Economic Anthropology: Distribution and Exchange

Economic Anthropology: Distribution and Exchange

1. Distribution: Exchange Relations

  • Once produced, good and service must be distributed
  • Three ways by which goods are distributed
  • Reciprocity: direct exchange of goods and services
  • Redistribution: Flow of goods and services to central authority, then returned in different form
  • Market exchange: buying and selling through price mechanism

2. Imperatives of Exchange: Background 

  • Marcel Mauss: The Gift
  • Preface: “When two groups of men meet, they may
  • move away or
  • in case of mistrust they may resort to arms
  • or else they may come to terms”
  • Coming to terms, he called “total prestations” or
  • an obligation that
  • has the force of law
  • in the absence of law

3. Obligations of the Gift

  • Obligation to give
  • To extend social ties to other person or groups
  • Obligation to receive
  • To accept the relationship
  • Refusal is rejection of offered relationship
  • Induces hostilities
  • Obligation to repay
  • Failure to repay renders one a beggar

4. Types of Reciprocity: Generalized

  • The obligations underlie the principles of reciprocity
  • Reciprocity: Direct exchange of goods and services
  • Generalized reciprocity: altruistic transactions in which
  • gifts are freely given without calculating value or repayment due
  • Example: meat distribution among !Kung (upper left)
  • Example: family pooling of resources, even birthday presents (lower left)
  • Usually occurs among close kin

5. Types of Reciprocity: Balanced

  • Balanced reciprocity: Direct exchange
  • Value of gift is calculated
  • Time of repayment is specified
  • Selling surplus food (upper left)
  • Kula ring, Trobriand Islands
  • One trader gives partner a white armband (see map, lower left)
  • Expects a red necklace of equal value in return
  • Promissory gifts are made until return occurs
  • Usually occurs among distant kin

6. Types of Reciprocity: Negative

  • Negative reciprocity: An exchange where
  • One party tries to get the better of the exchange
  • from the other party.
  • Example: hard bargaining or deception
  • Example: horse raids (upper left)
  • Example: selling prepared food to a captive market (lower left)
  • Usually occurs among unrelated persons
  • Variation: silent trade

7. Case Study: Big Man Complex

  • Big men are headmen with a following
  • Following created by doing a favor (e.g. lending pigs)
  • Favor is difficult to repay
  • Individually, exchange is reciprocity
  • Collectively, has appearance of redistribution

8. Big Men’s Power: Limits

  • Cannot enforce the obligations
  • Subject to competition to other big men
  • Exchange feasts every 10 years with another big man equal in status

9. Redistribution

  • Process whereby goods and services
  • Flow to a central authority (king, chief, government)
  • Where they are sorted, counted, and
  • Reallocated
  • Classic example: Potlatch (left)
  • Historical example: administered trade

10. Redistribution: Socialist Model

  • Central feature of command economies
  • Ethnographic example: Inca labor tax
  • Here, men turn the soil with foot plows
  • While the women break up the clods
  • Modern examples: socialist countries
  • Students from across Latin America at Cuban medical school

11. Market Exchange

  • Exchange of goods among many buyers and sellers
  • Directly, by barter, or
  • Indirectly, by money and pricing
  • Example: Yoruba market in Nigeria (upper left); Haitian market woman (lower left)
  • Markets include
  • Crowds of buyers and sellers
  • Instant information on prices
  • Freedom of market entry and exit

12. Market Exchange: Actors

  • Supplier, whose willingness to sell is directly proportional to price increases
  • Purchaser, whose willingness to buy (demand) is directly proportional to price decreases
  • Interaction lead to price equilibrium--no profit

13. Example: Regional Guatemalan Markets 

  • Case Study: San Francisco el Alto
  • Entry: seller pay small tax; buyers pay none
  • Many buyers and sellers
  • Price is constant topic of conversation
  • Profit is minimal
  • Regional specialization guarantee buyers for product

14. Conclusion

  • Economy entails distribution of goods and services
  • Still, economy is embedded in society
  • Big man complex involves politics
  • Maintains power by persuasion, negotiation
  • Kula ring is also embedded in prestige
  • Interconnections will be seen in other topics: social groups and politics

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