Friday, December 21, 2007

Gift-Giving in Jamaican Tourism

I've been reading a bit of Geogres Bataille and Marcel Mauss recently - especially their concept of 'the gift.' However, I am trying to work the idea of gift-giving into describing some features the Jamaican Tourism Board run on their website. Here is what I have composed so far. I'd be happy to hear comments/criticisms as this is the first time I've used Bataille and Mauss as a resource:
As always, sorry about the spelling and grammar:
Gift-Giving and Jamaican Tourism
On the Jamaican Tourism Board (JTB) website there are two feature’s ‘Be a Jamaican for a Week’ and ‘Meet the People.’ These features I argue are examples of what Marcel Mauss and George Bataille refer to as (contemporary) Gift-giving.[1] For the purpose of this argument, I will define the concept of ‘gift-giving’ in reference to Bataille’s differentiation between a restrictive economy and a general economy. I will then describe the ‘Be a Jamaican for a Week’ and ‘Meet the People’ features advertised on the website to explain how they function as acts of gift-giving. My particular observation is the JTB use the website as part of a strategy to generate a general economy of exchange that coexists with the restricted economic of Jamaican tourism. I will also examine how the Internet is used as a forum to provide a counter-gift to the gift giving practices. This is done through tourists writing review of their experiences of consuming the gift. In general, the practice of gift-giving provides the possible option for ‘contact zones’ of exchange to occur within Caribbean tourism that do not construct the region as merely a commodity for consumption.
In Accursed Share Bataille argues ‘there is a need to study the system of human production and consumption within a much a larger framework’[2] as ‘economic science merely generalizes the isolated situation; it restricts its object to operations carried out with a view to a limited end.’[3] For Bataille, and Mauss, economic rationalism cannot explain all the practices of production and consumption. This type of approach concentrates on a restrictive economy which tries to rationalise (individual) actions from an economical rationale. For example, a person would only expend their energy on an activity if it was an economical prudent decision. In contrast, a general economy is the practice of (cosmic) expenditure that ‘is to go against judgements that form a basis of a rational economy.’[4] This type of expenditure is also a practice of affirmation where ‘to affirm that it is necessary to dissipate a substantial portion of energy produced, sending it up in smoke.’[5] An example of (non-human) expenditure is the sun, which expends its energy, giving life to earth, without asking anything in return.[6]
The act of gift-giving is part of Bataille’s vision of a general economy. Following Mauss, Bataille forms the concept of gift-giving through examining ‘pre-modern’ practices of exchange. One of the main forms of gift-giving is the custom(s) of potlatch. Bataille uses various practices of potlatch, from the tribes of Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Kwakiutl, to form a concept that is opposed to Western theories of ‘barter.’ Potlatch is classified as a general economy practice while bartering is practiced within a restrictive economy. Practices of potlatch are generally constituted and defined through giving generous gifts. For example, a tribe may expend there energy (i.e. their wealth) to produce a festival for other tribes to consume. The expenditure of wealth, which is not (necessarily) economic wealth[7], is fundamental for the concept of gift-giving. The consumer does not then consume the expenditure of wealth as a commodity, but rather as a gift.
However, despite gift-giving lacking a capitalist and functional logic there are beneficial reasons for expending energy through gift-giving as ‘the gift would be senseless (and so we would never decide to give) if it did not take on some meaning of an acquisition.’[8] For Mauss there is both joy and freedom in gift giving, ‘once again we will shall discover those motives of action still remembered by many society and classes: the joy of giving in public, the delight in generous artistic expenditure, the pleasure of hospitality in the public or private’ and ‘we shall come out of ourselves and regard…giving as a liberty.’[9] Gift-giving, while not economically beneficial or rational, can be beneficial for those expending the energy as they produce a gift to give to the world. At a general level the gift can be something more than its materialism, becoming a symbolic valuable as people customs, which can generate emotional attachments to these practices.[10] Such attachment between the gift and the giver means, for Mauss, ‘to give something is to give part of oneself.’[11]
Mauss and Bataille’s gift-giving concept is not without problems. One of the main problems is how Mauss and Bataille use it to create binary oppositions of exchange: pre-modern exchange and modern exchange; Western exchange and Non-Western exchange; capitalist exchange and non-capitalist exchange. Another problem is gift-giving, as an example of a general economy, can be viewed as being constructed through a naive nostalgia, arguing for a return to primitive societies. My belief is gift-giving does not necessarily need to be attached to a specific period, but can emerge, in the contemporary world, as a practice of exchange. However, the subsumption of capitalism means it is no longer plausible to regard gift-giving as a radical other to the restrictive (capitalist) economy.[12] Instead gift-giving has to be understood as entangled in the exchanges and practices of the restrictive economy. This is how interpret the gift-giving features advertised on the JTB website, where they are not radically separate to commodity (i.e. restrictive) tourism, but rather an example of general economy practices/exchanges occurring within the flow of commodity tourism. I therefore classify gift-giving as contact zones created between ‘Jamaicans’ and ‘tourists’ where an exchange occurs between the two that does not involve them exchange cash. If this occurs then it no longer becomes gift-giving, but rather the tourist purchasing a commodity.
