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Constructing and Spreading Information through Economic Institutions: the Case of Gift-Exchange

Constructing and Spreading Information through Economic Institutions: the Case of Gift-Exchange

Journal of Institutional Studies, , Vol. 10 (no. 3),

The article deals with the connection between the processes of creating and spreading information within and outside of the community and the economic institutions that take place in such community. The main task of the article is to analyze how individuals can use their economic interactions with other people to promote certain information about themselves; what kind of information can be spread like that; and how the pursue to transmit information impacts economic behavior. To solve this task, article focuses on the institution of gift-exchange and considers its mnemonic and informational functions. Article provides brief overview of the history of the issue and its modern state with an insight to the concept of “transcendent values” by Weiner and anthropological theory of value by Graeber. It also compares the views of classic anthropologists such as Mauss and Sahlins with the views of economists that turned their attention to anthropological issues – in particular, to Gregory’s. The second part of the article considers the implementation of the informational function of archaic gift-exchange within the modern institutions of market economy. This part provides detailed discussion of Douglas and Isherwood; information theory of consumption and highlights its similarities and differences with the concept of symbolic capital by Bourdieu. The last part of the article provides final conclusions regarding the roles of informational and mnemonic functions in status demarcation and increase in the context of gift-exchange and conspicuous consumption; as well as regarding the connection between informational function of economic institutions and reputational mechanism that monitors the performance in the presence of agency problem. The conclusion shows the ways for future implementation of these findings for analysis of conspicuous consumption and sharing economies.

Keywords: economic anthropology; reciprocity; gift-exchange; conspicuous consumption; economic institutions; functionalism

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