Gifts, Bribes, and Guanxi: A Reconsideration of Bourdieu's Social Capital

Essay Excerpt

I will suggest in this article that Bourdieu's project offers an extremely fruitful way of looking at the interactions of social life; however, the particular ways in which he has defined and utilized the conceptual apparatus of capitals are beset by ambiguity and a danger of collapse into economic reductionism. The "capital-in-general" that includes the diverse forms is easily criticized as no more than a "weak figure of speech" (DiMaggio 1979:1467), so vague as to be more confusing than analytically productive. I undertake in this article a reconceptualization of these terms that increases their analytic utility in order to facilitate the study of economies of practices.'

This conceptual task will be pursued through an exploration of a classic topic in anthropology: the nature of the gift and its differences from other forms of exchange. I will suggest that the character of gift exchange can be better understood by paying attention to the processes that constitute the gift as a form of exchange by maintaining boundaries with other forms of exchange: specifically, market exchange and a form of exchange that has been neglected in anthropology - the bribe. This exploration will be based on fieldwork on foreign investment in the People's Republic of China, where the prestation of gifts and the payment of bribes are central components of the establishment of capitalist relations of production, supplemented by the analysis of contributions to the study of guanxi (social connections) (389).

Smart, Alan. "Gifts, Bribes, and Guanxi: A Reconsideration of Bourdieu's Social Capital." Cultural Anthropology 8.3(1993): 388–408.

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