Scriptural cancellation of what Barnabas is doing

Beyond the exchange


The essay shows the contribution of Marx’s theory to the sociology of the gift, especially in the context of the more recent attempts to think “beyond exchange” or reciprocity. For this purpose, the reciprocity norm is first developed as a structural principle in historical societies as well as as the basis of ideas of justice, with the question of the origin of the reciprocity obligation at the center. This is genealogically located in the social asymmetry associated with the gift as a performative act, which at the same time reveals the latent warlike dimension of the norm of reciprocity. With Marx's criticism of alienation, the problematic character of reciprocity can be deepened further, with a view to the Excerpts from James Mill's book "Élémens d’économie politique" (1844) can also be contrasted with the utopia of a radical decoupling of gift and counter-gift. Finally, Marx’s contribution to the sociology of the gift is summarized and compared with the approaches of Bourdieu, Derrida and Caillés.


This paper discusses Karl Marx's theory as a contribution to the sociology of gift, particularly in connection with current approaches to conceptualize giving and receiving "beyond exchange" or reciprocity. Therefore, at first the norm of reciprocity is developed both as a structuring pattern of society and a concept of social justice, while focusing on the question of the origins of the obligation of reciprocity. Its roots are traced back genealogically to the social asymmetry produced by the gift as a performative act, which also shows the latent warlike dimension of the gift relation. With Marx’s critique of alienation, the problematic dimension of reciprocity can be further demonstrated but also - with reference to Marx’s Excerpts from James Mill's book "Élémens d’économie politique" (1844) - contrasted with the utopia of a radical separation of gift and countergift. Finally, Marx ’contribution to the sociology of gift is summarized and compared to the approaches of Bourdieu, Derrida and Caillé.


Cet article montre la contribution de la théorie marxienne à la sociologie du don, notamment dans le contexte des tentatives récentes pour penser le fait de donner et de prendre “au-delà de l’échange” et de la réciprocité. Dans ce but, nous développons tout d’abord la norme de réciprocité comme principe structurant des sociétés historiques ainsi que des conceptions de la justice, avec en point de mire la question de l’origine de l’obligation de réciprocité. Nous localisons cette origine généalogiquement dans l’asymétrie sociale liée au don en tant qu’acte performatif, ce qui fait simultanément apparaître la dimension guerrière latente de la norm de réciprocité. Avec la critique de l’aliénation de Marx, il est possible d’approfondir encore le caractère Genealogie de la réciprocité mais aussi de le nuancer au vu des Notes on the lecture du livre de James Mill "Élémens d’économie politique" (1844) avec l’utopie d’un découplage radical du don et du contre-don. En conclusion, nous résumons la marxienne à la sociologie du don avant de la comparer avec les approches de Bourdieu, Derrida et Caillé.


  1. 1.

    For an overview of the MAUSS group see Papilloud 2006, Moebius 2006 and the organ of the group, the magazine La Revue du MAUSS.

  2. 2.

    For one of the few attempts to bring Marx and Mauss together, albeit across the board from the question pursued here, see David Graeber (2001), who developed a theory of value as “importance”. A Marxist-influenced one Try about the exchange, at the same time a “critique of structuralism”, can also be found in Friedrich Stentzler (1979).

  3. 3.

    In the following, "gift" always means the gift in the sense of Mauss' exchange of gifts and thus as an element of an obligation structure. For a gift beyond the exchange of gifts, the word “giving” is used for the sake of clarity. Likewise, the term “exchange” is used in the narrower sense as an exchange of gifts and not in an equally possible general meaning of exchange of goods in the sense of any kind of circulation of goods or actions within societies.

  4. 4.

    I will come back to this below.

  5. 5.

    The most famous reply to Mauss’s explanation, which basically only reproduces the animistic beliefs of the actors instead of explaining their causes, comes from Claude Lévi-Strauss (1978), whose own linguistic explanation, however, is also hardly satisfactory. Going into the details of the extremely rich debate about the “spirit of the gift” is beyond the scope of this contribution; important summaries can be found in Sahlins (1972) and Godelier (1996).

  6. 6.

    On the fundamental problem of the “first emergence” of norms and institutions see Castoriadis 1990, p. 263.

  7. 7.

    "Although gratitude is a purely personal or, if you want, a lyrical affect, it becomes one of its strongest binding agents through its thousands of weaving back and forth within society." (Simmel 1992, p. 663).

  8. 8.

    See Schmitt 1996; An interesting continuation of this idea in the direction of a theory of rule based on the principle of the exchange of gifts can be found in Baudrillard 1982, p. 64; on the transfer to the idea of ​​the modern welfare state see also Castel 2000, p. 245.

  9. 9.

