Week 3: Gift Economics


In week 3 we explored giving, receiving and returning. We learned about anthropological examples of societies operating on very different economies from our own.

Pat Huff (Birkbeck) came to talk to us about Marcel Mauss and the idea of The Gift.

In a globalised world we are used to trade and exchanging things for money. But even in industrialised countries where money seems to rule almost everything, we also recognise the pleasures of giving and exchanging gifts at festivals and birthdays, or out of the sheer joy of doing something for free. Of course, gift-giving can also bring obligations, cause suspicion, or create tension.

In the 1920s, the sociologist Marcel Mauss challenged economic theory by writing about societies where gift-giving was central. In ‘gift economies’, the winners were those who gave the most away – in extreme cases, as a kind of competitive ritual, but also as a way of encouraging social interaction.

Mauss’ writings were taken up in art by the Surrealists and the Situationists, and have influenced more recent work in ‘relational’ art which creates ‘situations of exchange’ and new social relationships. Although gifts are not always ‘pure’ or ‘free’, they can liberate us from the fear of scarcity, allowing us to imagine how to share abundant resources more effectively.

Climate communication

Professor Julie Doyle gave an overview of research into visual themes in climate campaigning and climate change art, from polar bears to ice sculptures and beyond. We learned that climate art that appears ‘remote’ in time or geography can be problematic or reduce its potential to affect audiences. We also examined fear. If fear can end up paralysing us, can more hopeful or active images give us a sense of our own role in caring for a world increasingly marked by climate disruption? What new stories can be told?

Creating together

Our artist mentor, Kate Vega, helped us to explore the ideas that will shape the exhibition that the Hive will create. From rituals, gifts and interactivity to mutual respect and gender equality, the art will explore – through Virtual Reality and physical, tangible works – how systems change and how ours can be reimagined.

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