Gift systems and the divine economy of the poor
AuthorAppau, Samuelson Kwabena
AffiliationMelbourne Business School
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is currently unavailable from this repository
© 2016 Dr. Samuelson Kwabena Appau
Full text file is embargoed and will be available to Staff and Students of the University of Melbourne on 20-10-2019
Gift giving constitutes a significant phenomenon in consumer research. However, the current literature does not address gift giving within religious contexts. Yet more than half of the world’s consumers are religious and billions of dollars are donated annually to religious organizations. What factors drive such high and committed gifting to religious institutions and their members? Do religious gifting practices conform to the same gifting practices as more secular gift exchanges? Additionally, the gift giving literature in consumer research does not give much consideration to contexts of scarcity. There exists a gap in understanding pertaining to gift exchanges among low-income consumers and/or consumers in low-resource contexts. Do the same exchange practices, norms of reciprocity, and relations govern gift exchanges where resources are low (versus high), and hence the amount of personal sacrifice in a gifting situation is high (versus low)? This thesis addresses these questions by investigating gift giving to religious bodies within contexts of scarce economic resources. Specifically, I investigate the practice of monetary donations to churches among low-income consumers. The research question problematizes the practice of monetary donations by low-income consumers, which has significant economic implications for their livelihoods. Making monetary donations to the church infers sacrificing significant portions of income that would otherwise have been spent on food, health care, and clothing for these low-income consumers and their families. However, this practice remains widespread in very religious contexts despite the economic implications on the consumers’ livelihood. I therefore sought to understand the nature, meanings, and outcomes of church donations among low-income consumers. To investigate this agenda, I undertook a five-month ethnographic study of Salvation Baptist Church (SBC), a small Pentecostal/Charismatic Church (PCCs) in Ghana, whose members were mostly poor. I chose PCCs as my context because they advance a distinct Prosperity Gospel theology that encourages church donations in return for material prosperity. My findings revealed seventeen different donation funds within SBC, which had complex and intricate donation rituals and meaning. Building upon these seventeen donation funds and their practices in SBC, I theorize the divine economy of the poor. The divine economy presents a system of community, institutional, and divine gift systems overseen by the overarching hand of God, as understood in Pentecostal theology and ideology. In this divine economy, I trace various forms of consumer gift exchanges and rituals built around social solidarity, institutional impersonality, and religious sacrifice. However, the divine economy also produces church and personal moral obligations that often conflict. Due to their low incomes, informants sometimes struggle to give to the church and also provide for themselves and their families. In response, consumers in this divine economy adopt many tactics, afforded by the indeterminacy of Pentecostal theology, to negotiate these conflicts, without leaving the divine economy. This thesis contributes to the understanding of gift systems, and the role of religious ideology and poverty in gift exchanges and consumer resource circulation. Implications for consumer research, marketing practice, and church management are discussed.
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