    At least for the duration of the meal: "The social hierarchy appears to be newly determined for the duration of the meat meal: The successful hunter and courted dispenser temporarily moves up to alpha status, only to fall back into the previous position after the meal is over." (Baudy 1983, P. 141).

  10. 10.

    Stentzler (1979, p. 65), who also emphasizes this rival aspect, particularly in potlatch (but not only there), even attests to the archaic exchange a "phallic moment: dispute, excitement, argument cannot be separated from it."

  11. 11.

    Interestingly, this law of justice sounds like a variation of the formula that Lévi-Strauss (1967, pp. 238, 250 f.) In The structure of the myths as a universal and supra-historical structural law of the human mind.

  12. 12.

    Cf. Aristoteles 1967, p. 165 f .; Aristotle favors money as the medium of value measurement: "Money makes (...) like a measure of things measurable and creates equality", whereby the quantum of value to be measured is to be determined by referring to the needs of those who are exchanging: "Money ( is) the representative of the need ”.

  13. 13.

    To this extent, revenge is the structural, negative reflection of the gift. In the case of the gift, the generous gesture is the renunciation of a renewed giving, which would put the other under pressure again, i.e. the taking on of guilt. In vengeance, the generous gesture consists of renouncing retribution, the biblical "turning the other cheek", the taking upon oneself of suffering. On the idea of ​​a “nesting of the exchange of gifts and the relationship of revenge” see Eßbach 1999, p. 18.

  14. 14.

    Because of its suspensive nature, money is worth more than what it represents, it has an unrecoverable “liquidity benefit” compared to any other commodity, see Suhr 1988, p. 54 ff .; on the dimension of the time postponement in the exchange of gifts see also Bourdieu 1993, p. 193; Derrida 1993, p. 54 ff.

  15. 15.

    Sohn-Rethel (1991) founds on this separating, abstracting force an entire theory of money as the cause of abstract, philosophical thinking, condensed into the famous formula of “commodity form and thought form”. On the dimension of separation in capitalism, see also Debord 1996, p. 23 ff.

  16. 16.

    For a criticism of this assumption, see Marx 1982, p. 192 ff.

  17. 17.

    Thus it says in Marx (1982, p. 55): “A thing can be useful and the product of human labor without being a commodity. Those who satisfy their own needs through their product create use value, but not goods. In order to produce commodities, he must not only produce use value, but use value for others, social use value. "Engels clarifies this formulation in a note in the fourth edition:" And not only (use value) for others per se. The medieval peasant produced the grain of interest for the feudal lord and the tithe grain for the priest. But neither a grain of interest nor a grain of tithe became a commodity because they were produced for others. In order to become a commodity, the product must be transferred to the other, for whom it serves as a use value, through exchange. ”He thus opposes the“ frequent (e) misunderstanding (...) that every product is made by someone other than the producer is consumed is considered a commodity by Marx. ”(ibid., note 11a).

  18. 18.

    See Marx 1982, p. 49 ff .; Strictly speaking, the exchange value is not the same as the value, but only its "appearance": "However, once you know this, that way of speaking does no harm, but serves as an abbreviation." (ibid., p. 75); on determining the content of exchange value, which cannot be discussed here, as well as on the important role of abstract work or the “socially necessary average working time” see ibid., p. 52 ff.

  19. 19.

    Marx (1982, p. 85 ff.) Emphasizes this relationship of goods to one another as values ​​seemingly detached from the producers in the term “commodity fetishism”, which in his later work takes the place of the earlier concept of alienation, but is closely related to it.

  20. 20.

    The concept of genre activity or synonym of “genus being” goes back to Hegel and in particular to Feuerbach (1984, p. 1 ff.); see also Popitz 1980.

  21. 21.

    On this, Marx (1982, p. 57): “As a creator of use values, as useful work, work is therefore a human condition of existence independent of all forms of society, an eternal natural necessity in order to mediate the metabolism between human beings and nature, i.e. human life . "

  22. 22.

    The often-voiced criticism of Marx's concept of the generic being as a substantive definition of the human being (cf. Jaeggi 2005) should not overlook the fact that the characterization of human beings as self-producing beings at the latest since Nietzsche (the human being, that “not yet ascertained Thier ”) through philosophical anthropology (man, the“ cosmopolitan ”being) to post-structuralism (man as a product of his discursive activity) was and is structurally developed in a very similar way in other conceptions. In this context, Popitz (1980, p. 86) makes the important point that the term generic is a open Activity concept, a "beingforce“Acts.

  23. 23.

    The term “reification” was mainly coined by Lukács (1970, p. 170 ff.), But already appears occasionally in Marx, for example as “reification of the social production determinations” (Marx 1973, p. 887).

  24. 24.

