Maternal Gift Economy: Breaking Through -
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Maternal Gift Economy Movement - Salon #33 - Marx, the Market and the Mother - Part 2 - A Discussion

May 21, 2022

Featuring Genevieve Vaughan, Ana Isla and Angela Miles

Moderated by Letecia Layson

Genevieve Vaughan

Marx opens his famous treatise on the economy Das Kapital, with the analysis of the interaction of the exchange of commodities and money. He reveals how this simple interaction that we do every day, is in fact the center point of a social fabric that determines our lives in many ways. It both connects and divides us, making space for and giving rise to distorted (patriarchal) power relations, poverty of the many as well as extreme wealth for the few, while at the same time emphasizing 'equality'.

The importance of this analysis of such a commonplace fact, has taken some time to dawn even upon Marxist scholars but took a leap forward with the recognition of the work of Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who showed that as our ubiquitous 'social nexus', commodity exchange for money is an abstraction in reality and that it gives rise to abstract thinking. For example the Kantian categories are not apriori but come from the practice of 'real abstraction' in exchange. This possibility has been a focus of much discussion recently by philosophers like Zizeck, Heinrich, Postone, Lotz and many others as well as the classicist Richard Seaford who sees the coinage of money as the basis of Ancient Greek philosophy.

In this talk I will show that there is another, prior social nexus that is much more widespread than commodity exchange, the nexus of the maternal gift, which has been hidden and forced into the background by the market, but nevertheless persists unacknowledged and un named as the source of positive human interaction, of communication, of language and even of profit itself.

Thinking about the market always begins from exchange and does not see the deeper source as the unilateral gift economy and the human relations constructed within it. This is in part due to the invisible parasitic relation of the market upon gifting, a relation that is facilitated by (hiding it) and by misogyny, patriarchy and the penalization of childhood and mothering. Bringing the social nexus of the maternal gift economy into the light allows us to see that commodity exchange is only one variation upon it, a conditional gift, quid pro quo- not the logic or the source of our humanity.

In fact the cause of Earth's problems now is this nexus of exchange that we must somehow diminish and even eliminate in order to give the gift of a solution to the terrible problems that patriarchal capitalism is causing for all on Mother Earth.


Genevieve Vaughan (b.1939) is an independent researcher who lives part time in Italy and part in Texas. She created the multicultural all-woman activist Foundation for a Compassionate Society (1987-2005) and the Temple of Sekhmet in the Nevada desert (1992 – ongoing) and she co-created the network: International Feminists for a Gift Economy (2001 – ongoing). Her books are For-Giving, a Feminist Criticism of Exchange (1997), Homo Donans (2006) and The Gift in the Heart of Language: the Maternal Source of Meaning (2015). She has edited Il Dono/The Gift (2004), Women and the Gift Economy (2007) and The Maternal Roots of the Gift Economy (2019). A volume of the Canadian Women’s Studies Journal dedicated to the maternal gift economy has just appeared (2020)

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Ana Isla

Presentation topic: Marx, Ecology, and Ecofeminism

The point of departure of traditional Marxism theory is the contradiction between capitalist productive forces and production relations, The agent of the socialist revolution was the working class. The site of transformation is politics and the state and the process of production and exchange. Marx did not theorize the relationship between social and material dimensions of production conditions.

The point of departure for an “Ecological Marxism” theory is the contradiction between capitalist production relations (and productive forces) and the conditions of capitalist production.” The critical mass are the “new social movements” such as Socialist Ecofeminism (SE).

SE has long considered issues of unpaid and community work, women’s and nature’s work as foundational to economic growth. They introduce a historically grounded socio-economic element to the woman/ecology analysis, attending to environmental issues which particularly affect all economically disadvantaged women but particularly women from Third World Countries, women of colour, and the working poor.


Ana Isla is a Professor Emerita from the Department of Sociology and the Centre for Women and Gender Studies, Brock University, Canada.

Author of The "Greening" of Costa Rica: Women, Peasant, Indigenous People and the Remaking of Nature, (Toronto University Press, 2015); and the editor of Climate Chaos: Ecofeminism and the Land Question (Inanna Publications & Education Inc., Toronto, 2019). She authored several articles on extractivism in English, Spanish, and Portuguez.

Angela Miles

Angela Miles is a founding member of Toronto Women for a Just and Healthy Planet, Antigonish Women's Association, Feminist Network for a Gift Economy and a member of the editorial board of Canadian Woman Studies. She is Professor Emerita at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto where she co-founded the International Women’s Human Rights Education Summer Institute. Her publications include, Integrative Feminisms: Building Global Visions and the edited collection Women in a Globalizing World: Transforming Equality, Development, Diversity and Peace.

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