Keith Hart on Sun, 30 Sep 2007 15:15:04 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> ICT&S Researchers: Towards Critical Internet Theory

>Fuchs in this context coined the notion of the Internet gift commodity economy<

I agree that this looks like a typical piece of lame-brained academic
opportunism and that sociologists will generally be way behind those
who are active in 'the movement'. But the latter have contributed to
the sterile contrast between gift and commodity and are just as often
dupes of a bourgeois ideology they have internalized without knowing
it. I have heard internet activists in Berlin claim that any hint of
exchange is giving in to 'capitalism' and the the divisions within the
FLOSS movement epitomized by Stallman vs Torvalds routinely draw on
the idea that making a money payment is decisive in distinguishing one
set of transactions from the other.

When Chris Gregory wrote 'Chris Gregory wrote 'Gifts and Commodities'
in 1982, his intention was to account for the efflorescence of
gift-exchange (such as the kula ring made famous by Malinowski) in
a colonial capitalist economy that became Papua New Guinea. The
last third of the book is about creative combinations of gifts and
commodities, but most anthropologists preferred to run with the notion
that 'Melanesian cultures' own a distinctive brand 'gift economy' to
be contrasted with the 'commodity economy' of western capitalism. It's
enough to make on weep and Gregory did try to set the record straight
later in 'Savage Money' (1997), but to no avail.

Of course, Marcel Mauss is the avatar for all this and 'The Gift'
(1925) must be one of the most cited books of all time. But people
don't read it or they would notice that the purpose of his essay was
to demolish the bourgeois opposition between gift and market, the
idea that commerce is just an expression of individual self-interest
and that Christmas and wedding presents embody the spirit of free

There are two prerequisites for being human: we must each learn to
be self-reliant to a high degree and to belong to others, merging
our identities in a bewildering variety of social relationships.
Much of modern ideology emphasizes how problematic it is to be both
self-interested and mutual. Yet the two sides are often inseparable
in practice and some societies, by encouraging private and public
interests to coincide, have managed to integrate them more effectively
than ours. Mauss held that the attempt to create a free market
for private contracts is utopian and just as unrealizable as its
antithesis, a collective based solely on altruism. Human institutions
everywhere are founded on the unity of individual and society, freedom
and obligation, self-interest and concern for others. The pure types
of selfish and generous economic action obscure the complex interplay
between our individuality and belonging in subtle ways to others.

Mauss was highly critical of the Bolsheviks? resort to violence
and especially of their destruction of the market economy along
with the confidence and good will that sustained it. He held that
markets and money are necessary for the extension of human society,
but their contemporary form is unsustainable. Even so capitalist
institutions combine self-interest and the gift; and sociologists
should make this more visible. He advocated an ?economic movement
from below?, in the form of syndicalism, co-operation and mutual
insurance. His greatest hopes were for a consumer democracy driven
by the co-operative movement. This was for him a secular version of
the archaic phenomena described in 'The Gift'. They are ?total social
facts?, in that they bring into play the whole of society and all its
institutions ? legal, economic, religious and aesthetic.

I think, if he were alive today, he would agree with you and Brian
that 'the movement' is a more reliable source for all this than
academic sociology. But don't get carried away.


#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: