K. Burke – Week Five – Systems of Exchange

The vague nature of this week’s prompt has incited me to do  a general rundown of what we were taught in the systems of exchange lecture and then try to apply some of those concepts to the dynamic of labor organization across differently systematized societies.


In my understanding, systems of exchange is another term for economy that takes into account the patterns of flowing people and goods. It is interrelated with the organization of society and the natural and created environments of the society, but it does not directly determine either of those factors (Lecture 5.1). In other words, systems of exchange are the productive elements of society which are influenced, but are not determined by, socio-environmental forces.


Furthermore, the basic components of systems of exchange are the allocation of resources, technology, and the division of labor. The allocation of resources concerns itself with who controls and who has access to energy sources and raw materials. Technology refers to the cultural knowledge needed for making and using tools for the extraction of natural resource. And the division of labor is the determination of labor requirements for particular jobs (Lecture 5.1). As one might imagine, these factors all differ from society to society and for example, in the American context, the division of labor coincides with industrialist cultural norms where economic specialization happens to a high degree with people doing very specific jobs with small amounts of replication. Education, it follows, is the primary marker of qualification within the American division of labor, which is in contrast to other systems of exchange in different cultures like those who divide labor based on gender or generation.


Another key point about systems of exchange is that they conform to the cultural worldview of societies they operate within. For example, insects are not considered a food source in American culture despite their abundance and nutritious value, and mining in some cultures is not viewed as extracting valuable resource, but rather, as destroying the earth (Lecture 5.1). This notion of cultural worldview is important because often it is the determining factor about how a society interacts with its environment, and then subsequently organizes its labor.


Finally, systems of exchange and the dynamic of labor within it can be categorized by subsistence strategies. Hunters and Gatherers have egalitarian systems of exchange with equal access to resource and technology, and labor is organized by gender between those who hunt and those who collect. Horticulturalists and Pastoralists sometimes have centralized systems of exchange, and labor is integrated in the system without much stratification. Agriculturalists normally have centralized systems due to the existence of surplus and its necessity to be controlled, and labor is integrated with animals and machinery to increase productivity. Lastly, Industrialists experience systems of exchange dominated by the market system of trading goods and services, and labor is very highly specialized and categorized by things like education (Lecture 5.1).


Overall, it must be concluded that subsistence strategies play a large role in determining the systems of exchange within a given society, and therefore, the role of labor within each system of exchange differs based on the necessary division of labor within that society.




3 thoughts on “K. Burke – Week Five – Systems of Exchange

  1. I don’t mean to be needlessly accusatory but… it sort of looks like you used my post as a template for your own blog post, which may not technically be a violation of academic integrity, but it gets dangerously close. Your introduction is virtually identical to what I wrote, and while the actual content of your piece diverges after that, the formatting is the same. If you break down our two pieces sentence by sentence, they are strikingly similarly ordered. I can’t know this with certainty of course, but the similarities are way too strong for me to think it’s just a coincidence. If you did take my writing and edit it to be your own content, I would strongly encourage you to never, ever do that again. That said, I’m still going to respond to your content.

    You’re right that technology includes the tools used to access natural resources, but I think you miss a more important fact: technology is present in every level of exchange in today’s world. We use technology not only to obtain resources, but also to convert them into usable items, and then to assemble those items into a whole, and even to distribute those items to consumers. In the post-industrial world, technology is not just a step in our system of exchange, it is the scaffolding that allows it to be possible. Imagine for a moment that you had no access to technology. How would you get your food? On the surface you might think, “well, I don’t buy my food online, so I’m fine,” but the technology of automobiles is how you get to the store. So you may think, “I can walk to the store,” but automotive technology is how the food got to the store as well, so you can’t get your food from a store now, you need to go directly to the source. Which is fine… during harvest season. Technology is what has allowed us to grow food year round, and to preserve it for the times when we can not grow. This extends to other industries as well, limiting out access to clothing, water, and shelter. Other places in the world – like Papua New Guinea – use significantly less technology in their systems of exchange, but as a result their societies do not grow as large. Which may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view, but it’s worth noting either way.

    • Kevin,

      Its hard a thing to respond to someone accusing you of academic indecency, and I admit, that I respect the effort you have put into your previous posts and am grateful that you have been a vocal leader holding the administrators of this class accountable week-by-week. That being said–I must deny that there is anything to be held accountable about my post in relation to yours. I had not read anybody’s post before writing and releasing my own, and I do concede, that undeniably and in striking coincidence the intros to our posts have the pretty much the exact same first sentence. However, given the open-ended prompt this week I think both of our first responses were natural and logical ways of addressing how our posts meet the assignment’s vague guidelines. After that, the posts are completely different as you focus on a specific system of exchange where you dissect sex work’s relation with resource, technology, and labor; and my post has a much more broad outline where I recap the main ideas from Lecture 5.1 and focus on what systems of exchange are as an anthropological concept rather than detailing the specifics of a particular industry. Therefore, I do not understand where the, “break down our two pieces sentence by sentence, they are strikingly similarly ordered,” paranoia comes from because my post is a broad discussion of theory and yours is a specific application of theory. And if your argument rests on the fact that your post has 5 paragraphs and mine has 6 then its a pretty far stretch to imply academic indecency on that basis.

      I wish to maintain an academically positive relationship with you so I have edited the first sentence of my post in order for our introductions to differ. And furthermore, I appreciate your insight concerning the content of my post–I agree that I should have illustrated the importance of technology in industrial societies in the sense that it is the “scaffolding” that that holds up the entire system of exchange. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding and I will leave a comment on your post in good will.

  2. I think it is very interesting to see lots of people in their blogs bring up mining, and in this case your blog mentions “some cultures is not viewed as extracting valuable resource, but rather, as destroying the earth”, but nobody seems to have mentioned the movie that we watched “To the Light: Chinese Miners”. Where in their case China uses coal for 70% of their energy and takes hundreds of lives all the time. Which is a sad sort of system of exchange. I do like how you talked about each qualification in contrasting system of exchange and how in American education is the primary marker. By mentioning all three you give a wider scope to what is a part of labor divisions. Without it you limit what the division of labor looks like. One last thing, I do think that you should have also mentioned cultural influence in the “productive elements of society” within your second paragraph, because it is just as important as social means.

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