Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Mardi Gras: A Gift Economy


Cite this article:

2015 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918.

To residents of New Orleans, there is a special brand of pageantry and community surrounding the Mardi Gras ritual. At the center of it all are Parades—the heartbeat of Mardi Gras. Each Krewe (social club) puts on a huge parade sometime during Carnivale Season. They each have their own personality, costumes and “throws”. Throws can be as simple as the iconic beads we all know, or elaborate handcrafted items that are highly sought after prizes.

During parades, a strange thing happens—objects that have little commercial value become incredibly valuable, even for a few moments. People jockey for position to catch beads, toys, custom medallions, and above all the prized throws of each Krewe. There is a whole system of value attached to each parade, which the city celebrates. We will explore how the gift economy of the Mardi Gras parade unites old and young, and bridges racial boundaries in a shared ritual.

Hal Phillips and his partner Meg Kinney founded Bad Babysitter, a business ethnography firm based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Combining principles of the social sciences, documentary filmmaking, and business acumen, Bad Babysitter helps businesses and organizations grow by becoming more empathetic to the people they serve.