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Yläkuva:  Kaarina Kailo Kaarina Kailo - kuvassa

Kaarina Kailo, Oulu University

Giving Back to the Gift Paradigm—Another Worldview is Possible


By restoring gift giving to the many areas of life in which it has been unrecognised or concealed, we can begin to bring the gift paradigm to consciousness. Gift giving underlies the synonymity of "meaning in language" and the "meaning of life." (Vaughan 2002: 2)

The current world situation--the rise and deepening of neo-liberal economic fundamentalism--represents the most threatening stage of human development: It may even be interpreted as the apex of the patriarchal and capitalistic exchange economy, with cynical self-interest at its ideological core. This is a moment in his-story when the gifts of the many, of the land, of nature, the caregivers in homes, hospitals and educational institutions are not only being taken for granted but exploited and appropriated to serve the market .

Women are 70 per cent of the world's poor, and they own one per cent of the world's wealth. In every country in the world, women are poorer than men, and their poverty and economic inequality affects every aspect of their lives--their basic survival and the survival of their children, their access to food and housing, their physical security, their sexual autonomy, their health, their access to education and literacy, their access to justice, their ability to participate in public life, their ability to influence and participate in decisions that affect them. Women's economic inequality is integrally connected to their sexual exploitation, and to their lack of political power. As long as women as a group do not have an equal share of the world's economic resources, they will not have an equal say in shaping the world's future. (Day 2000: 12)

It is also worth considering that in 1994 the richest 20 percent of humanity garnered 83 percent of global income, while the poorest 20 percent of the world’s people struggled to survive on just 1 percent of the global income (World Bank 1994). The situation appears to have only worsened. As the above references to the widening income gap suggests, women’s lack of political and economic power translates into the devaluation and incorporation of their gift labour in all of its public and private forms--emotional, domestic, public service.[1] Neo-liberal globalisation has extended its tentacles to the most remote regions from the overexploited South to the overdeveloped West and the marginalized Arctic, wreaking havoc on indigenous and mainstream communities, on men and women, but most particularly, on those women who, due to lack of resources and power are most vulnerable to economic sexploitation. Masculated[2] economic policies and the psycho-spiritual control of women by patriarchal religions have represented a major threat to women's self-determination and status throughout history. The new marriage of right-wing religious and economic fundamentalisms risk taking women back to the dark ages in terms of their economic, sexual and psychological self-determination and choices. As our basic rights to work, resources, water, security, peace and clean air are being traded for corporate entitlements and privatisation, global ethics, too, are being “outsourced” and “downsized.” It is important, then, to take collective action against the new fundamentalisms threatening the historical achievements in the realm of woman/human rights and the politics of positive difference. It is equally urgent to theorize and research the underlying roots of the expanding dysfunction and loss of values.

Genevieve Vaughan's writings on the gift economy in (l997) and the paradigm on which it is built, represent one much-needed and timely theoretical response to this crises. It represents a powerful naming and valorisation of women's traditions of circulating gifts. After all, it is thanks to the philosophy and world view based on gift giving and circulation that communities hit hard by the market and the Bretton Woods institutions (the unholy trinity of WTO, World Bank and IMF) have and may well continue to survive. Where the current neo-liberal politics is based on an unrecognised unilaterality of taking, the Gift Economy stresses the value of unilateral giving, when the gift recipients are not in a position to give back. In the former, profits motivate the unilaterality, in the latter, giving is a response to the satisfaction of needs--basic needs to which all are entitled.

I have chosen to focus on Vaughan’s theories of the Gift, because they promise renewal and “re-sourcement” to counter the scarcity of solidarity, the freezing over of social responsibility. They help analyse how “progress” could have led to this, and how we might best get out of the mess. The purpose of this article is twofold: first, to briefly situate Vaughan's work in the academic lineage addressing gift giving from the influential theories of Marcel Mauss to contemporary theorists of the gift. I also include feminist materialist theories as a lineage of theories on women’s surplus labour, with which Vaughan has significant affinities. Second, I will assess the usefulness of the Gift economy and paradigm for transformational politics, to which many members of the international group, Feminists for a Gift economy, started by Vaughan in 2002, are committed.[3]


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