Gift Economy in Contemporary “Artivism”

Alexandre Poulin | University of Amsterdam | Gift Economy in Contemporary “Artivism” | Supervisors: Mireille Rosello & Joost De Bloois | 2014-2018

For this PhD project, I want to focus on gift economy in the age of global capitalism. In the social sciences, following the pioneering work of Marcel Mauss, the notion of gift has been studied as a ‘‘giving-receiving returning’’ cycle. Even if the Maussian theory of exchange has been criticized (more radically by Jacques Derrida, who says that a gift is impossible in the field of exchange), lots of efforts have been placed into rehabilitating this alternative economy of bonds, particularly as a counterpoint to global capitalism (see the Mouvement anti-utilitariste dans les sciences sociales – the MAUSS). George Bataille, with his theory of unproductive expenditure, has shown the power of “loss”, as a phenomenon linked to sacrificial giving and counter-giving (more precisely in the Maussian potlatch). Hence I want to propose that gift economy intimates a position of political resistance in our productivist society. In continuity with authors who commonly associate it with artistic activity (Lewis Hyde, Georges Bataille, Jacques Godbout), I want to argue that the gift is central in contemporary activism, especially in contemporary activist art increasingly known as ‘‘artivism’’ (Stephanie Lemoine and Samira Ouardie).