Free Parties and Teknivals: Gift-Exchange and Participation on the Margins of the Market and the State


  • Anne Petiau Institut de Travail Social et de Recherche Sociale et Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire pour la Sociologie Economique (CNAM/CNRS UMR 3320)


rave, free party, teknival, gift-exchange, participation, amateur practices, marginality


Translator’s introduction: Anne Petiau’s essay provides an analysis of the many dimensions of participation [to participate, but also to contribute materially] in France’s “free parties” and “teknivals”. Working both historically and ethnographically, she develops this analysis using the theoretical framework of reciprocal gift-exchange, first conceptualized in The Gift [Le Don] by Marcel Mauss (1997 [1950]) but also further developed by noted French anthropologists Alain Caillé (2000) and Jacques T. Godbout (2000). Petiau notes that free parties are understood by organizers and attendees to be “free” in both senses of the term—freedom [liberté] as well as “for free” [gratuité]—while nonetheless relying on various forms of financial and in-kind donations from attendees. Notably, the free party itself is characterized by organizers as a gift offered freely to participants. And yet, as studies of gift-exchange suggest, gifts come with “strings attached”, with obligations and expectations of reciprocity. And so, Petiau argues that participants’ donations may not be as optional and freely given as they seem, illustrating how the actors involved in free parties articulate these expectations while reconciling them with the open-access ethos of these events. In addition to this insightful analysis, the essay provides a useful introduction both to the French free party/teknival scene as well as to the anthropology of gift-exchange. Anne Petiau’s article first appeared in French in 2012 as “Free-parties et teknivals. Dans les marges du marché et de l’Etat, système de don et participation”, in Festivals, raves parties, free parties. Histoire des rencontres musicales en France et à l’étranger, N. Bénard (ed.), 587–610. Paris: Camion Blanc.

Translated by Luis-Manuel Garcia



Through raves and then subsequently through “free parties” and “teknivals”, French fans of electronic music have developed festive practices at the margins of the market and the state. In France, these events—especially so-called free parties—are often associated with free-access events or inversely with settings for parallel economies. And yet, these parties operate under a logic of gift-exchange, playing on its symbolic dimensions. The free party is experienced as a collective production, in the sense that the organizers of these sound systems expect an investment, an active participation from the audience, and also in that the participants, faced with the party-as-gift made by these collectives, are drawn into an obligation to contribute to the event in their own way. This participation can take the financial form of a donation, but can also be made by helping to set up or clean the event location, enlivening the festive space through spectacular street-theater, and also simply by dancing. This organization through gift-exchange is thus directly connected to the kind of participatory experience sought by the audience. The party-as-gift also prompts other collectives to offer their own festive gifts in turn; this entails a degree of emulation between sound systems. They acquire prestige and renown within this social world according to their capacity to provide both music and parties as gifts. A reading in terms of the gift makes it possible to capture how the pleasures of giving and spontaneity can coexist with economic interests and prestige. 

Author Biography

Anne Petiau, Institut de Travail Social et de Recherche Sociale et Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire pour la Sociologie Economique (CNAM/CNRS UMR 3320)

PHD Sociology, Université Paris 5, 2006.

Teacher/searcher, ITSRS.

Associate searcher, Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire pour la Sociologie Economique (CNAM/CNRS UMR 3320)