Between the gift and the market: the economy of regard



‘The great transformation’ from customary exchange to impersonal markets is incomplete. Reciprocal exchange pervades modern societies. It takes the form of ‘gifts’, reciprocated without certainty. Reciprocity is driven by the pursuit of ‘regard’. Money is avoided in regard exchanges, because it is impersonal. Instead, regard signals are embodied in goods, in services, or in time (attention). The personalization of gifts authenticates the signal. Reciprocal exchange persists in family formation, in intergenerational transfers, in labour markets, in agriculture, the professions, in marketing, entrepreneurship, and also in corruption and crime. Reciprocal exchange is constrained by time and psychic energy, but is likely to persist as a preferred source of regard.