The ‘Be a Jamaican for a Week’ and ‘Meet the People’ are regarded as important aspects of the JTB website. Both of them feature predominantly as hyperlinks on the homepage. Crucially, to regard them as gift-giving exchanges, the JTB do not offer them as products for economic purchase (i.e. commodities). Instead the websites present them as gifts to be consumed. The result is a contact zone between tourist and Jamaican is arranged through these features, but not one where capital exchange dominates the exchange. Instead the two features generate a general economy from the restrictive economy of tourists vacating in Jamaica. The intention is these gift-giving features can (hopefully) provide an inter-change that is beneficial to Jamaica as the Jamaicans give something of their self. Part of the benefit, which associates with the JTB’s desire to create a multi-dimensional Jamaica, is the tourist will experience an exchange that generates an opinion beyond viewing Jamaica as only the Sun, Sand, and Sea.
In the ‘Be a Jamaican for a Week’ the tourist is encouraged to partake in Jamaican cultural activities when visiting the island. The activities listed are: attend a religious service; share Sunday dinner with a Jamaican family; watch or play a cricket match; ‘reason’ or have some ‘veranda talk’; Go a dance; lick two domino; and go a market. Through suggesting these activities the JTB offer them as gifts to be consumed by the tourist, which also offer part of Jamaica. The tourist is meant to ‘get to know our people and culture.’[13] The hope of the JTB is a Jamaican, as a gift of expenditure, can offer the tourist these activities as Jamaican culture. Jamaicans can therefore offer their wealth (i.e. energy and customs) to the tourist. For example, while it may not be economically beneficial for a Jamaican family to give Sunday dinner to a tourist it provides a contact zone of another form.[14] The tourist is immersed into an exchange of customs, food, and habits that are emotional as well material. However, the ‘Be a Jamaican for a Week’ does list some activities that could occur as an exchange of capital, which would remove the gift element and classify it as a commodity. For example, the tourist may consume one, or more, of the activities as a commodity (e.g. being a spectator at a professional cricket match). ‘Be a Jamaican for a week’ is not exclusively promoting a gift-exchange or the purchasing of Jamaica through commodities. It instead they provide suggestions that could either involve the exchange of gifts or commodities.
The JTB website also provides a medium to continue the ‘Meet the People’ program that was launched in 1968. The idea of the program is to provide a platform ‘for travellers seeking insight into the Jamaican experience and the warm welcome of a Jamaican friend.’[15] The JTB act as ‘matchmaker between visitors and Jamaicans’ and is offered to both adults and children visiting the island.[16] In the program people, who are already travelling to Jamaica, can sign-up to spend some of their time with resident Jamaicans. In this time the tourist can participate in a wide range of activities that ‘are uniquely Jamaican…that only locals can create’ through being ‘teamed up with Jamaican hosts or volunteers.’ [17] The website also allows potential participates to sign-up for ‘meet the people’ online. Importantly, for conceptualising in gift-giving terms, the program is offered as a free experience for the tourist to consume.
Throughout the ‘Meet the People’ website ( a discourse of gift-giving figures predominantly. The JTB refer to it as ‘our treat to welcome you to Jamaica and share the sights, sounds, and flavours of our majestic island paradise.’[18] The use of paradise as reference to Jamaica reverses the normal associations of Jamaica (and the Caribbean) as paradise. Instead of Jamaica being the paradise of those who travel, which allows them to escape the ‘civilised’ world, paradise is used as a territorial signature. The territorial signature places the emphasis that Jamaica, as a ‘majestic paradise’ is not the property of those visiting, but rather the territory of (resident) Jamaicans. Jamaica, as a paradise, is then offered as a gift, which also implies it should be respected as a gift. The discourse of gift-giving continues as the JTB write ‘this program is made possible by the generosity of Jamaicans’ and ‘remember it’s our treat.’[19] Once again the ownership of the gift is emphasised as the JTB refer to it as ‘our treat’ and ‘generosity of Jamaicans.’ The idea is that Jamaicans, through expenditure, provide ‘meet the people’ as something to give as part of themselves, but also something ‘uniquely Jamaican.’ The tourist then consumes Jamaica not as a commodity, which they have purchased, but rather as a gift they have signed up for. As with ‘Be a Jamaican for a Week’ the ‘Meet the People’ program is not a radical other challenging restrictive economic exchanges. The tourist will have (probably) already purchased their holiday, or travel arrangements, to Jamaica, and only signed-up to ‘Meet the People’ as an additional extra. However, the exchange, or contact zone, created between the tourist and Jamaica is one of a general exchange. This is an important aspects, which suggests ‘Jamaican’ activities, customs, traditions, and life is not (entirely) for sale as a commodity. Instead it can be offered as a gift, and even a gift with a personal characteristic, as the volunteers in the program can provide a personal gift to the tourist rather than a standardised product (e.g. all-inclusive hotels). This characteristic provides one of the key ideas behind Bataille’s notion of the gift, which views intimacy as a crucial component

