SIEF2013 11th Congress.
Michael Herzfeld: Circulation and Circumvention: reciprocity and Intimacy in the neoliberal world

Video by: UTTV 03.07.2013 7301 views Cultural Science and Arts

The speaker will address Marcel Mauss's dire predictions about
the collapse of reciprocity under conditions of modern capitalism. He argues that a combination of
technological innovation (especially the internet) and a new commercial ethic (‘neoliberalism') have
subverted older forms of hospitality, exchange, and other systems of reciprocity. While practices
ranging from the Melanesian kula to European quêtes and South Asian matrimonial exchanges have
had analogues in political practices of patronage and favor-trading, the neoliberal pervasion of these
older structures ‘ a process in which claims to have abolished them actually reinvigorates their logic
at a more comprehensive but less visible level ‘ amplifies Mauss's pessimism. At the same time, new
circulation systems, especially of information and the secrecy rules that purport to protect it, provide
new loopholes corresponding to some older modalities, and suggest that human beings will always
try to circulate goods (material or otherwise) as a way of remaining connected, but will also always
seek to subvert this connectedness (or ‘connectivity') as a way of resisting the structures of power.
Illustrative examples will be drawn from the speaker's own fieldwork, from older folklore compilations,
and from everyday experience in global cyberspace and in academic and other forms of worldwide
exchange. The speaker will also argue that it is in situ fieldwork, albeit not always in static locations,
that allows scholars to gauge these sometimes enormous changes and their effects on daily life.