In gift societies, gifts are indexes of sociability that give meaning to what is happening as it happens. Or in other words, they were pre-monetary contingent claims and obligations, i.e., prototypes of a derivative. In gift societies gifts are always “commensurated” by the later return of “counter-gifts”; people and groups build up “portfolios” of social claims and obligations, which need to be maintained and exercised before they begin to lose their value. Since these claims and obligations are often overlapping, and involve different payoffs and expirations, there is an “art” to giving and receiving gifts that lie at the heart of “primitive economies”; these systems of exchange become elaborated into inter-tribal cultural economies such in the kula of the Trobriands or the potlatch of the Kwakiutal, to name two of the more famous examples. In other words, instead of the exchange of objects that were thought to be independent of their “owners” (alienable exchange), in gift societies the objects exchanged were integral parts of relationships with others, a part of yourself or spirit that circulated among consociates and kin (or even enemies as in the case of witchcraft). In the famous Kula ring, Kula valuables were circulated for purposes of accruing status and prestige and sharply distinguished from objects that could be bartered and exchanged. Kula valuables did not serve any economic function but rather established the framework of meaning for its participating societies, which consisted of eighteen relatively isolated island communities held together by networks of differential status. The circulating valuables established framework of status and prestige that modulated a social system of affects and emotions that encompassed the whole Kula despite its dispersed populations—both the consociates who lived on the same island and those whom one might never meet—a precursor to the “stranger mediation” of modern societies in which the people that make up a social collectivity may never know or have contact with one another. While Marx’s money dialectic gave a picture that started with simple exchange and ended with money as mediating a totality of value that it created, his comments about alienability indicate mistakenly that the precursor to money as a medium of exchange and store of value would be the “alienable” objects circulated via barter and exchange, and not Kula valuables or their inalienable counterparts in gift societies. Marx even states that the “exchange of commodities begins where communities have their boundaries, at their points of contact with other communities” and only work inwards from the margins. Since gift givers and takers were not seen as independent of the social relationships in which they were embedded, anthropologists of India and Melanesia developed the term “dividuals” (which Deleuze independently coined) to contrast with the autonomous “individuals” of capitalism. In such societies, “gifts” would not function as medium of exchange or unit of account, but rather as indices of sociability that give meaning to what is happening as it happens. In the case of the Kula, the circulating valuables keep the Kula operating by creating a shared framework of status and prestige across the island communities that ranks and aligns the various groups and determines the appropriate social relations between them, including those in barter. The flow of affective sentiments subsumes the economic by defining the social groups that barter and exchange. For more, see Benjamin Lee (2019): Token as a derivative and a gift.

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