Gifts and Commodities: Exchange and Western Capitalism Since 1700

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Routledge, 1995 - Social Science - 240 pages
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Three hundred years ago people made most of what they used, or got it in trade from their neighbors. Now, no one seems to make anything of their own, and we buy what we need from shops. Gifts and Commoditiesdescribes the cultural and historical process of these changes and looks at the rise of consumer society in Britain and in the United States. James G. Carrier investigates the ways that people think about and relate to objects in 20th century culture, how thoses relationships have developed, and the social meanings they have for relations with others.

The book analyzes the distinctions between impersonal objects and personal possessions, and investigates the changes in common forms of production and consumption in Britain and the U.S. since the 18th century. Carrier argues that because of these changes in the common experience of objects, people have come to see objects as more impersonal so that to use objects as a means of strengthening social ties, they must be invested with social meaning and personal identity.

Drawing on anthropological and sociological perspectives to describe the importance of shopping and gift giving in our lives and in present-day Western economies, Gifts and Commoditiestraces the development of shopping and retailing practices, and the emergence of modern notions of objects and the self. Carrier brings together a wealth of information on the history of production and of retail trade, creating a fully interdisciplinary study of the links we forge between ourselves, our social groups and the commodities we buy and give.

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About the author (1995)

James G. Carrier teaches at the University of Durham.

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