Gift Exchanging as a Social Phenomenon
This short paper focuses on the ‘relational’ conceptualization and attempts to investigate the personal context of the consumer-to-consumer gifting, where gifts are given by one person to another person. The transfer of goods can be considered as a gift exchange when they are (goods) are ‘voluntary’ given under social interactions and relationships between a giver and a receiver. This view is also supported by Cheal who states that gift-giving reflects a degree of involvement, connectedness of individuals, and can be described as a process of symbolic communication where a gift is used as a message. It is important to add that the “voluntary” nature of the gift-giving action is usually governed by the rules of reciprocation, which is а consequence of social and relationship norms of a certain society or a culture.
First of all, to have a full understanding of the process, it is necessary to identify components which are involved into the gift-giving process. Researchers identify five main components of the gift-giving that are essential for the phenomenon to occur – gift, donor, recipient, occasion and relationship. The interaction of these elements has an impact on different gift-giving situations making each of them unique. Five elements of gift-giving are also constituted of different attributes and influences, for example, donor’s level of relationship involvement with a recipient. That can explain the width and breadth of the research field, as the topic eventually evolved with a significant number of variables studied. Researches put emphasis on different dimensions of gift-giving and factors that can influence the process. The implication is that, there is no best method to study gift-giving phenomenon and the results depend upon how broad or how narrow a gift and gift-giving process are defined and what dimensions of a gift are considered. The consequences could be either ambiguity in case of a broad definition, as it is difficult to investigate an impact of many variables, however, on the other hand, narrowing down the definition could lead to certain limitations in the research, what makes harder to compare results among studies. Nevertheless, the paper operates the following definition of a gift which “involves the selection and transfer of something to someone without the expectation of direct compensation, but with the expectation of a return, be it reciprocity, a change in the relationship with the recipient, or a favor or another social or psychological benefit”. The definition is full and comprises the wider associations that could be applied to a broader range of the gift-giving context, such as consumer-to-consumer, business-to-business, group-to-group and nation-to-nation gifting. Within previously mentioned definition, Davies also identified two different conceptualizations of gifting: ‘relational’ and ‘transactional’. The first relates to the consumer-to-consumer gifting, while the latter refers to such topics as tipping, knowledge and file sharing, self-gifting and charitable donations.
Overall, a widely recognized fact that gift-giving is an old tradition that takes its roots in the origin of our species. Pre-dating civilization, this unique form of human expression is now engrained into our DNA. Due to the fact that gift-giving is one of the oldest human activities that has been developing over centuries and acquiring more properties and characteristics because of the fast-changing modern environment, there is no formally adopted definition of a gift and giving process.