Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Rethinking saving: Indian ceremonial gifts as relational and reproductive saving

Article in the Journal of Cultural Economy by Isabelle Guérin, IRD-CESSMA, Paris, France; Govindan Venkatasubramanian & Santosh Kumar, French Institute of Pondicherry, Pondicherry, India

Dalit Marriage Ceremony from a peri-urban village.
Photo credit: Santosh Kumar


Economic anthropology has long advocated a broader vision of savings than that proposed by economists. This article extends this redefinitional effort by examining ceremonial gifts in India and arguing that they are a specific form of savings. Rural households, including those at the bottom of the pyramid, do save, in the sense of storing, accumulating and circulating value. But this takes place via particular forms of mediation that allow savers to forge or maintain social and emotional relations, to keep control over value – what matters in people’s lives – and over spaces and their own future. We propose terming these practices relational and reproductive saving, insofar as their main objective is to sustain life across generations. By contrast, trying to encourage saving via bank mediation may dispossess populations of control over their wealth, their socialisation, their territories and their time. In an increasingly financialised world of evermore aggressive policies to push people into financial inclusion, the social, symbolic, cultural and political aspects of diverse forms of financial mediation deserve our full attention.

Notebook for a Tamil puberty ceremony, Manjal Neerattu Vizha.
Photo credit: Isabelle Guérin  

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