The Baker’s Dozen: The Presence of the Gift in Service Encounters

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This paper explores whether or not Marcel Mauss’s concept of the gift is applicable to understanding the diverse roles that ethnographers assume in corporate environments. Kneading together the themes of gift exchange from anthropological literature on the one hand and “Representations” from the participatory design research community on the other; we suggest that the artifacts we create and share with customers actually evoke the presence of the gift in customer interactions. We argue that specific types of representations - a key component in our methodological toolkit - may be likened to the thirteenth loaf in the baker’s dozen; given to the customer to demonstrate equitable partnerships, enhance communication and garner trust in a perpetually changing marketplace. Using case studies, we examine how these objects illuminate the complexity of our own sociality in professional settings and furthermore, help to deepen or transform customer service engagements.

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