home / congresses / SIEF2013

SIEF2013 11th Congress: Tartu, Estonia.
30 June - 4 July, 2013

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


Gifts and their circulation in a market-based economy

Location Ülikooli 16, 102
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2013 at 10:30


Gareth Hamilton (University of Latvia) email
Māra Pinka (University of Latvia) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Gifts, their circulation, and the performative element of giving and receiving, has received central attention from the beginnings of ethnographic enquiry. We investigate to what extent this still applies today with for examples based on multiple dimensions of human experience in today's world.

Long Abstract

Gifts, their circulation, and the perforative element of giving and receiving, has received central attention from the beginnings of ethnographic enquiry and this panel will investigate to what extent this still applies today. Gifting as a form of economic exchange has long been presented as belonging to pre-capitalist societies, whereas market economies see trading in commodities. While some argue that gifts and commodities are separate categories, others have described how these categories can be ambiguous. The rhetorical and perfomative side of gifting has recently received attention in the form of 'mass-gifts' (Bird-David & Darr), where the commodity-gift distinction has been blurred by corporate giving of 'free gifts' to encourage commercial spending by consumers. In the spirit of the Latourian argument that we have never been modern, this panel seeks contributions to current debates on the performance and rhetorics of gift exchange in a market economy. This panel attempts to find examples of the social side of gifting, and others from different situations.

Questions to be debated might include:

In which domains does gifting occur (public and/or private), and does the public aspect conceal/reveal private economic relations?

Is giving today becoming more monetised, or are gifts as objects of material culture still significant? What objects are today seen as worth giving and receiving?

Are any rituals of gifting from the past being recreated, performed or reconfigured in light of the current financial crisis?

Are ethical concerns which now shape consumption appearing within the gifting realm?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"Real godparents" and the other ones: ritual kinship among Roma and non-Roma in Romania

Author: Stefania Toma (Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities)  email

Short Abstract

The article explores the institution of “not real godparents” developed between Roma and non-Roma families. The relationship is the transformation of a patron-client connection by conferring it more unwritten rules and symbolic importance.

Long Abstract

This paper will present the institution of godparenthood in multiethnic context based on extensive fieldwork. The classic frameworks of interpretation gain secondary importance when we look closely to the interpersonal relations between Roma and other ethnic persons. Roma choose "real godfathers" (Blau 1964) from among co-ethnics and this relationship follows the general rules of godparenting. We will explore the essence of the "not real godparents". These are Hungarian (who forms the ethnic majority in the locality), and usually there is already developed a patron-client relationship with the Roma family. Thus the core issue of the relationship is based not on the reciprocity of gifts, but on the economic action which was previously developed among Roma and Hungarian families. While the unwritten contracts of patron-client relationship do not confer a social surplus to this relationship, the Roma families try to raise their social status by building godparenthood with Hungarians. In the context of general mistrust, inequality, negative preconceptions and even hatred regarding Roma, the practice of the Roma families to bond with Hungarian persons/families through godparenthood gains particular importance (by transforming begging and charity into gifting they reduce social distance, dissolve the rule of reciprocity) which is deployed on different levels of sociality.

Virtual gifts

Author: Māra Pinka (University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores how social relationships are built by means of virtual gifts. Closer attention is paid to economic aspects of the choice to pay for “non-material” gift (electronic pictures that represent real things) exchange.

Long Abstract

Using a Latvian social network as a case study, this paper investigates how images of real objects are gifted and what social value these virtual gifts hold. The virtual world has transformed social spheres like economics, communication but has it also changed or maybe multiplied ways of gift circulation? In this paper I explore how the phenomena of virtual pictures representing "real, tangible" things (e.g a flower bouquet) are conceptualised by both those givers and receivers. For them, what is the worth of a virtual dog or baby toy, or virtually edible chocolate, or most interestingly, a 100 lats banknote (€140) which can all be bought for 0.49 Ls. What keeps this virtual gift economy economic and what role do they play in building or sustaining relationships among users/friends? Considering how these differ from real, tangible gifts, we can gain a better understanding of virtual gift exchange dynamics.

The rhetoric of mass-gifting: successful and sustainable giving to consumers in eastern Germany

Author: Gareth Hamilton (University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

Based on rhetoric culture theory and experience with product promoters in postsocialist eastern Germany, this paper considers the ways in which consumers in retail and wholesale stores are persuaded to accept mass-gifts (as conceptualised by Bird-David and Darr).

Long Abstract

Based on rhetoric culture theory and experience with product promoters in postsocialist eastern Germany, this paper considers the ways in which consumers in retail and wholesale stores are persuaded to accept mass-gifts (as described by Bird-David and Darr). Taken from the perspective of promoters and their actions, and from that of a participant observer, it considers how mass-gifts are viewed by giver-promoters and the social and cognitive process which are involved in conceptualising giftee-consumers and how they should be addressed in order to gain a sale. Based on the physical environment of the product promoting space, the paper considers the persuasive narratives in moving consumers to accept gifts and to reciprocally buy the product being promoted. It suggests how the successful promoter survives in business in a highly precarious working environment and the role that mass-gifting and the performance of giving plays in this highly competitive field of employment.

