An Institutional Economics of Gift? 

Paolo Silvestri (University of Torino)
Stefan Kesting (University of Leeds)

Abstract

We will try to show the potential of a research perspective that we have tentatively called an Institutional Economics of Gift (IEG). For this purpose, we dwell on two key issues that any nascent research perspective is expected to address: the subject matter and the method. Without any claim to exhaustiveness, the subject matter of an IEG will be explored through the analysis of three important forms of institutionalized gift-giving: the welfare state, the third sector, and the percentage philanthropy tax scheme. All of them raise the issue: to what extent gift-giving can be institutionalized and even legally enforced without losing some of its characteristics such as spontaneity, freedom and/or voluntariness? Moreover, this investigation points to the need to reflect more on the relationship between obligation and freedom as well as to go beyond the State/Market dichotomy. Methods will be explored by addressing the question: which methodological approaches are most suitable for an IEG? Methodology is a contentious issue between Original Institutional Economics and New Institutional Economics. However, both approaches, New Institutional Economics implicitly and Original Institutional Economics explicitly, tend to rely on qualitative and mixed empirical research methods. Particular emphasis is placed on anthropology and ethnography.

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