Seminar “Gift Exchange Theory”. Grant: PSTGU

Duration of the seminar: 2015

Project coordinator: Greg Yudin

Participants: Nikolay Emelyanov, Polina Batanova (Vrublevskaya), Ivan Zabaev, Daria Oreshina, Ivan Pavlyutkin, Tatiana Larkina, Peter Safronov

About the project
The need to intensify parish life in the Russian Orthodox Church is being recognized more and more overtly. Every individual priest faces the task of restoring a parish community, and this is a general problem for clergy in the most remote parishes.
Previous studies have shown that a consolidated parish community is able to have an impact on various aspects of the behavior of its members. However, the mechanisms of parish community functioning are still unclear. Thus, it is unknown whether it is possible to purposefully develop a community and which measures can be taken for achieving that goal. On the one hand, it is obvious that the parish community is an active factor in mediating the impact of the Church on people’s lives. On the other hand, the community remains largely a “black box” with an unknown internal structure.
In order to identify the mechanisms behind the functioning of the parish community, we need to have a theory which could describe the reasons for the development of the parish community as a supra-individual unity, the types of relationships between its components, and the principles of its development. Such a theory might be embodied in the theory of gift exchange. The advantage of this framework is that it synthesizes philosophical and cultural anthropology, and demonstrates how a human sociality is organized on an elementary level, and makes it possible to understand the mechanics of the formation of social cohesion. The theory of gift exchange has traditionally dealt with the question of the relationship between an individual and a community – the principle of cooperation which unites people into a community.
The purpose of the seminar is to identify the mechanisms through which gift exchange is capable of forming communities.
The main questions of the seminar:

  1. What is the main motivation for people in pursuing economic activities from the viewpoint of the theory of gift exchange?
  2. If the theory of gift exchange says something universal about human nature, what is the specific character of gift exchange at a time of victorious utilitarianism? How do utilitarianism and gift coexist / conflict?
  3. How can economic / political governance be carried out with the support of the theory of gift exchange? How can one calculate the consequences of deliberate action undertaken in this framework?
  4. What does interpretation of the phenomena of economic life from the standpoint of the theory of gift exchange add to our knowledge? What becomes clear from the things otherwise hidden behind a mask of common sense?
  5. How does the shift beyond utilitarian exchange occur? What kind of actions does this shift require – a fundamentally different logic, or a simple rethinking of institutional reforms?

The main method of the seminar is the analysis of classical texts on the theory of gift exchange made in accordance with a specific diagram.
In order to determine the explanatory power of the theory of gift exchange, transcripts of interviews collected as a part of the project “Indebted Life” in 2014, as well as other projects of the seminar “Sociology of Religion” will be used. The transcripts will act as a testing ground for applying the theory. In addition, the transcripts represent empirical material which require analysis, on the basis of which the participants of the seminar can write analytical texts.
In the seminar, two types of work will be employed: 1) analysis of texts; 2) analysis of interview transcripts. The seminar will take place on a weekly basis and is divided into several thematic sections. Within each section, the first meeting focuses on the analysis of the text, and the next one or two meetings – on the analysis of the transcripts (with the possible use of auxiliary theoretical texts).

Relevant publications

Emelyanov Nikolay, Yudin Greg. 2018. "Structural Position of the Priest in Gift-Exchange Systems." Russian Sociological Review, 17 (3): 9-29.

Yudin Grigory, Oreshina Daria. 2016. "Gift exchange and control of consumer credit in Russian Orthodox communities ." Sociological Journal, 22 (2): 110-134.

Larkina Tatiana, Yudin Greg. 2015. "Gift exchange theory and community building." Working Papers: "Sociology of Religion" Seminar, Series: Gift exchange theory , 2015-15, Moscow: PSTGU.