Brief an Genevieve Vaughan

I share this letter with the Keimform community because I think it is a part of necessary and fruitful dialogues that we have to start. In a different colour (blue)  I also included Genevieves answer which came rather swiftly and hopefully shows that dialogue is not only possible but also might lead to results.



we met up shortly after your Friday evening speech at the „Matriarchy-Gift Economy – Subsistence“ seminar at the Vienna University of Agriculture and we had the opportunity to have a little chat afterwards at the buffet generously offered by Gerda Schneiders Institute of Landscape Planning. I talked to you about the feelings that I had as a strong advocate of non-monetary economics about your speech. And I announced that I would make them more precise in a letter. I share this letter with some friends that are at the heart of the matter.

There are some reservations I do have and it is necessary to talk about them (see below), but basically I agree with your central points:

* All human relations start with unilateral acts, the act of mothering being a great paradigm and root of social relations. And since this is the roots of the fulfillments of our needs it is more than fair to say that economics is not necessarily built on exchange and that the primordial paradigm maybe rather giving.

GV: Yes, I also think that we should keep the mother-child relation as the central example.


* Whereas an economy of exchange tends to be largely anti-social, not really determined by the „use and needs“ – complex, but mainly just by appeal and impulse, value and money, an economy of giving in the contrary is communicative and transitive and creates and maintains social bonds that an exchange economy can only create by outside additions (rules, law, state).



* Giving directly to satisfy someones needs is a mode of distribution. Under this mode value is not self-feeding and excluding, but pervasive and contageous, not dead but living.

In direct giving, value is a quality or judgement  given more to the other than the self more to people than to the things given.


* The transitive relation of giving implies a positive interest of social actors in each others well-being and growing and carry a refined form of communicative abilities.


* A gift economy can only thrives and therefore wants and enacts a state of abundance rather than scarcity. The market relation in this respect simply is not only a product of scarcity but also a very primordial creator of scarcity. Historically we might observe that giving structures brought with them abundance.



* Exchange economy can an exploit gift economy, not the other way round.

The market is built on the exploitation of the gift economy. However there are moments in the context of the market where gift giving is dependent on exchange, such as the family which is dependent on market activity to provide the means of giving, or jobless people on government welfare who are seen by others as ‘dependent’. This is a situation caused by the generalized market economy which has already taken all the free gifts as profit, and has therefore made it impossible for people to subsist on their own from nature or in collaborative gift-based efforts.

* Gift economy works better in fractal situations (groups small enough to carry personal relationships) and in situations where humans are directly linked with their source of subsistence, therefore it is intrinsically linked to a form of living where humans have access to their own productive means and conditions. The urban form of our existence is not ideal for gift economy.

Yes but I do not understand why you call this ‘fractal’.


The last point is very important for me, because I organize a laboratory for the future of villages called the „Globally Integrated Village Environment“ and I propose and promote a global organisation called the „Global Villages Network„. The idea of both endavours is that villages rooted in humanly refined nature can thrive much better on the base of global information exchange revolutionising each and every sphere and angle of life in an unprecedented depth – and making the village circumstance enjoyable and agreeable.

Perhaps you will tell me more about your idea.

Therefore my coming was no accident. There is a deep conviction that this information exchange must not be subdued to the market logic (although its actors still might be in many respects). I was reinforced by my meeting with you that we are on the track of something substantial here. Still I was getting sad when the whole argument  suddenly did end up with a request for the reinstallation of motherly power, it seems to me like my friend Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation)  expressed it this way: “ I have the feeling their views are very binary, gift economy = female = good; exchange = male = bad“. The inherent dangers of this polarity or dichotomy are obvious.

I think the kind of gender construction we have in the West and the system we have created around it are the problem. This gender construction makes little boys believe they should be different from their mothers, and thus not-giving, not ‘feminine’. The male gender ideal of competition for domination fits with capitalism. This takes males away from their human gift giving identity they learned with their mothers  and causes the female givers to give more to the not-givers/dominators. It is not that men are bad and women are good. It is that the gender constructions become embedded very early on in two opposed economic logics, one of which takes from the other (which gives to it). These gender constructions do not become part of everyone in the same way, but they are widespread in our society.

