Can Napster Help Create Social Solidarities?

In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, Marcus Giesler argues that peer-to-peer file-sharing systems such as Lime Wire, Napster and Acquisition have much in common with gift giving, and like gift-giving creates social solidarities, but unlike it, is not restricted to dyadic relationships. An earlier version of the paper can be found here.

Although originally conceptualized in classic anthropological and sociological studies as a fundamental social system (e.g., Mauss [1925] 1990), gift giving in the consumer literature has been traditionally conceived of as an aggregate of dyadic gift exchange rituals…As a consequence, some of the most important sociological dimensions of consumer gift giving have remained unexplored.

To redress this key theoretical oversight, I develop the notion of consumer gift system, a system of social solidarity based on a structured set of gift exchange and social relationships among consumers. The empirical context of my study is the Napster music file-sharing network. I use five years of netnographic data to show how Napster’s consumer gift system transcends the dyadic structures, and the motivations and actions of individual gifting partners that were the focus of prior consumer research on gift giving.