Commodity, gift and mass-gift: On gift-commodity hybrids in advanced mass consumption cultures

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While 'gifts' and 'commodities' as theoretically distinct forms of circulation are central to economic sociology and anthropology, we argue that in practice they are often hybridized. Inspired by Bruno Latour's work, we first describe the use in supermarkets and chain stores of one hybrid category, the mass-gift, which is neither a commodity nor a gift. Through our empirical investigation of sales interactions we critically describe the emergence of a vibrant mass-gift economy in which the meaning of 'gifts' and 'commodities' as well as their hybrid forms is infused with ambiguity which is strategically played out by agentive social actors throughout the sales process. We suggest going beyond depictions of mass-gifting as merely a calculative strategy for promoting sales. Instead, we illustrate how mass-gifting establishes a relational space in which actors can negotiate the ambivalence of the cultural script of the 'gift': they can re-qualify the seller-buyer relationship as a socially binding one; and they can use the ambiguity infused into the notion of the mass-gift to express economic might and generate symbolic as well as material gains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-325
Number of pages22
JournalEconomy and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2009


  • Gift-commodity hybridization
  • Marketing
  • Mass consumption
  • Mass-gifts
  • Sales interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Social Sciences (all)


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