Fri Jan 7, 2011

Viviana Zelizer on gifts of money

Here’s a very nice Op-Ed from Viviana Zelizer on what (if I remember rightly) Michel Callon once described as the central question that animates her thinking in economic sociology: can one give money as a gift?

The key to the problem, early 20th-century gift-givers found, was to camouflage money inside a traditional gift. This took effort and it had nothing to do with efficiency, but it enabled people to elevate the gift of cash. … Nostalgic traditionalists and hard-nosed realists both get it wrong. For over a century, Americans have been demonstrating remarkable ingenuity in turning money into meaningful personal gifts. Let’s keep it up. Next year, perhaps take a lesson from the pages of The Ladies’ Home Journal and hide cash in a gift of your own creation.