Bourdieu's gift to gift theory: An unacknowledged trajectory

Ilana F. Silber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


This article offers to unravel lines of both continuity and change in Bourdieu's repeated return to the topic of the gift throughout his intellectual career. While this periodical revisiting of the gift may seem at first like mere repetition, a closer reading reveals three successive and cumulative phases in his gift theory, each adding a new layer of analytical and normative inflections. Emerging from these three phases is a trajectory marked by systematic theoretical consolidation but also growing dilemmas and inner tensions, even to the point of self-contradiction: starting from a critical debunking of the disinterested gift as sincere but obfuscating fiction, it culminates with a positive, prescriptive valorization of disinterestedness as something which needs be cultivated in our very own times. Challenging his vision, as it were, "from within," these inner tensions and developments amount to an intriguing, inverted case of Bourdieu's own idea of "double truth," all the more significant since it pertains to a topic that he defined as playing a paradigmatic function in his general theoretical approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-190
Number of pages18
JournalSociological Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2009


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