Genevieve Vaughan (1939) is an American expatriate semiotician, peace activist, feminist, and philanthropist, whose ideas and work have been influential in the intellectual movements around the Gift Economy and Matriarchal Studies. Her support also contributed heavily to the development of the global women’s movement.
In 1991, Vaughan published “The Gift Economy,” an essay in Ms. (magazine) She began to give talks and workshops on the Gift Economy; but it was not until 1997 that the first edition of her first major work came out, titled For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange. The book draws primarily upon semiotic concepts but also on psychological and economic ideas. A revised and expanded edition was issued in 2002. The book has been translated into multiple languages, including Spanish, Italian, German, Turkish, and Albanian.
Since closing her foundation, Vaughan has returned to live part-time in Italy. Both there and in Texas, she has written steadily, publishing in academic journals and popular magazines, and delivering papers at academic conferences on semiotics, gift economics, and women's studies. She has been an active proponent of two scholarly fields that have emerged from Women's Studies: Motherhood Studies, and Modern Matriarchal Studies. Since For-Giving, her major works include Women and the Gift Economy: A radically different worldview is possible (2007) (edited), and Homo Donans (web book). With the term homo donans, she posits that humans are not primarily the wise species (homo sapiens) nor the exchange species (homo economicus) but the unilaterally gift-giving species, which has been distorted by the practice of exchange, money and the market.
Vaughan’s contributions to the scholarship of the gift economy include the centrality of mothering (sometimes called parenting, care, or nurturing) in the structure of language and in the formation of the gift paradigm at the individual and societal level. She highlights the concept that patriarchal capitalist cultures are parasitic upon the unilateral gift-giving of mothers and nature. Many of her concepts are succinctly summarized in "Shifting the Paradigm to a Maternal Gift Economy," a paper she delivered at the Women's Worlds international interdisciplinary women's studies conference in Ottawa in 2011. In 2015, Vaughan released the book The Gift in the Heart of Language: The Maternal Source of Meaning (Mimesis International, 2015). In this book, Vaughan cites recent infant psychology research to strengthen her epistemological argument that the mother-child experience is the key paradigm for the structure of both verbal and material communication. Among the characteristics of this paradigm are the central value attributed to the receivers of gifts, and the community-building aspect of both verbal and material gifts. Vaughan criticizes patriarchal, capitalist monetization of gift-giving into a measurable forced exchange, calling it an expropriation of the psychological mechanism of parent-child interaction.
The release of the book was accompanied by a conference on The Maternal Roots of the Gift Economy in Rome in April 2015.
Visit her website to learn more at www.gift-economy.com.