Gift Giving in Societies

Topics: Sociology, Society, Reciprocity Pages: 6 (1848 words) Published: March 8, 2007
Many exchange mechanisms can be observed throughout the worlds cultures; these include reciprocity, redistribution and down the line exchange.

Reciprocity is a form of gift exchange whereby objects have no concept of perceived value. Social gain is seen as more important than any potential economic result in this system. An object would be presented to another and this gesture insure social relations, a return object (or gesture) may be presented at a later date, but the main aim of reciprocity exchange would be the strengthening of social bonds.

An example of reciprocity exchange would be that of the Kula ring (described by Malinoski) in this system objects of perceived value are exchanged in a continuous cycle, which links several islands in the area. These objects (shell necklaces and armbands) are exchanged by individuals in ritual ceremonies where the links between these islands are reinforced and obligations to one another created.

Societies which practice a reciprocity form of exchange can do so for several different motives but in all cases the social/political aspect overrides and economic gain. In the Kula ring the system ensures that all of the islands will aid one another in times of difficulty, relieving social tension and aids in social stability which detracting nothing from the local economy/resources. The Dani, however, although still practicing a form of reciprocity do so for the gain of social status of big man by conspicuous displays of wealth, power and important through their gift giving activities.

It can be difficult for people of a western culture to understand how a process such as that in the Kula ring where little to no personal gain can be seen can be viewed as important, but the point that these people are willing to continue this tradition and carry out a potentially dangerous journey to meet with their exchange partners implies that to these people it is viewed as having an up most importance. We must be careful not to attempt to impose out own cultural values upon this society when trying to gain an insight into their world.

Redistribution, unlike reciprocity, contains concepts of unit value and economic gain. The social organisation required in order to implement this system implies a hieratical system of power. A central entity will collect in resources as a form of tribute/tax and from this often offer protection and redistribution of commodities as it sees fit. Through this method the availability of any specific item is closely controlled by central rulers, giving them power over the masses.

This system also implies administration, as collected resources would need recording. Evidence of this form of exchange/trade can be seen commonly within the archaeological record, notably at Knossos in the form of Linear B tablets, which have been interpreted as store records, showing all collected resources. The large magazines and pithoi at Knossos supports this evidence, to imply that redistribution was being utilised in this area.

Down the line exchange implies the involvement of many settlements, of which few are in close contact with the resources source. These which are near to the source of the resources are able to collect it and in turn exchange it with those who cannot for something which they are unable to harvest/collect. These people with in the supple zone will obviously process a larger proportion of the resource than that of the contact zones this form of exchange is easily recognised through the use of fall-off analysis, with which one could produce an expediential curve, be this purely exponential implying several village settlements or multi-modal implying several large settlements trading which in turn trade with the smaller surrounding settlements.

Of these three forms of exchange only reciprocity truly has its basis in social implications and growth, having no direct economic aspect to the system. The case presented by the Dani is far easier for people...

Bibliography: atch E (ed) Theories of man & culture 1973 New York Columbia university pressMalinowski B Argonauts of the Western Pacific 1984 (reprint) Illinois Waveland PressRaheja G The Poison in the Gift 1988 Chicago University Of Chicago PressVeblen T Theory of the Leisure Class 1967 Penguin
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