Gift Culture

From GiftEconomy
Jump to: navigation, search
Klallam people at Port Townsend.jpg

Gift Culture Worldwide[edit]

Contrary to the myth of Homo economicus, gift cultures are widespread and arguably are the very definition of society itself. Modern money-based interchage is a relatively new invention, and as anthopologist David Graeber notes, money is not a replacement for barter, but a traditional replacement for gift economy[1]. Some cultures have a particularly notable gift culture.

North America[edit]

One of the most prominant aspects of indigenous Americans gift culture was the potlatches. These were elaborate festivals involving song, dance, feasting and the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Central to the native culture, the potlatch was so at odds with the values o the colonizers that it became a key target of those with an agenda of assimilation. Potlatches were ruled illegal in Canada and USA in the late 19th century, a law that was widely flouted and deemed unjust (but which remained in force until 1951!).

We will dance when our laws command us to dance, and we will feast when our hearts desire to feast. Do we ask the white man, 'Do as the Indian does?' It is a strict law that bids us dance. It is a strict law that bids us distribute our property among our friends and neighbors. It is a good law. Let the white man observe his law; we shall observe ours. And now, if you come to forbid us dance, be gone. If not, you will be welcome to us.

— Chief O'wax̱a̱laga̱lis of the Kwagu'ł


The internet and hacker culture more generally are widely cited as examples of global gift economies[2]. Pioneers such as Richard Stallman have made explicit the political nature of hacking and of sharing program source code[3]. In spite of all the resources consumed by Microsoft, many consider the free, open source operating system GNU/Linux to be superior to their flagship product Windows. The rise of the WWW has broadened the gift economy beyond just programmers - so it now includes those who contribute their knowledge to websites such as this one.


  2. The Hacker Milieu as Gift Culture