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When discussing charity, it is important to recognize that charity and other forms of giving are not solely done out of altruism, but can also be done out of greed and self promotion. It is especially important to recognize when those in power or those who have fame participate in this form of giving, because their actions may be emulated by others. This self aggrandizing giving has been done historically throughout multiple cultures as a way to gain or keep prestige, and also as a way to keep the boundaries between the classes strong. This is an important idea because, as I argue, giving as a way to gain public recognition and to keep social boundaries in place is still occurring today. This form of giving is what I label Conspicuous Charity. This is giving in which the main focuses of the participation in charity are the public and social benefits (such as prestige and recognition) to the givers, whereas the assistance to those in need is but a secondary benefit. The conspicuous use of charity also can take a broader approach, which I label Conspicuous Giving. This form of giving is presently being used as a way to keep those with fame, such as media celebrities, in the limelight, those with high standing in the global hierarchy at the top, and those at the top of the racial hierarchy separated from those at the bottom. In order to flesh out the concept of Conspicuous Giving, other forms of giving are also discussed such as Christmas gifts, bribes, and feasting. These cultural events are discussed within the context of multiple cultures as ways to show that using giving in a predatory manner is not a phenomenon unique to Western or even American culture. However, I argue that when it comes to this behavior, Americans are at the forefront of this movement into postmodernity.
Anderson, Lindsay Alexandria (2011). Conspicuous Giving. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from