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Actual and potential gifts: Critique, shadow gift relations and the virtual domain of the ungiven

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    Rights statement: The final version of this paper has been published in Anthropological Theory, 19 January 2020, by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © Jacob Copeman, Dwaipayan Banerjee, 2019. It is available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1463499619894426

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Original languageEnglish
JournalAnthropological Theory
Early online date19 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Jan 2020


What is given may be evaluated in relation to what might have been given but was not. The central thematic of this essay is what we term the shadow gift relation (as distinct from the more standard anthropological gift relation among exchange partner dyads) between the gift that is given and that which remains ungiven -- with the latter, both present and not present, coming to haunt and unsettle the former. The potential of the gift is key for it is intimately related to critique: we explore how the relation between the virtual ungiven and what is actually given may come to form the basis of social criticism. This essay, then, defines a kind of ‘keeping while giving’ that is related to but different from that famously elaborated by Annette Weiner, for what is kept back, in the cases we discuss in this essay, are virtual (imagined) forms of gift. Giving is a technology of the imagination because it is a process which precipitates the imagination of a relation between an actual gift and a double that is virtual but nonetheless real because it exists in the form of a manifold of potentials for how the gift could be.

    Research areas

  • critique, temporality, gift, potential, philanthropy, charity, hauntology, shadow gift relation

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