Gift as Ritual in the German Democratic Republic, 1949-1989

Instrument of Domination and Everyday Practices
By Sandrine Kott

While working on the archives of eight firms located in Berlin, I was struck by the frequent use of an official rhetoric and practice of gift which led me to study it as a ritual in practice. I first analyzed how the gift was constructed as a founding political ritual in which every citizen was seen as an eternal debtor with regard to dead communist heroes. To that extent, gift as a ritual could be seen as a tool to justify and reinforce the power of the party. Gift giving was also part of the socialist utopia, which was officially based upon solidarity and fraternity. To that extent, it could appeal to Christian values and at the same time meet informal and common practices in an economy of shortage. While being a shared value and practice, gift giving could, in the everyday life, play the role of a civilizing process, transforming German people into socialist citizens.

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