Human Studies

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 393–409 | Cite as

Bourdieu and Derrida on Gift: Beyond “Double Truth” and Paradox

  • Camil Ungureanu
Theoretical / Philosophical Paper


Bourdieu and Derrida share a focus on the ambiguity of the practice of gift relationships already pointed out by Mauss. From Bourdieu’s perspective, the question of gratuity is epistemically futile, as it veils the objective truth of gift-giving, yet ethically and politically relevant, as it refers to a hypocrisy which can be instrumental to enhancing civic virtue and solidarity. Bourdieu’s “scientific humanism,” however, implausibly reduces this ambiguity to interest maximization, and aims to build a solidaristic democracy by means of the generalization of the hypocrisy of gratuity. In turn, by interpreting gratuity as “unconditionality,” Derrida aims not at dissolving, but at dramatizing the ambiguity of gift relationships by turning it into “madness” and an “impossible possibility”. Whereas I agree with Derrida’s insistence on the salience of the requirement of gratuity, his approach can lead to counterintuitive and hubristic consequences. Instead, I suggest some elements of an alternative way of understanding gratuitous gifts as communicative acts irreducible to an economic calculation or circle. From this standpoint, a gratuitous gift can be constituted by certain forms of recognition, emotions, or convictions without for that becoming an “impossibility”.


Gift Gratuity Paradox Bourdieu Derrida Communicative act 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departament de Ciències Polítiques i SocialsUniversitat Pompeu FabraBarcelonaSpain

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