Gifting the Self: the metro-rural idyll and ideal reflexive individuality
Peter Howland (Massey University)
Paper short abstract:
Gifting is a crucial mechanism of social inclusion in kinship societies. By contrast, commodity exchange can be social alienating. However, the self-gifting of leisured consumption is an extraordinary experience of ideal reflexive individuality that contributes to reproducing the 'second modern'.
Paper long abstract:
'I think I'll treat myself.' 'Go ahead, treat yourself.' 'This holiday is a treat to myself.' These are familiar refrains that may be overheard in the cafés, craft shops, and vineyards of Martinborough - a popular weekend tourism destination for the new middle-classes of nearby Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. These narratives emphasis - personally and socially - notions of gifting the self (Howland 2008) and thus give insight into the calculated reflexive individuality of Martinborough's tourists. Specifically they highlight a reflexive awareness of the self as an object that may be subjected to self-assembly and development regimes. They also underscore an attentiveness to multiple, context-specific selves as evidenced by notions of reward or compensation of the 'working self' to the 'leisured self'. In addition, tourists routinely cast Martinborough as metro-rural idyll - an enchanted, performative setting of leisured consumption that draws upon pervasive notions of the vernacular rural idyll to provide a moral foundation for their urbane consumption activities, social distinction negotiations, and pursuit of ideal reflexive individuality. Anthropological analysis of kinship-orientated societies often situates reciprocal gifting as the principal mode of economic exchange and vital to social integration and cohesion (Mauss 1972). By contrast, analysis of post-industrial societies often casts commodity, market-based exchange as primary and socially alienating (Carrier 1994). However, gifting the self clearly articulates the hegemonic ideologies and practices of ideal reflexive individuality and as such contributes to the reproduction of the dominant social structure of the 'second modern' (Beck 2002) - namely the institutionalisation of individualism.