The Gift Economy and the Development of Sustainability

Niels Thygesen*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article contends that a new perspective on the economy – a gift economy – would be beneficial to the development of sustainability. The principles and practices of the gift economy (giving, receiving and reciprocating) are exemplified by a case study of the Danish island of Samsø, which has used it to achieve environmental sustainability, improve its economic situation and generate social value. In order to illustrate the values and principles that underpin the gift economy, the article shows the underlying exchange mechanisms used in this modern version of ‘gift-giving’ and contrasts them to using money as the medium of exchange. One of the mainstays of the gift economy is the willingness and obligation to reciprocate, and the case study highlights some of the original ways of organising that have emerged from the gift economy on Samsø and how significantly they differ from organising and managing by budgets. As such, the article attempts to reframe the understanding of the economy and, in particular, to qualify and illustrate the potential of the organising principles behind the gift economy and encourage readers to conduct further research and engage in initiatives that will make a positive contribution to the development of sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLocal Economy
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)493-509
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Published online: October 23, 2019


  • Gift economy
  • Public value
  • Socio-economics
  • Sustainability
  • Systems theory

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