[1] See Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange (Norfolk: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1974) & Georges Bataille, The Accursed Shared: Vol I translated by Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1991)
[2] Georges Bataille, The Accursed Shared: Vol I p20
[3] Georges Bataille, The Accursed Shared: Vol I p23
[4] Georges Bataille, The Accursed Shared: Vol p22
[5] Georges Bataille, The Accursed Shared: Vol I p22
[6] ‘The sun gives without ever receiving…Solar radiation results in superabundance of energy on the surface of the globe.’ Georges Bataille, The Accursed Shared: Vol I p28-29
[7] Wealth can be more generally defined as having energy to expend and not merely capital wealth, and what is important is how this wealth (i.e. energy) is spent: ‘the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of a system (i.e. organism); if a system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely adsorbed in its growth, it most necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically.’ Georges Bataille, The Accursed Shared: Vol I p21
[8] Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: Vol I p69
[9] Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange p67-69
[10] A engagement ring is an example of a material item taking on symbolic and emotional meaning.
[11] Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange p10
[12] Hardt and Negri argue subsumption is now a total effect, where all social relations are subsumed by capital, see Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Empire (London: Harvard University Press, 2000)
[13] ‘Be a Jamaican for a Week’ Jamaican Tourist Board (, 24th September 2007)
[14] Importantly, the family does need to buy the (additional) food for the guest, but this type of gift-giving is similar to a party where all the drink, food, entertainment and so forth are supplied by the organiser, which makes economic exchange at the party meaningless or relatively unimportant. This means other types of exchanges occur (e.g. communication, music, customs…)
[15] ‘Meet the People’ Jamaican Tourist Board (, 30th September, 2007)
[16] ‘Meet the People’ Jamaican Tourist Board
[17] ‘Meet the People’ Jamaican Tourist Board
[18] ‘Meet the People’ Jamaican Tourist Board (Italics added by myself)
[19] ‘Meet the People’ Jamaican Tourist Board (Italics added by myself)

