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Re: Gifts? (was: Re: [ox-en] Richard Barbrook article)


A very good text IMHO.

Cheers, mate.

It could have been written in Oekonux - but
then it would have been in German I guess ;-) .

I hope that the text contained enough Left Hegelian paradoxes to keep
German philosophers happy!

The only thing I don't like is the word "gift" in gift economy.

I originally started using 'gift economy' to describe the swapping of
information on the Net because the Situationists appropriated this phrase
from Marcel Mauss to describe their libertarian vision of communism. I
thought that it was amusing to point out that the American
military-industrial complex had funded the development of a form of mass
communications which encouraged social behaviour celebrated by ultraleftist
groups in the 1960s!

I'm not saying I'm already fully understanding what is happening, but
to me when I'm making a gift, this is a rather personal thing. At
least I must have the vision of a real person the gift is directed to.

This is the key difference between the tribal and hi-tech gift economies.
The swapping of information on the Net is often impersonal. Okay, it is
possible to look at who is downloading your stuff from your website, but
most people don't bother...

However, from this I don't feel I made a gift to someone. Again: To me
a gift is a rather personal thing and often it is linked to some kind
of personal obligation.

However emails and listservers may be different. I did feel obliged to
answer this response - even if it was a bit delayed due to other things
going on in my life...

Did you know that in German the word "Gift"
means poison? I read somewhere that this is not by chance but instead
a result of the obligation part of the gift.

According to Mauss, this central purpose of the gift in tribal societies is
to create a network of intimate obligations between people. The alternative
German meaning maybe reflects the different circumstances of living in a
feudal peasant society?!

In this sense a gift is part of an exchange - but this is not what is
happening on the Internet in any useful sense of the word. There is a
big flow of information but the typical tit-for-tat of exchange is the
opposite of what is happening in the Internet / Free Software.

Crucially this phenomenon is *not* exchange in the capitalist sense of the
word: the transformation of individual concrete labour into social abstract

So why am I putting Free Software to the Internet after all? Well, to
me over time it became a kind of obligation I feel. I'm using Free
Software day by day and some of my work may help others.

Is this selfish altruism?

However, this has really nothing to do with gifts in any sense of the
word I can think of. To me this looks far more like a social standard
which is slowly emerging from the practice of Free Software. May be it
can be stuffed into the notion of gift but I feel this is wrong.

What interests me is that Free Software is only one form of this swapping
of information over the Net. Lots of people who have had little or no
contact with the academic/hacker culture quite spontaneously distribute
their efforts for free.

Another example where I make freely accessible contributions is of
course Oekonux.

Listservs are a very good example. Also blogs, fan sites, network
communities and so on.

Things are quite different here because of course
Oekonux lives from responses. As a result I see my contributions to
the project as anything but gifts. To me this is a collective effort
to achieve something

As Adam Smith pointed out, markets and factories are the two main methods
of collectivising labour in modern societies...

- in this case to understand the opportunities
embedded in the principles of Free Software for a new society which
causes less pain than the one we have.

...what interests me is whether the another paradigm for organising
collective labour is emerging on the Net.

I can't see any other way to
have that and the openness to me is for many reasons an important part
of Oekonux. Indeed the Internet may the only sociotope where this is

Software communism co-existing with hardware capitalism: the most modern
form of social democracy!

Well, may be this is enough of a challenge to the word "gift" in gift
economy ;-) .

It needed to be said. Thanks!

Viva Lula!



Dr. Richard Barbrook
Hypermedia Research Centre
School of Communications and Creative Industries
University of Westminster
Watford Road
Northwick Park


landline: +44 (0)20 7911 5000 x 4590

mobile: 07879-441873

"Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it." - Isidore Ducasse, Comte de

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