Chapter 9: The return of the gift
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Where the return of gift exchange models takes centre stage. Today, gift economics are regaining momentum in the networked information economy – as are collaboration, decentralization and openness. Communities of social trust, such as Wikipedia, YouTube and fanfiction circles, spread virally online through gift exchange models. User-based creativity thrives on the idea of ‘playful enjoyment’ rather than economic incentives. Anthropologists place societies on an economic evolutionary scale from gift to commodity exchange; at either end of that continuum are the clan system and the capitalist system of organization. This spectrum should now extend to the ‘crowd’ or ‘community-based society’, which features new modes of social interaction in online communities. The networked, mass-collaborative, crowd society enhances the prolificacy of the gift exchange model that lies in what social scientists describe as a debt economy. It is possible that we will transition to a consumer gift system or user patronage, promoting an unrestrained, diffuse and networked discourse between authors and the public through digital crowd-funding. Ultimately, the return of the gift economy in the networked society may answer Jean Baudrillard’s question: ‘will we return, one day, beyond the market economy, to prodigality?’

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