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CroGa: Reward-based crowdfunding as gift exchange. On the interconnection of consumption, commitment and community in crowdfunding

DFG-Project, period of funding: 01.05.2018-30.09.2021



The research project aims at analyzing the peculiar combination of market exchange and donation in reward-based crowdfunding (or, in the German term, crowdsupporting) in the perspective of gift exchange theory. Reward-based crowdfunding is the original form of crowdfunding. Crowdfunding can be prescribed as the financing of various kinds of projects based on small financial contributions of many supporters (the crowd) mediated by internet platforms. Reward-based crowdfunding can be defined in short as a method for sponsorship with a non-financial return. The non-financial return often is an exemplar of the product, which the project aims to generate. E.g., if the project is about financing a book publication, it is common to promise a copy of the book as a reward for adequate monetary support. Often, the reward has features that express a particular bond to the produced object, e.g. an autographed copy of the book. Noticeably, in reward-based crowdfunding the funding activity has both the character of purchasing a consumer good and of supporting a worthy cause. This double- sided character of social exchange in reward-based crowdfunding is of particular interest for the research project.

In theoretical terms, the project starts from the assumption that the key for understanding reward-based crowdfunding is in the trilateral connection of consumption, commitment to a cause of deeper meaning, and reference to a community of like-minded persons. Thus, the relatedness of market exchange and donation in reward-based crowdfunding is based on the fact that supporters act like consumers, but at the same time attach a deeper meaning to the object of consumption, which motivates them to get involved with that very object and provides a basis for the feeling of a personal bond to other like-minded persons. The quality of this trilateral connection of motives will be analyzed empirically in the socio-theoretical perspective of gift exchange theory.

The research methodology builds on a web-ethnographic case study design: Single cases of reward-based crowdfunding projects are selected by criteria of theoretical sampling. Analysis will focus 1) on the exchange relations between project initiators and supporters and the social relationships of all participants, 2) on its interpretability in the light of gift exchange theory, and 3) on the impact of real or imagined communities in the context of temporary projects. The data base consists both of the project-related web communication of all participants, which will continually be documented, and on comprehensive qualitative interviews with initiators and selected supporters. Thus, the interpretations by the participating actors as well as the processual dynamics of reward-based crowdfunding, and the interaction of both dimensions will be systematically examined. 

Project Members

Prof. Dr. Frank Kleemann
Prof. Dr. Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer
Dennis Kirchsieper
Eltje Gajewski
NN (Student Assistent) 


Schulz-Schaeffer, Ingo. 2017. Crowdsupporting als Gabentausch. Zur soziologischen Analyse des Crowdfunding. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 69 (1): 27-50.

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