The Economics in Social and Cultural Exchange - Perhaps implicit, but nonetheless present



Hxaro, the system of gift exchange in Dobe Ju/’hoansi society, is characterized as being a delayed, non-equivalent form of exchange, typically contrasted with the economic exchange of goods and services, which is often a purely rational exercise.

However, there may actually be some rational elements to social and cultural exchange as well.

For example, charitable giving is generally not thought of as being in furtherance of one’s self-interest, but there are theories which state that one who donates to charity feels a sense of satisfaction from having done a “good” deed, hence there is actually a rational basis behind it. Hence, it could be said that there is an incentive for a person to be generous.

Likewise, in social and cultural exchange, there is also an incentive to be fair (if not generous) for a number of reasons. It generates trust between the parties, and also builds up the person’s reputation in that society.

Lee (2012) states that hxaro does not always proceed smoothly, and one instance would be “if a gift did not come up to expectation” signalling a loss of interest in maintaining the relationship. It may be argued that despite the non-equivalent aspect of hxaro exchange, there are inevitably expectations by both parties regarding the gift, taking into account their relationship with each other etc., and tensions arise when these expectations are not met. This suggests that there could be some implicit recognition of value of the items exchanged, despite not being couched in monetary terms.

Bell (1991) illustrates a similar situation involving the Kula ring, where although barter and gift exchanges are viewed as separate kinds of transactions, if a gift in ceremonial exchange is inadequate, the relationship between the parties may be threatened. Hence gift exchange, just like commodity exchange, requires a “balanced reciprocity”.

Sources:
Lee, Richard B. (2012) The Dobe Ju/’hoansi, 4th Edition (p.130-135)
Bell, Duran (1991) Modes of Exchange: Gift and Commodity, The Journal of Socio-Economics Vol. 2 No. 2 (p.155-167)

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