Re: [ox-en] Maussian ideas and Free Software
- From: johan soderberg <soderbergjohan yahoo.com>
- Date: Sat, 13 Dec 2003 15:34:45 -0800 (PST)
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I read Marsel Mauss some years ago. His idea is not exactly built on 'exchange due to guilt'. Rather, gift is first and foremost a system for organising sociability. By swapping gifts, personal bonds are tied between members, families and clans, ensuring stability in the community. Only to a secondary degree does Gifts 'allocate economic resources'. In most pre-capitalist, gift-economy societies, home self-reliant production was basis for providing immediate necessities (and battering, not market exchange, when desired items could not be made). Gifts in tribes on the other hand were almost always 'purposeless' things: clams, ornaments and the like. Remember, they were signs of bonding/friendship, and it is hard to freely give and receive items that are crucial for ones survival, then a coercive dependency on that item is built up and an asymmetric power relation between the provider of the item and the person in need (indeed this is a principal mean of power over humans by !
The gift establishes some hierarchy within the sociability created by swapping. Prestation and reputation is key, just like in 'play communities' like hackers. This hierarchy has generally been understood as a direct negation of capitalist accumulation. The individual who could give away most would gain most respect from the subordinates (who were unable to give back gifts of equal stance), and therefore he became chief. He had accumulated most moral debt. I believe this interpretation to be fundamentally flawed. Gifts are reciprocal, the gift received by one is soon handed over by him to someone else; the roles as giver and receiver is interchangeable, and partaking in it on both sides is always a win-win. The loser in this game is the third party, the member, family, clan; not engaged in swapping gift, thus making fewer bonds and a smaller network of support.
The idea of gift was picked up by situationists and French thinkers criticising the alienation and impersonal rule in market society. Later again, one of the more interesting commentators on gift from a radical perspective and with outlook on information, John Frow, discuss the issue of reproducibility and if any actual gift has been made on Internet.
?In this sense, they partake of the impersonality and the abstractness of the commodity form; unlike commodities, however, they have also been largely free of the forms of coercion (the constraints on access and use) that tend to flow from the price mechanism. While the ?library model? thus tends to collapse rather than dichitomize the categories of gift and commodity, it does nevertheless represent a genuine alternative to the privatisation of the commons in information.? (p.207, Frow, 1997)
I believe that in the case of swapping mp3 files and the like, library model is a more accurate term. No community or bonding takes place between people exchanging music files via Gnutella. But in the case of development of software, the gift could be said to be the free time and inginuity of the partakers, and as strong communities is built up around development projects, these could qualify as gift economies.
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