Deleuze Poll

Hi all,

The new struggles with philosophy poll is up and running. this time I've decided to ask your favourite Gilles Deleuze book. I'm sorry I could not put more of them available to vote on, but there is only a limited space. However, I think I have put the main ones up. Although I would have liked to include the Cinema books.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

the threat of blogs...

I’ve been amusing myself with watching some Bill O’Reilly clips on Youtube. Rather than speak about his style of interviewing or political beliefs, which are most commonly discussed, I was curious about his thoughts on blogs. He basically regarded blogs as where the far left would generate and spread conspiracy theories. What interested me about this point was it demonstrated the broadcast model of the first media age feels threatened by the second media age. What I mean is the ideological interpellation that Althussar identifies becomes difficult as mediums are more participatory and not only Debord’s ‘Society of Spectacle.’ In other words it makes the flowing of a hegemonic discourse more problematic as different mediums enter into everyday life. I found it funny to hear O’Reilly dismiss these blogs, which came across as TV being threatened by the Internet. Also related, it is interesting to note that paper circulation has fallen in the UK and USA. This is not to claim ‘TV is dead’, but rather imply (some) assemblages are in what DeLanda terms as phase transitions. It will be interesting to see how these phase transitions play out, or ‘solidify.’
*The second media age is a concept created by Mark Poster in 1995, which is basically used to argue that ‘new media’ are entering us into a new period.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Political Ontology - living in the web

Larval has written an interesting post about the interconnection of folding and unfolding, or what I understand as metamorphosis. I will not be able to do justice to the contents of the post, which can be read here. In terms of my interest I would like to focus on this section:

But if the fly is nothing but folds or weavings of the web, a product or creation of the web in the robust sense that an origami bird is not other than the paper out of which it is made but is itself continuous with that paper as a topological variation of its substance, then how can creations of the fly be anything but creations, foldings, weavings of the web of social relations? That is, how can they be anything but ways of strengthening the web.

There is great appeal in thinking politically about the point larval is making. This is what I call 'plateau thinking', where a quest for a transcendental signified, or essence, is rejected in preference of accepting immanent existence at this point in time. In other words, we are continual within the middle of a flux (or difference) without a teleological purpose causing the flux. Questions of agency, and transformation, then require focusing on how we can (intensively) fold and unfold that which is already present. Abstraction gives ways to experimentation. An example, which DeLanda uses, is adding fertilizer to the soil in order to help grow crops. Adding a certain amount will be beneficial while passing a certain critical threshold will poison the soil and kill the crops. The relations between the soil, crop, and fertilizer will be strengthened only if the ‘correct’ amount of fertilizer is added to the assemblage. However, this is not implying that the correct amount becomes a law, or atemporal figure. Instead the correct amount is dependent on ontology, which means the soil type/mixture, crop type, ecosystem, fertilizer type/mixture…would all be (quasi)causal interconnected dynamical factors.

The difficulty, and danger, of this type of thinking, which gives preference to ontology, is experimentation offers no promises or guarantees. This is because the web is all interconnect and open to other (cosmic) forces. For example, the field (i.e. territory) containing the soil, crops, and fertilizer may be destroyed from a weather system. In this sense the field has been opened too much to the forces of detteritorialisation. Deleuze and Guattari realize this factor and throughout warn against excessive openness and practices:

There in fact botching the BwO: either on fails to produce it, or one produces it more or less, but nothing is produced on it, intensities do not pass or are blocked. This is because the BwO is always swinging between the surfaces that stratify it and the plane that sets it free. If you free it with too violent an action, if you blow apart the strata without taking precautions, then instead of drawing the plane you will be killed, plunged into a black hole, or even dragged toward catastrophe (A Thousand Plateaus, p178).

