symbolic exchange

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Jean Baudrillard's theory for a model of exchange which existed prior to capitalism in which goods and actions that have no intrinsic value are exchanged for purely symbolic reasons. It is like a performative, in this respect, because it is the fact of the exchange being made that is socially significant in symbolic exchange, not the nature of substance of what is exchanged. In so-called ‘primitive’ societies, exchanges had to be made in a way that did not obligate the receiver to reciprocate and thus incur a debt. The perfect gift was therefore a ‘useless’ or purely symbolic gift. When the gift is symbolic in itself, or useful, then symbolic exchange is extinguished and the twin motors of capitalism—exchange-value and use-value—take its place.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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