    On the history of the discourse of the concept of human capital, see Gertenbach 2007, pp. 105 ff.

  25. 25.

    For example Popitz (1980, p. 142 ff.), Who misinterprets Marx’s criticism of alienation as a romantic protest against the machinery. A passage in the shows that this interpretation misses the core of Marx’s intention Floor plansin which Marx (1983, p. 598) even ascribes a positive potential for liberation to the machine.

  26. 26.

    On this term, see Marx (1981b, p. 512), who does not always make a conceptual distinction between (a) the objectification or alienation of the process in the finished product, which inevitably accompanies every work process, and which, after completion, confronts me as a foreign, external thing - in which, of course, I can recognize myself and with which I can identify myself again to the extent that I can "reappropriate" - and (b) the negative connotation of alienation, in which the cognitive reacquisition of the product, the "return movement" (Jaeggi 2005, p. 33), fails, whereby the thing is permanently external or alienated to me, i.e. H. remains alienated. The long passage from the above quoted Excerpts from James Mill's book shows - contrary to common misinterpretations of Marx's concept of alienation, for example in Gehlen (1963) or Plessner (1985) - that the concept of objectification or alienation in Marx does not automatically have negative connotations and "alienation", but is also used positively ; see Marx 1981b, p. 517 as well as for the delimitation of the terms Lukács 1986, p. 361 f.

  27. 27.

    The exact formulation comes from Engels (1962, p. 226), but corresponds entirely to Marx's thought and can be found in a similar formulation in the third volume of Capital (Marx 1973, p. 828).

  28. 28.

    All the more so as Marx at one point (1981b, p. 535) thematizes the intimate relationship between man and woman, following Feuerbach, as a natural, non-alienated form of relationship; for the limits of this reference, see Eßbach 1982, p. 158.

  29. 29.

    When Derrida (1993, pp. 28 ff.) Suggests that a way out of reciprocity should be given as quickly as possible to forget, this in itself unrealistic idea would find its realistic counterpart in the concept of an anonymous handover.

  30. 30.

    Bockelmann (2006) formulated in his plea for the Abolition of money the same thought with recourse to the term “volunteer work”.

  31. 31.

    This is of course not as Potlatsch thought as he envisioned Bataille (1985), but as an everyday and regulated form of economy and distribution; nevertheless, certain similarities are unmistakable.

  32. 32.

    Marx (1962, p. 21) takes this slogan from Louis Blanc (1850, p. 72), which was first published in 1839 Organization you travail writes: "L’egalité n’existe n’est donc que le proportionnalité, et elle n’existera d’une manière véritable que lorsque chacun (...) produira selon ses facultés et consommera selon ses besoins“(Emphasis in the original). Incidentally, with this formula in mind, it is worth taking a look at the Soviet constitution (Art. 12), which also referred to Marx. There, too, there is a paraphrase of that sentence, albeit with a crucial deviation that completely turns its meaning into the opposite: “Everyone according to their abilities, everyone according to their performance” it says, and even more pointedly: “If you don't work, you should too Do not eat."

  33. 33.

    Italics in the original removed.

  34. 34.

    See Derrida 1993, pp. 20 ff .; the paradox disappears as soon as one differentiates the concept of gift and does not use the same concept for pure giving as for calculated, reciprocity and gratitude do ut des. Freed from Derrida's penchant for paradoxical language mysticism, his “pure gift” would therefore simply be a giving beyond exchange; see also above, note 3.

  35. 35.

    Cf. the characteristics cited by Caillé (2005, p. 175 ff.) Such as “voluntariness”, “without expectation”, “intention” and his also strongly subjectivist conception of interest.

  36. 36.

    For the current discussion about the concept of recognition, cf. Honneth 2008, 1992; Honneth & Fraser 2003.

  37. 37.

    This knowledge of one's own role in the production and historical process, through which phenomena such as alienation and commodity fetishism can only be resolved, is one of the most important points of Marx's philosophy, which Georg Lukács (1970) and Guy Debord (1996) in particular worked out to have.


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  1. Institute for Sociology, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, Rempartstrasse 15, 79085, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany

    Samuel Strehle

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Correspondence to Samuel Strehle.

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Strehle, S. Beyond Exchange. Berlin J Sociol19, 127-151 (2009).

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  • Exchange of gifts
  • reciprocity
  • Reciprocity norm
  • Equivalence principle
  • alienation
  • communism
  • Marx
  • Mauss


  • Gift exchange
  • Reciprocity
  • Norm of reciprocity
  • Equivalence principle
  • Alienation
  • Communism
  • Marx
  • Mauss


  • Exchange de dons
  • Réciprocité
  • Norme de reciprocité
  • Principe d'équivalence
  • Alienation
  • Communism
  • Marx
  • Mauss