Exchange: Social And The Market Principle

1521 words - 6 pages

Exchange is an essential, and multifaceted, part of economic systems. Types of exchange include market principle, prevalent in capitalist societies, redistribution, or moving goods to a center, and reciprocity, exchanging goods. One type of exchange that will be discussed is Kula exchange in Trobriand Islands. In this trading ring armbands, called mwali, are passed clockwise, and necklaces, called soulava or bagi, are passed counterclockwise from island to island in the Trobriand ring. This form of exchange most closely resembles a kind of balanced reciprocity, in which goods are passed between somewhat closely related individuals with the expectation of a return at some point. Another type of exchange that will be discussed is the coffee trade around the world, especially as it has become specialized in the last century. This kind of exchange most closely resembles a market principle, where items are bought and sold. While different, these varying types of exchange promote different relationships and hierarchies. Exchange is an essential part of what defines not only a person’s individual identity, but also their cultural identity.
Exchange leads to the formation and regulation of social connections and relationships. Kula exchange creates and maintains business and social relationships, shown in the works of Malinowski and Davis. These anthropologists describe a trade system in which men partner with men on other islands and are expected to trade only with these partners. The strict rules of Kula define these relationships and how they form, only after a man has bought his way into the ring. These business relationships become friendships, because the men end up spending large amounts of time with each other. Malinowski writes, “…It [Kula exchange] is based on a fixed and permanent status, on a partnership that binds into couples some thousands of individuals. This partnership is a lifelong relationship…” (2010, 85). Kula trading partnerships define a person’s social groups and relationships for many years, described as a lifelong affair in which two men who are partners are partners forever. If an individual violates the intricate rules of Kula, it is shameful and can damage these relationships, humiliating one or both members. Davis describes this saying, “Participants in kula were shamed if they held on to the valuables they had to use them in exchange; and they had to try to ensure that their paths did in fact produce the equal return they were after” (1992, 13).
Exchange is an important factor in describing a social hierarchy. Who a person exchanges goods and services with and in what manner can facilitate or inhibit social climbing. This effect is seen heavily in the Kula trading rings of Southeastern Asia, described by Bronislaw Malinowski in his book Argonauts of the Western Pacific, saying, “…This passing from hand to hand of two meaningless and quite useless objects has somehow succeed in becoming the foundation of a big...

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