’Gift vs. commoditiy’ debate revisited

  • Andrej Rus Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Social Science, University of Ljubljana
Keywords: Mauss, Gregory, gift, commodity, market-exchange, commodity-exchange, gift-exchange, gift-economy, market-economy


The purpose of this article is to offer some new insights into the ‘gift vs. commodity’ debate. It examines the assumption that commodities and gifts represent two different realities, as first proposed by Marcel Mauss and later elaborated by Chriss Gregory and other anthropologists. It analyzes the conjecture that commodity-exchange is an exchange of alienable, impersonal and anonymous items, devoid of moral and social considerations or obligations, and therefore different from gift-exchange. A detailed analysis conducted along five basic dimensions that traditionally distinguish gift-exchange from commodity exchange reveals that contemporary marketing very often adds to commodity-exchange various elements that are traditionally attributed to gift-exchange only: market-exchange is not always impersonal, but can aim at creating certain types of social bonds and mutual obligations between exchange parties. The commodity, like the gift, can possess a quality of the giver, and manifest a form of inalienability from the giver (producer or seller) which is otherwise characteristic of a gift. Besides that, similarly to gifts, commodities not only continue to embody the identity of the giver but can also impose this identity upon the receiver (a buyer) and vice versa.