Journal Article

IDS Bulletin 37.6

The Power of the Gift and the New Aid Modalities

Published on 1 November 2006

This article looks at official international aid through the conceptual lenses of gift theory, with a case study of how the power of the gift shapes the meanings and social practices of aid, including the new aid modalities that involve budget support rather than projects.

In so doing, I draw on Bourdieu’s argument that social actors draw on the vocabulary of one set of rules and norms to explain a social practice that follows quite different principles, principles that they conceal even from themselves, while at the same time having practical (tacit or unexamined) knowledge as to how to follow these (Bourdieu 1990).

My aim is to reveal to such practitioners that they are following the principles of the giving and receiving of gifts, albeit they couch their behaviour in terms of either exchanging contracts or delivering/demanding entitlements. I suggest they do this because this allows them to evade a conscious scrutiny of the operations of power in aid relationships.

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IDS Bulletin 37.6

Cite this publication

Eyben, R. (2006) The Power of the Gift and the New Aid Modalities. IDS Bulletin 37(6): 88-98

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Rosalind Eyben

Emeritus Fellow


Rosalind Eyben

Emeritus Fellow

Publication details

published by
Eyben, Rosalind
R. Eyben, C. Harris and J. Pettit
IDS Bulletin, volume 37, issue 6


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