viviana zelizer on gifts and money in the NYT

Here’s a very nice Op-Ed from Viviana Zelizer on what (if I remember rightly) Michel Callon once described as the central question that animates her thinking in economic sociology: can one give money as a gift?

The key to the problem, early 20th-century gift-givers found, was to camouflage money inside a traditional gift. This took effort and it had nothing to do with efficiency, but it enabled people to elevate the gift of cash. … Nostalgic traditionalists and hard-nosed realists both get it wrong. For over a century, Americans have been demonstrating remarkable ingenuity in turning money into meaningful personal gifts. Let’s keep it up. Next year, perhaps take a lesson from the pages of The Ladies’ Home Journal and hide cash in a gift of your own creation.

Written by Kieran

January 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Posted in economics, sociology

2 Responses

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  1. Love this stuff and the students love it too! I’m currently on an econ thesis committee for a project looking at exactly these issues (well, “reducing deadweight loss”) in the use of big box store gift cards in a holiday charity program.

    FWIW, I would love for someone to publicly out this elaborate gift-giving performance in online wedding registries, which now offer the couple a store credit in the value of the “gifts”– just a bunch of random stuff around the store that they have been instructed to shoot with the portable scanner at a range of price points– and Crate & Barrel and co. get to pocket the (not insignificant) fictitious shipping and gift wrap costs.



    January 7, 2011 at 9:32 pm

  2. It really seems to me if we are just giving cash (or gift cards to some place as generic as Amazon/Target) we might as well call the whole thing off and keep the money for ourselves. It’s different with weddings, I guess, because the process is not as reciprocal–but for holidays/birthdays if you give cash you are just circulating the same value back and forth.



    January 9, 2011 at 3:33 am

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