It denies respect to one half of mankind and what they have achieved in history, denouncing their very essence as unproductive, parasitic and valueless. It creates the danger of scission, of another power struggle. When we reached that point in your speech, my neighbor, a middle aged woman who was deeply sympathetic about the cause, whispered to me: „Its sad women are not free from the addiction of seeking revenge“.

I believe revernge is made on the logic of exchange, ‘paying’ someone back for what they have done so I do not believe in revenge. In fact my book is called For-Giving. Revenge is not part of the gift paradigm.

I do believe though that women’s and especially mothers’ points of view have not been represented in history except perhaps in some men’s re working of them.

I thought about the endless contributions in science, I thought of the long line of enlightened men who contributed a lot to the wellbeing of society. They were not even mentioned and honored and this sadenned me. Without this recognition and practical enactment of male creativity and male freedom that I even felt at work in women-led endavours like Tamera, the idea of mothering or maternal heritage could hardly be considered as a role model for a future society. (And definitely no change will work that imposes one role model on the world)

I didn’t really cite anybody.

Later on, I was very taken by your warmhearted and motherly way of talking in private, and I told you there is a whole strand of political, social and economic thinkers who struggle with the fact that obviously in the superficial „end-victory“ of capitalism there is a similar spectacular self-betrayal as in the late days of the Soviet Union or in the parties at Versailles castle of the ancien Regime. Wherevere we come from, we have understood that political declaration and political revolution are not the means to change a society, that a new, nascent „germ – form“ of a new mode of production is showing its first vital signs in such developments like Free Software and Wikipedia, open access and social media.

Yes, I agree.

I liked your repudiation of the theory that Free Software is a „hidden exchange system“ where human labour spent in the programming or design effort is exchanged for reputation or attention, simply because these schemes are far from being proven empirically and also end up with very vague operationalisation. But equally I think the Free Software phenomenon is a harbinger of a structure which goes far beyond our understanding of what usually is talked about as gift economy. So you for the sake of scentific truth you must reconsider your statements in this respect.

I think the internet provides a situation of abundance that is far beyond anything most of us have known. The fact that a search engine can bring me almost anything I want to know  with such a tiny effort on my part fills me with awe. Wikipedia and Free Soft ware are very fertile and productive models, as well as General Public Liscence and other anti copyright projects. We do not know where they will go or how they will develop. The contrast with the scarcity created by the market on the material plane makes them vulnerable to privatization and commercialization though, because people have material needs they have to satisfy.

I also refer to your groundbreaking remarks about language, whose social nature makes any theory of language as market ridiculous. I also think that the remarks about Chomsky and Wittgenstein were justified, both thinkers limited by their non-social concept of language.

I am glad

In fact, if we go the core of the case, language is not a gift economy. I do not give away the word that I say to you, I simply share it with you.



This is due to the abundance we have in language. You understand because I give you words you already have. I give you something I can easily make again so I don’t lose it when I give it and you don’t take it away from me when you receive it.I give it to you to create a relation between you and something else, something in the world (which in my opinion, is also a kind of gift, a gift of perception or immagination), in receiving it you establish this relation recognizing I have a similar relation.

Language is a gift economy at the level of syntax as well.

As you have so beautifully marked, without that unilateral act of expression I would even loose or at least not refine my own ability and competence as a speaker. It is necessary to engage in expression, not because I want to have an equivalent in words from another speaker (what an absurd imagination!), but because I constantly need to engage in performance to improve my competence. In this respect I am simply productive – as a tree is productive that spreads its fruits to the eaters without asking for direct compensation. In language and in nature, exchange is a complete non-phenomenon, and scientists are happy if they finally discover some crazy monkeys that do something like exchange, and the newspaper editors are happy because they found the final proof that our way of doing economics is somehow eternally routed. What a nonsense. But its also nonsense to describe the act of the tree or the speaker as a gift, its a simply functional process.

I disagree. There are several differences in viewpoint between us here that I woud like to clarify. One of the reasons to see the core process as mothering instead of just giving as such, is that mothering is transitive, it has to satisfy the need of the other. If the child’s needs are not satisfied s/he will suffer and die, so the mother cannot just give like a tree gives apples. She has to make sure the child gets the food. 

