Accepted Paper:

The alternative economy: gifts, christmas and the family business  

Author:

Adam Kuper (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

Stephen Gudeman argues that two economies coexist uneasily everywhere. One is based on the market. The other, rooted in the house and the family, is an economy of mutuality, gift-giving and reciprocity. Intertwined and interdependent, neither can be fully understood in isolation from the other.

Paper long abstract:

There are, everywhere, two distinct economies. One is based on competition and the market. Its mode is the deal. The other is based on the family or the little community. Its medium is the gift. Both ways of thinking and exchanging characterise modern Western economies, but their confusion is strongly resisted. It is illegitimate to try to profit from relatives, friends or guests. On the other hand, the medium of the gift is treated with suspicion in the market-place, as a tactic for buying custom, a loss-leader to lure in the customer. A gift given at the wrong time, in the wrong context, may even be taken for a bribe. This inbuilt tension haunts Christmas festivities and causes confusion in the understanding of one of the most successful capitalist institutions, the family business.

In his new book, Anthropology and Economy, Stephen Gudeman argues that the relationship between the two economies is a dialectical one, full of tensions, their rebalancing an acute issue. We have been so blinded by standard economic theory that we lack the tools to recognise that alternative economy, to analyse it, and to nurture it. Yet the two economies are locked in a tight but uneasy partnership. An economics that deals only with the market leaves out a crucial dimension of the economic experience of most people, most of the time, wherever they may be.

Panel P141
Oikos: households, markets and nation