EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P046)

Give and take: gift exchange in South Asia

Location S-233
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Miriam Benteler (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar) email
Anthony Cerulli (Hobart & William Smith Colleges) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores the theory, types, and functions of gift exchange in South Asia as a form of intimate practice, focusing on its cooperative and transformational (if not revolutionary) potential.

Long Abstract

From wife-givers to wife-takers, pupils to teachers, landowners to labourers, devotees to gods, goddesses and saints, and vice versa — gift exchange is omnipresent in South Asia. This panel explores the theory, types, and functions of gift exchange in South Asia as a form of intimate practice, focusing on its cooperative and transformational (if not revolutionary) potential. Using both social scientific and humanities-based methodologies, presenters on this panel investigate the ways in which individual and social, political and economic interests come together and form networks of collaboration.

For centuries, gift exchange has been a fundamental component of South Asian cultures, and in many different spheres of contemporary South Asia it remains an important facet of social life. New types of gift giving are constantly emerging, and with them new forms of cooperation and intimacy shape the contours of contemporary life in South Asia. Examples of gift exchange in religious, economic, medical, social, and familial contexts in South Asia are explored on this panel to examine different types and meanings of "the gift" and theoretical issues connected with it: How can we define the difference between gifts and commodities, and to what extent are gift exchange and market exchange entangled? Can we speak of a common theory of gift exchange in South Asia that may be deployed usefully across different regions and cultural contexts? How can we describe the networks initiated and strengthened by gift exchange and the intimate, though often hierarchical, relationships between those involved in gift economies?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Money, money, money: debts, credits and gift exchange in coastal Kerala

Author: Miriam Benteler (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar)  email

Short Abstract

The paper takes a closer look at credits given among relatives and friends in the Latin Catholic community of coastal Kerala/South India. Against the background of theories on gift exchange, it argues that the giving and taking of these credits can be understood as a kind of gift exchange.

Long Abstract

Marriage, baptism, house building, illness or death in the family: there are many different occasions in the lives of the Latin Catholics of coastal Kerala/South India for which a large amount of money is needed. Consequently, the necessity to raise it frequently occurs and borrowing money and getting into debts is very common.

Beside loans from banks, agencies, private moneylenders and social welfare organisations, a large number of loans is given among people who know each other personally: among relatives and friends, neighbours and acquaintances.

In contrast to credits from private and public institutions, the non-institutionalised and non-contractual lending from private persons is referred to by the Malayalam word 'katam' (debt).

Taking and giving of 'katam' among relatives and friends is an obligation: people who stand in a certain relationship to each other should not deny each other a credit. Mutuality, interdependence and the personal relationship between creditor and debtor are thus highly emphasised.

The paper takes a closer look at credits given among relatives and friends, neighbours and acquaintances. Against the background of theories on gift exchange, it argues that the giving of these credits can be understood as gift exchange. Though the want of money is the driving force, the giving and taking of 'katam' depends on personal relations. It is this focus on existing relations and the desire to keep and strengthen them that makes the giving and taking of katam a kind of gift exchange.

Gift exchanges between the living and the dead: notes from fieldwork in Tribal Middle India

Author: Eva Reichel (Free University, Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

Fieldwork based instances of gift giving in the course of the Ho’s first and secondary burials will illustrate the social character of death and “the collective making of meaning” in a holistic society.

Long Abstract

EASA 2014 invites us to "explore new collaborative practices" and approach "collaboration as relations of intimacy" and "basic terms of our contemporary world" (quotes from the position paper of the conference).

The present paper takes a look at the Ho, a tribal community in Central India, who pride themselves of continuing time-tested intimate practices relating the living and the dead. In the classical Maussian understanding gift cycles engage persons in permanent commitments and compel them to make a return thus construing relations of interdependence and solidarity. The dead are transformed into ancestor-persons who are furnished with remarkable agency and acquire added responsibilities as intermediaries between the world of the living and the spirit world. Ho death rituals contribute to creating and reproducing a dynamic web of collaboration among the living and between the living and the dead.

Fieldwork based instances of gift giving in the course of the Ho's first and secondary burials will illustrate the social character of death and "the collective making of meaning" in a holistic society.

Gift as devotion, gift as commodity: transaction among temple drummers in Kerala, India

Author: Rolf Groesbeck (University of Arkansas/Little Rock)  email

Short Abstract

This paper juxtaposes a notion of "gift", among drumming students and teachers in Kerala, India, as construction of submission and devotion, with one of gift as routinized fee. I contrast prevalence of the former in private pedagogy with an uneasy coexistence of the two in a modern institution.

Long Abstract

This paper juxtaposes the notion of "gift" as construction of submission and devotion with one as quantifiable fee, as they relate to drumming pedagogy in Kerala, India. I discuss how guru daksina, a ritual marking the beginning of study and a ceremonial first performance, and remuneration construct the student's submission to his teacher (asan) in private contexts; in the former, one offers to his teacher objects such as a betel leaf and a muntu (garment), in addition to a variable amount of money. The student prostrates himself on the ground before the teacher, among other acts, so that the embodied performance of submission is as important as the objects offered. Remuneration consists of occasional and often grandiose gifts to the teacher; this focuses on the incompleteness of the gestures, again emphasizing the student's submission and affection. However, the system at the Kerala Kalamandalam, a state arts institution, partly undercuts this practice; here, non-Malayali students pay monthly fees to the institution, some of which go to the school's upkeep, some to the asan. The impersonal nature of this arrangement contrasts with the intimacy inherent in patterns of remuneration in private contexts, yet at the same time guru daksina continues in the institution. Thus, a post-colonial institution initiated partly to propagate Kerala arts to a global audience features an uneasy coexistence between a notion of "gift" as regular, institutionalized payment and one of construction of submission, mixed with intimacy and devotion.

Gifts of love and friendship in the Garhwal Himalayas

Author: Karin Polit (University of Heidelberg)  email

Short Abstract

Next to obligatory practices of gift-exchange, gifts of love and friendship have become important for young Garhwali people. I will analyze these practices as subversive acts that point towards changing attitudes of what it means to lead a good life in contemporary Garhwal.

Long Abstract

Many unwritten rules of obligatory gift giving for official occasion such as engagements or marriages exist in the Garhwal Himalayas. Usually, the value and the number of gifts are carefully recorded so as to ensure an adequate gift in return in due time. These gifts are part of a normative world through which relationships between families and within villages are negotiated. Next to these obligatory gift-giving practices, gifts of love and friendship have become important for young Garhwali people. Taking these practices of gift giving as subversive acts that point towards changing attitudes of what it means to lead a good life, I will analyze gift giving as intimate practices of school children and students in the Garhwal region in North India.

Formal education plays a crucial role here, as the experience of going to school and later to universities provides children and young adults with possibilities to experience friendships unrelated to obligations of village and family relations. Cards and gifts circulate between friends and are highly valued. These signs of friendship and love are usually kept in a special place in the house, often publicly displayed and proudly shown to visitors with remarks about the affectionate relationship between gift-giver and receiver. I will argue that these seemingly harmless practices are often rebellious acts that mark a shift in the way young people look at rules of conduct for friendship and marriage.

The gift, who gifts, and who's been gifted: querying the give-and-take among classically trained physicians and their patients in south India

Author: Anthony Cerulli (Hobart & William Smith Colleges)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on my fieldwork at traditional ayurvedic clinical settings in Kerala, south India, this paper considers the interface, communicative acts, and offerings of treatment among classically trained physicians of Ayurveda and their patients in view of theories of gift exchange in India.

Long Abstract

During non-emergency appointments at traditional sites of ayurvedic healthcare in Kerala, south India, classically trained Brahmin physicians and their patients seldom exchange anything of substance (whether medicinal or monetary). The physician-patient interface instead routinely involves an exchange of knowledge. Interactions between physicians and patients in these meetings speak to the highly theorized notion of the "Indian gift" and the question of prestation in Indian societies. This paper explores the nature of the exchange in the supply and reception of healthcare among physicians and patients at traditional sites of ayurvedic treatment (i.e., sites not affiliated with governmental or private hospitals or clinics) in contemporary Kerala. Drawing on classical treatises about the dharma of gifts (danadharma) and the medical classics of Ayurveda, this paper examines reciprocity, ideal preconditions of givers and receivers of gifts, and the possibility of the "pure gift" in the evaluation and production of wellbeing. Given that the contemporary administration of Ayurveda in Kerala (as in other places in India) has overwhelmingly moved out of traditional clinical settings and into modern hospitals, clinics and spa-like centers, this study also raises questions about historical continuities and dissimilarities in the "gift" of ayurvedic healthcare at different sites of treatment.

Panapayattu as money gift: understanding a complex gift practice in South Asia

Author: Sasi Kumar (Jawahar Lal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

Panapayattu is a system of cooperative network in which each one of them engaged in indebted to others through the gift of money. What is it? Its ethnographical exploration of what seems to be having thought of as pure money exchange.

Long Abstract

For Mauss gift practices (The Gift, 1925) give , take and return is essentially represents a pre-modern social relations. In a different way every pre-modern relations are somewhat social and based on the reciprocal one also. For others though gift practices represents pre-modern social relations, competition is its essential characteristic (Bourdieu : 1998) In this particular context it is important to understand what is Panapayaattu? Though it can be defined as a system or a network of relations exists among the people of a particular part of Malabar (South Asia) by their money use or exchange. Money and Capital for Max was an ensemble of social relations and not otherwise.

The neat differentiation or formulation between gift and commodity identified by Gregory (Gregory : 1982) without having much thought on what Marx said about money and capital. How do we understand money in Panapayattu? Is it only a money exchange or why should I call it gift practice? Money still haunt us as gift and commodity (Greaber : 2011). Was cultural context makes such exchange differ from commodity exchange (Bloch and Parry :1986). Debt exist between gift and commodity exchange and panapayattu bring in many complexities of how we understand a gift practice exist in South Asia.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.