A Thought on Giving: Toward an Aneconomic Relational Subjectivity

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Authentic gift giving is a relational act that entails an uncoerced, selfless offering free from expectation of repayment. Such gifts are invaluable because what is actually given and received is beyond proper measure (e.g., friendship, love, life, time, etc.). In contrast, economic transactions entail relations instrumentally defined whereby owned commodities and services are exchanged for a price that is beneficial to both buyers and receivers. Some anthropologists and philosophers argue that authentic gifts are impossible because of an inescapable economic mentality that subtly dictates our thinking about relationships. In light of the rise of relational theories in psychology, we ask whether authentic gifts are possible and what conceptual implications such a prospect holds for a theory of relational subjectivity. We draw upon the work of contemporary French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion who shows that the logic of the economy is founded upon and supported by the Western metaphysical assumptions of causality. Marion’s phenomenological method establishes possible gifts irreducible to abstract or subjective causes and, therefore, exceeding economic logic. Accordingly, thinking about gifts beyond causality requires rethinking the nature of givers and receivers in noneconomic terms. Doing so leads to the conceptual possibility for the formation of an aneconomic relational subjectivity, which Marion calls ‘the gifted.’

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