“Woman as Gift” – or Alliance and Gift Exchange Theory Revisited
This seminar will be profitable for Phd students and researchers who want to use gift exchange and reciprocity perspectives in their research, improve their knowledge of structuralist theory, and update their gender theory.
This is a combined course and workshop, which is open for PhD students and researchers. PhD students can participate in the course part. This requires preparation and active participation including the presentation of a paper. The course provides the possibility of two types of PhD student papers; either the presentation of a “core title” from the reading list, or the presentation of a PhD project. The last possibility is open for candidates who are doing projects that include topics of relevance to “Woman as Gift” and gender/exchange perspectives. Duration of papers by PhD students is set to max 20 minutes.
The workshop is open for researchers on all levels, and advanced students. Workshop participants are expected to contribute to comments and discussion, and are also encouraged to send in brief abstracts for short (5-10 minute) papers or research notices.
Please sign up/submit your abstract to firstname.lastname@example.org before March 8.
The program will be worked out in more detail after the deadline.
Wednesday 17th of April: Why study exchange and woman as gift?
1000-1015: Registration, welcome & coffee
1015-1100: Ingrid Fuglestvedt: Introductory lecture: Meetings Make History
1115-1200: Øystein Gullvåg Holter: Gender, Gift Theory and Social Forms Analysis
1200-1230: Questions and discussion
1315- 1600: Paper presentations by PhD-students: Presentations of literature from reading list & discussion
Thursday 18th of April: Current research on gender and gift exchange
0915-1130: Presentation of PhD-projects & discussion, coffee
1215-1300: Jorun Solheim: Marriage Economies in Comparative Perspectives
1300-1330: Questions and discussion
1345-1430 Thomas Hylland Eriksen: Dowry and Bridewealth in the Contemporary World
1430-1500: Questions and discussion
1500-1600: Summary discussion & coffee
Friday 19th of April: Gender conference participation (voluntary)
The Research Council of Norway arranges the end conference of the Gender Research Program (in Norwegian), and participants are encouraged to attend.
Throughout European cultural history, kin groups have often become allies by giving and receiving women as marriage partners. This cultural pattern is found around the globe, but the closest “ethnographic” and ethno-historical examples are the royal families of Europe as well as third world refugee groups settled in the West. The phenomenon of “giving away” a daughter or sister is rooted in a system focused on the making of allies through flows of rights and material wealth. In this framework the female kin partner makes the vital point of the bonds. Thus, the contracts are embodied in the woman by the “traffic” passing through her.
Gift exchange and reciprocity are interesting in many fields as an addition to other perspectives, for example in order to understand markets and commodity relations, where transactions may have gift exchange aspects too. However gift theory can also be relevant in a strong version where gift and reciprocity patterns “create” the person. The action creates the actors.
Modern societies contain structures that are reminiscent of social organization rooted in a pre-modern world. According to one of the founders of sociology, Émile Durkheim, society is something that objectively exists, and its reality is exactly the social bonds, or “glue” making society an integrated factuality, and not a mere aggregate of individuals. Later on, Marcel Mauss, through his essay on The Gift, granted these societal bonds with literal objectivity as these unions are materially manifest through the exchange of goods and status objects. Building on this sociological tradition, anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss emphasized the woman as the “ultimate gift” involved in the creating of alliances and networks. According to Lévi-Strauss, “flow” of women between kin groups is essential to social integration, and groups are held together by men giving or receiving wives, daughters and sisters.
The position that woman represents the ultimate gift has been met with broad critique, not least from gender scholars, discomforted by views of women as mere objects (gifts). However, it is possible to interpret Lévi-Strauss’ theoretical, which was based on a large body of ethnographic observations, in different ways. The gift position may not necessarily be detrimental or reduce the person to an object) and may involve other groups (men, children) too.
The critique of the theory of “woman as gift” has made scholars more reluctant to study gender in society by means of the theoretical devices of the French tradition, and more reluctant towards structuralist theory generally. The aims of this course will be to explore the richness of this theoretical tradition, with an emphasis on Lévi-Strauss. His theories will be challenged but also defended. We will explore how this system can more fruitfully be used and become operative in the study of empirical material. Theories of gift exchange and reciprocity also provide a platform for studying the relations between materiality, society and gender.
The reading list and content of the course will provide scholars in the field of humanities and in the social sciences with theoretical tools to understand some central structures of gender dynamics and social organization through European history. It will have relevance to the present day multi-cultural western world, as well as within global approaches.
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