Anonymous gift: framing donations in organ transplantation and human genome research

Author: Aivita Putnina (University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

The paper looks at the transformations of the concept of gift when it is applied to the parts of human body - genes and organs. Despite legal regulations gifts are never anonymous and fully detached from their donors.

Long Abstract

The paper addresses the gap between the legal and popular formulations of donating human biological material in two case studies: Latvian human genome project and kidney transplantation. Legally donation is based on assumption that it is free, virtuous gift from the donor. However, both legal and popular understandings of the particular donation act show significant differences in using the concept of this gift. Donation legally is seen as a singular transaction where any relatedness established by the gift is removed through anonymity and technological procession procedures. In practice, donors and organ receivers, however, seek to sustain the relationships created by the gift. Research shows how sterile process of gifting is broadened and maintained by its participants utilizing the links gifting creates but anonymity erases.

Where do gifts come from to the doctor's office and where do they go?

Author: Ramona-Elena Cantaragiu (Bucharest University)  email

Short Abstract

The circulation of gifts in the physician's office creates identities and a culture in which past and present values combine and collide. The fact that different strategies coexist makes the act of gifting harder to interpret and this questions the value of macro-studies for future policy changes.

Long Abstract

The circulation of gifts in the family physician's office is a performative action that creates identities and a culture in which past and present values collude and collide. A part of these gifting activities is a remnant of the Communist past when gifts would open doors and provide access to services that should have been free. This is the culture that most resembles the assumptions that underlie any market exchange, but there is also a culture of care that inspires gifting as a form of reciprocating the attention given by the doctor to the patient. In this case the patient is responding to what it can be perceived as the initial gift, the gift of care, with an object that symbolizes a deeper connection. There are also some gifts that circulate deeper into the system mimicking the institution of a distributive justice, from those who have more to those who have less. The fact that these many nuances and strategies coexist makes the act of gifting harder to interpret for the outsider and the insider as well. As a result each act has to be viewed in its singularity, in the historical context of the relationship, the moment and the stated intentions for the future of the actors involved. The implications for those that perform macro-analyses of gifting between patients and doctors and those that make suggestions for future policies in this field are discussed.

Grant: a form of (the) gift in the consumer society

Author: Ileana Sadean (National School of Political Science and Public Administration - Bucharest)  email

Short Abstract

grant, gift, consumerism, solidariry, rural development

Long Abstract

The paper analyses from an anthropolgical perspective the culture of grant, having as starting point the study of the implementation of the Leader rural development model in Romania. During the research I reached the hypothesis that grantnuances more than the Leader philosophy itself the vision of current societies upon development and wealth. More than an economic mechanism, than a complete series of bureaucratic reglementations, than financial flows, it brings to sight ways of thinking and action, as well as the most intimate identitary traits of the rural communities. The question I intend to respond is whether the phenomenon of grant has a stronger impact than the Leader principles upon the identitary dinamics of the rural areas, upon behaviors and attitudes towards problem solving, upon establishing real consumer needs etc.? Not the "philosophy" of the Leader model gets to be interiorised by the rural communities, but a way of "problem solving", of improving their life through "non-reimbursable" financing.

Finally I reached the conclusion that grant financing is in the process of being institutionalised and is closely related to the characteristics of the consumer society. To grant corresponds a consumer society and vice versa. Apparently, grant has no connection with the gift performed in the primitive communities. As a form of commerce it behaves as the merchandise from the comparison "gift" and "merchandise", meaning it is a gift that encourages consumerism.

Gift denial: the monetizing of donated semen

Author: Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Historical and contemporary donor insemination services are characterised by the prohibition of gift relationships. Donated semen is often treated as a commodity which circulates covertly and anonymously. Research reveals the long term effects of this on donors, donor offspring and their families.

Long Abstract

Historical and contemporary donor insemination services (DI) are characterised by the prohibition or discouragement of gift relationships. Until recently most states made non-anonymous donation unlawful, ensuring that the donor's identity remained unknown to any donor-conceived children and their parents. Anonymous donation establishes no new social relations and does not reinforce existing ones.There is no return between giver and receiver. The payment of donors by clinics emphasises the lack of a continuing relationship between donors and the 'broker' clinics. The global reach of the infertility treatment industry has intensified this alienation of social relations, with frozen semen and would-be parents crossing state boundaries within the framework of a borderless, minimally regulated, economic market. The monetization of reproductive goods (human ova and embryos as well as semen), has worked to prevent the setting up of gift relationships and of circulations of reciprocity. Any possibility of rituals of gifting has been avoided, for example by clinics refusing to pass on letters of thanks to donors from recipients or as an extreme, the refusal of infertile couples to meet surrogate mothers who have borne children for them.

This paper describes how two recent phenomena have challenged the absence of gifting in DI: the birth of babies later discovered to have inherited genetic problems from the donor, leading to possible compensation claims, and adult donor offspring demanding to learn the identity of their donor. It is a particular kind of gift whose return is a reminder that the original donation was a commercial transaction.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.