sociobiological characteristics of all animal groups, up to and including man. The insect sections of the books are particularly interesting, given Wilson's status as the world's most famous entomologist.

    It is fair to say that as an ecological strategy eusociality has been overwhelmingly successful. It is useful to think of an insect colony as a diffuse organism, weighing anywhere from less than a gram to as much as a kilogram and possessing from about a hundred to a million or more tiny mouths.

    It's when Wilson starts talking about human beings that the furor starts. Feminists have been among the strongest critics of the work, arguing that humans are not slaves to a biological destiny, forever locked in "primitive" behavior patterns without the ability to reason past our biochemical nature. Like The Origin of Species, Sociobiology has forced many biologists and social scientists to reassess their most cherished notions of how life works. --Therese Littleton, Amazon.com

  3. The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins [Amazon US]
    Richard Dawkins' brilliant reformulation of the theory of natural selection has the rare distinction of having provoked as much excitement and interest outside the scientific community as within it. His theories have helped change the whole nature of the study of social biology, and have forced thousands of readers to rethink their beliefs about life.
    In his internationally bestselling, now classic volume, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.
    [Changing the perception of evolution, introducing 'memes]

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