Gifts and Social fabric

From Lewis Hyde in The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. [link goes to the free preview page that has the quote on Amazon]

Where someone manages to commercialize a tribe’s gift relationships the social fabric of the group is invariably destroyed.

I have yet to read Lewis Hyde’s book but I’m already hooked from the free pages on Amazon. He starts off illustrating one of the fundamental differences between the Native Americans and the Europeans that invaded: a gift culture. Native American tribes would exchange gifts of equal or greater value. The purpose being to continually gift the item to others. It created social bonds between tribes. Europeans followed a capitalist model where they warehoused those gifts and used them for production to enrich themselves.

I wonder how this fits in with Robert Putnam’s research in Bowling Alone. On the surface it makes Putnam’s phrase “social capital” sound like an odd match. But I realize the term social capital could refer to the gifts we exchange to build our bonds.

Last modified on 2008-02-10