The Society for Critical Exchange
Current Projects

The Question of the Gift

While planning the Exeter conference, we began to recognize a significant trend within New Economic Criticism: a surprising number of studies of gift exchange. The recent publication of Derrida's Given Time was a common citation, but hardly explained the range and scope of the subjects examined, and so we devoted the SCE's 1998 MLA panels to papers on "The Question of the Gift." The response was overwhelming, and the project has grown into a book collection of new research on gift theory, titled The Question of the Gift: Essays Across Disciplines, edited by Mark Osteen, which appeared in 2002 under the Routledge imprint (ISBN 0-415-28277-2).


Since Marcel Mauss's landmark anthropological study-cum-romance Essai sur le don (1954), scholars in diverse fields have been fascinated with gift exchange. Despite Mauss's discovery that gift exchanges are "total social phenomena" governed by particular norms and obligations, they have often been either explained away as disguised self-interest or sentimentalized as a remnant of a "primitive" world of pure generosity. This interdisciplinary collection poses new questions and offer new paradigms for understanding gift exchange that transcend these trite polarities.
These questions include: what obligations do gifts carry? What are the relationships between gifts and commodities? Are gift exchanges economic activities or alternatives to economic behavior? What do gifts reveal about the relationships between persons and property? How does artistic commerce partake of the gift? Is a truly free gift possible? Because the gift encompasses a wide range of practices, it is particularly suited for interdisciplinary inquiry that can both reveal the weaknesses and synthesize the strengths of economics, sociology, and literary criticism and theory.
Included among the essays are: discussions of ancient and classical materials (patriarchal narratives in Genesis; Aristotelian ideals of friendship and virtue; legal regulation of gifts in republican Rome); examination of the evolution of modern notions of gift exchange, particularly in the interrelation of economics and literature (Adam Smith, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Joseph Conrad and Georg Simmel); and theoretical inquiries that propose new approaches (theories of "illiquidity," value, bodily presence, pleasure and pain).

For more information, please visit the Routledge (New York) site for The Question of the Gift:



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