When I was preparing to write my piece on the gift economy for the Dictionary of Ethical Politics, I read a few essays by others but quickly abandoned that approach to ensuring that I was fully up-to-speed on the current thinking. As I explained with my customary lack of sensitivity, diplomacy, and fairness:
Unsurprisingly, [the gift economy] is a topic that appeals to well-meaning, good-natured, spiritually curious people. Unfortunately, this results in treatments that are often long on fuzzy-headed feel-good and short on rigor. I’m sure there are some very good essays on the gift economy to be found with a simple Google search; but I really had no stomach for a needle-in-haystack exercise that would subject me to the level of penetrating analysis found in the average Hallmark greeting card.
After I published my synopsis of the gift economy, I received a superb essay from my good friend, Manoj Pavithran, with a very different approach to the subject. Manoj is that rare and spectacular combination of deeply thoughtful and utterly brilliant; and his careful analysis is constructed with the considerable philosophical rigor one might expect from him. It represents a significant contribution to the growing, evolving appreciation of the gift economy.
Manoj is not simply a theorist of the gift economy; he is a practitioner. He lives in Auroville, a community founded, in part, on both collectivist and cooperativist gift economy ideals. He also played a direct and influential role in the gift economization of two significant product initiatives of Upasana Design Studio: the Tsunamika dolls and the Small Steps cloth shopping bags.
With his permission, I offer Manoj’s essay for your consumption and reflection.