The political impetus then is to focus on how experimentation can occur within the web, which will fold and unfold the web, without risking excessive detteritorialisation, and can instead strengthen the web.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A brief thought on the culture industry

‘Those listening to light music are depoliticised’ (p55)

For Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer media technologies are regarded as part of the culture industry. The development of mass media, such as radio and television, has served the ideological purposes of capitalism. Rather than class antagonisms causing a dialectical conflict within society the masses are pacified through the culture industry. A master-slave dialectic is created where the culture industry (master) dominates the masses (slave) through the commodification of all cultural products. Crucially Adorno believes the culture industry is an attack on freedom through standardisation; ‘It [the culture industry] proclaims: you shall conform…The power of the culture’s industry’s ideology is such conformity has replaced consciousness.’ (p104). Individual freedom (consciousness) is lost as the masses conform to the purchasing of cultural products produce by the culture industry (e.g. going to the cinema). Adorno approach to media analysis would be to understand how the serve the ideological purpose of the culture industry.

Adorno’s concept of the culture industry ought to be admired for two reasons. The first is for the recognition that media should not be detached from the economic situation. Products, which are part of the culture industry, are ‘tailored for consumption.’ (p99). The second is his argument that the media can produce, or at least alter, (popular) culture. In other words, media companies and industries serve as an important aspect of understanding the production of culture.
However, Adorno’s concept of the culture industry fails on three accounts. The first is his argument that media, as part of the culture, creates a depolitical population. This negative and simplistic account removes any political potential media technologies may offer society. The second, and related to the first, is Adorno’s separation between the media and the masses. For him the media works through a broadcast model where there is a distinction between producers and consumers. This position seems untenable in the second media age (see Poster, 1995) where there are multiple producers and consumers. The consumers are no longer only consumers, but also producers. In this sense the distinction between the media and the masses is lost as it becomes entangled into an integrated relationship. The individual is now an active participant in the decentred technologies of new media. Another problem is Adorno and Horkheimer claim there is only one culture industry. My belief is this forms a top-down approach that fails to account for the specific types of cultural industries. Transformations within the culture industry, as emergent properties, are relatively unimportant for Adorno and Horkheimer as these only serve to further the dominance of the culture industry. For example, counter or sub-cultures are disregarded through failing to move beyond capitalism and being consumed by the culture industry. My belief is these alterations within the culture industry are important for transforming the coexistence and relations of the ‘masses’ with each other. While they may fail to transcend the limits of capital they can generate important transformations.
*All references are from T.W. Adorno 'The Culture Industry' (London: Routledge, 2001)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Habermas Wins

Habermas, i think deservedly, won, with 35% of the votes. While I have never been drawn to his project(s), and view his separation of the lifeworld troublesome, I can understand why his work is one of the greats in 20th century thought. I also admire his effort to save the project of modernity and enlightenment.

My vote went to Walter Benjamin. Maybe this is because i situate myself in media studies, and Benjamin was able to consider how the 'medium is the message'. In addition, he avoided the high humanist critique of media seen in the work of Adorno and Horkheimer. While not being uncritical of mechanical, or film, (re)production, Benjamin could argue there were beneficial circumstances to this development.

I am undecided what the next poll will be, but I'll post it in a few days.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


just a short comment, but how cool does DeLanda make materialism without relating it only to political economy.

Before reading Deleuze and DeLanda I think i was in the idealist mindset, only because i thought materialism could not answer questions about social constructivism. However, the materialism that DeLanda produces from Deleuze helps to avoid a lot of idealism and put the focus on ontology before thought/beliefs.

Here are a links to the lectures.

I also think DeLanda's reading of Deleuze should avoid people thinking his philosophy is postmodern. If anything Deleuze is the most realist thinker i have ever come across.