Kaarina Kailo, Oulu University
Giving Back to the Gift ParadigmAnother Worldview is Possible
The current world situation--the rise and deepening of neo-liberal economic fundamentalism--represents the most threatening stage of human development: It may even be interpreted as the apex of the patriarchal and capitalistic exchange economy, with cynical self-interest at its ideological core. This is a moment in his-story when the gifts of the many, of the land, of nature, the caregivers in homes, hospitals and educational institutions are not only being taken for granted but exploited and appropriated to serve the market .
It is also worth considering that in 1994 the richest 20 percent of humanity garnered 83 percent of global income, while the poorest 20 percent of the worlds people struggled to survive on just 1 percent of the global income (World Bank 1994). The situation appears to have only worsened. As the above references to the widening income gap suggests, womens lack of political and economic power translates into the devaluation and incorporation of their gift labour in all of its public and private forms--emotional, domestic, public service. Neo-liberal globalisation has extended its tentacles to the most remote regions from the overexploited South to the overdeveloped West and the marginalized Arctic, wreaking havoc on indigenous and mainstream communities, on men and women, but most particularly, on those women who, due to lack of resources and power are most vulnerable to economic sexploitation. Masculated economic policies and the psycho-spiritual control of women by patriarchal religions have represented a major threat to women's self-determination and status throughout history. The new marriage of right-wing religious and economic fundamentalisms risk taking women back to the dark ages in terms of their economic, sexual and psychological self-determination and choices. As our basic rights to work, resources, water, security, peace and clean air are being traded for corporate entitlements and privatisation, global ethics, too, are being outsourced and downsized. It is important, then, to take collective action against the new fundamentalisms threatening the historical achievements in the realm of woman/human rights and the politics of positive difference. It is equally urgent to theorize and research the underlying roots of the expanding dysfunction and loss of values.
Genevieve Vaughan's writings on the gift economy in (l997) and the paradigm on which it is built, represent one much-needed and timely theoretical response to this crises. It represents a powerful naming and valorisation of women's traditions of circulating gifts. After all, it is thanks to the philosophy and world view based on gift giving and circulation that communities hit hard by the market and the Bretton Woods institutions (the unholy trinity of WTO, World Bank and IMF) have and may well continue to survive. Where the current neo-liberal politics is based on an unrecognised unilaterality of taking, the Gift Economy stresses the value of unilateral giving, when the gift recipients are not in a position to give back. In the former, profits motivate the unilaterality, in the latter, giving is a response to the satisfaction of needs--basic needs to which all are entitled.
I have chosen to focus on Vaughans theories of the Gift, because they promise renewal and re-sourcement to counter the scarcity of solidarity, the freezing over of social responsibility. They help analyse how progress could have led to this, and how we might best get out of the mess. The purpose of this article is twofold: first, to briefly situate Vaughan's work in the academic lineage addressing gift giving from the influential theories of Marcel Mauss to contemporary theorists of the gift. I also include feminist materialist theories as a lineage of theories on womens surplus labour, with which Vaughan has significant affinities. Second, I will assess the usefulness of the Gift economy and paradigm for transformational politics, to which many members of the international group, Feminists for a Gift economy, started by Vaughan in 2002, are committed.
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