In language I believe we see that the other person has a communicative need regarding something that we recognize but s/he doesn’t at the moment. We give h/er the word gift that will put h/er in relation to us regarding the kind of thing.  That is why I say language is basically other-oriented, basically because this is how it functions at base. However it can be used in ways that are not other oriented, once the base level of meaning is satisfied. That is, it can also be used to express the ego or to issue commands or to be verbally violent or to lie etc.  And it can be used to explore a subject or write books whether anyone reads them or not. In this case I believe the author generalizes the reader and satisfies the needs of whoever s/he thinks might read the book.

As to improving our performance, I think that is a rather poetic impulse, to elaborate upon the gifts we can give. We do this by understanding the communicative needs of others in more detailed and sensitive ways. However I don’t think this is a main linguistic motivation.

Or maybe we have a moral conception of the gift, I do not know.

I think it is unfortunate when  we see gift giving in terms of morality rather than in terms of community forming communication.

What I see, and here we come back to the example of free software, is a congruence between my act of production and the general needs of society. My act of production, rooted in my individual self, bends into the general need because I am performing acts within a societal medium. The information medium, the programming, is flexible enough to be managed in a way that actions become contributions. People can share code that they wrote for themselves because it is simply also useful for others, or they can engage in a joint efforts where they only work on a module because they also can use the whole. The latter logic applies to Wikipedia. Do something, give and you will be given. Its not a totally unilateral process, its actually the reenforcement of a logic.

I would call this the circulation of gifts.

The logic is deeply embedded in the commons, in the fact that we cant own the means of our existence privately without depriving ourselves in many ways.

Having said this, I feel there is a positive opportunity to discover a gender-independent and universal logic. Maybe you do not consider this your point of view, but I think it could be a productive resonance point.

Yes. When you read my work you will see that I do say that gift-giving- and –receiving  is the basic human logic established in the mother-child relation. If it exists in language it is also universally human, or ‘gender independent’ as you say. However, in the West the construction of the male gender as non-mothering has pushed many men (and some women) away from the gift logic into the non-giving logic of the market system, which is merged with the power-over values  of patriarchy. This is not really anybody’s ‘fault’but a mistake that has been made by giving too much importance to biological or physiological differences, so that we commonly put males and females into binarily opposed categories from childhood on.

And in one think I think we totally agree. The issue of overcoming our nowadays obsolete economic and political system is connected to a deep transformation in culture – from self – referential to sharing values.

Yes indeed.

In this respect I want to invite you as a guest or even as a benefactor into one of the innumerable attempts to create a new culture.

Thank you!

This is an attempt centered around the emergence of a global virtual network of independent thinkers, equaling the depth and the primordial goals of a university. The name of this culture is worknets, an attempt to organize support and gifts to sharing individuals. Its about a culture where we wish everybody to suceceed. Its a culture where wealth is relations and we want to show the beauty of working openly. The core of the worknets culture is an initiative called Minciu Sodas, Garden of Thoughts, the creation and personal endavour of its founder Andrius Kulikauskas. I would like you to have a look at his paper „An Economy for Giving Everything Away“. See under .

I did read the paper but my emphasis is not on giving away but on giving to satisfy needs, (which can be all different kinds of needs, from material to spiritual, esthetic etc.) The gift is trasitive. The importance is given more to the care and well being of the other than to my personal liberation from things. 

As the title says Andrius recognises the value and the meaning of a gift economy and tries to find ways to re-introduce this logic in the midst of prevalent market relations. I am sure you will find his reflections moving, especially because Andrius tries to identify various market patterns.

I think that the commercialization of gifts can be dangerous. In fact look at how negative the commercialization of the gifts of nature like water and seeds has been.

I address Andrius equally with this mail and suggest to him to introduce your work to the thousands of readers and hundreds of participants in our community and tell you what we have to offer.

Thank you. I would be very interested to know more about what kinds of projects you are doing.

All the best from Vienna

Franz Nahrada

All the best to you



PS: comment 1-5 were written before  Genevieves answers were added.

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