Local exchange through community currency in an alternative gift economy : an anthropological analysis of the Cape Town talent exchange

Coetzee, Liezl (2010-12)

Thesis (MPhil (Sociology and Social Anthropology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The Internet has long stimulated thought and discussion around the idea of an alternative economy based on reciprocal exchange. To date, however, the benefits of this gift economy have been largely limited to the realms of cyberspace. Despite the dramatic changes in social interaction and exchanges facilitated by online networking, and the evolution of what may be referred to as a ‘high-tech gift economy’, the potential of the Internet to really revolutionize economic systems has been limited, as the gifting involved did not extend beyond the realms of cyberspace. By contrast to this global, virtual, gift economy that has developed online, this thesis explores the way in which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), traditionally renowned for enhancing global reach, can be used to build and strengthen local exchange systems using community currencies. The research focuses specifically on the emergence of an alternative online currency, the Community Exchange System (CES), which originated in Cape Town towards the end of 2002, and has since spread to be used by 218 exchanges in 29 countries. Particular attention is paid to the pilot exchange that was launched in Cape Town, namely the Cape Town Talent Exchange (CTTE). The thesis proposes that web-based community currencies can provide an alternative to the current economic system, allowing for a relationship-centred approach to exchange that can be likened to a type of gift economy, centred on the principle of reciprocity, and fostering a spirit of abundance over scarcity. By doing so it is proposed that what Karl Polanyi (1944) referred to as the ‘great transformation’ of the 20th century, characterised by a shift in emphasis from human relationships to market price mechanisms, may be reversed in the ‘network society’ (Castells, 1996), in which principles of reciprocity and gift exchange are re-embedded in ‘relationship economics’ (Deragon, 2007). Part A provides a review of literature pertaining to online anthropology and the concept of a reciprocal gift ‘e-conomy’, the social dimension of economics, and the theory of ‘money’ and alternative currencies. Part B provides an overview of research findings pertaining to the CES as example of an alternative community currency operating a web-based platform, beginning with an introductory overview of the CES and CTTE, followed by a look at issues pertaining to reciprocity, and speculation on possible futures for this and similar web-based community currency systems.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die Internet prikkel al lank idees en gesprekke oor ‘n alternatiewe ekonomie gebaseer op, ‘geskenk-handel’. Tot dusver is die voordele van hierdie ’geskenk-ekonomie’ egter beperk tot die dimensies van die kuber-ruimte. Ondanks dramatiese veranderinge in sosiale verkeer, uitruil en handel wat deur die aanlyn-netwerke bewerkstellig is, en die evolusie van wat as ‘high-tech geskenk ekonomie‘ beskryf kan word, was die potensiaal van die Internet om werklik ekonomiese sisteme om te keer, beperk. In teenstelling met die globale, virtuele geskenk/uitruil-ekonomie wat aanlyn ontwikkel het, ondersoek hierdie tesis die manier waarop Informasie en Kommunikasie Tegnologieë, tradisioneel bekend vir hul globale reikwydte, gebruik kan word om plaaslike uitruilsisteme te bou en te versterk. Die navorsing lê klem op die ontstaan van ‘n alternatiewe aanlyn-geldeenheidsisteem, die Gemeenskaps Uitruil Sisteem (‘Community Exchange System’ CES), wat aan die einde van 2002 in Kaapstad ontstaan het. Dit het sedertdien uitgebrei na 218 uitruilskemas in 29 lande. Spesiale aandag val op die loods uitruilskema wat in Kaapstad begin is, te wete die Cape Town Talent Exchange (CTTE) (Kaapstadse Talent Uitruilskema) Die verhandeling voer aan dat ‘n web-gebaseerde gemeenskapmark ‘n alternatiewe ekonomiese sisteem kan teweegbring. Dit kan lei tot ‘n benadering tot uitruil wat verhoudings-gesentreerd is, vergelykbaar met ‘n soort geskenk-ekonomie wat toegespits is op die beginsel van wederkerigheid. So kan ‘n oorvloed-bewustheid, pleks van skaarsheidsbewustheid bevorder word. Dit word aangevoer dat dit waarna Karl Polanyi (1944) as die ‘Groot Transformasie’ van die 20ste eeu verwys het, gekarakteriseer deur ‘n klemverskuiwing van menslike verhoudings na markgedrewe meganismes, kan terug verander na ‘n ‘netwerk-gemeenskap’ (Castells, 1996). Hierin is die beginsels van wederkerigheid en geskenk-uitruil ingebed in 'n tipe ‘verhoudings-ekonomie’ (Deragon, 2007). Deel A gee ‘n oorsig van die literatuur oor aanlynantropologie en die konsep van ‘n wederkerige geskenk ‘e-ekonomie’, die sosiale dimensie van ekonomie, en die teorie van ‘geld’ en alternatiewe betaalmiddele. Deel B gee ‘n oorsig van navorsingbevindings ten opsigte van die CES en CTTE as voorbeeld van ‘n alternatiewe gemeenskapsbetaalmetode wat van ‘n webgebaseerde platform gebruik maak. Dit word, gevolg deur opmerkings oor wederkerigheid (en) spekulasie oor die moontlike toekoms daarvan en van soortgelyke Internet-gebaseerde gemeenskapsbetaalsisteme.

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