As said in the lecture, systems of exchange are largely based on culture, society, and environment. These factors affect one another and have influence while not entirely determining it. The way a society is and the culture it has influences what resources it will exploit from the environment. In turn this influences what resources a society invests in and how they invest through its allocation of resources, technology, and division of labor. These factors are related to the two main parts of an economy: production and distribution. In addition, the factors give goods and services value and to help create the system of exchange.
Subsistence strategies are a part of an economy’s production and can be described as ways societies provide what is needed for the society to sustain existence. The five major types, as seen by cultural anthropologists and as described in the lecture and somewhat in the readings, are hunter gatherers, horticulturalists, agriculturalists, pastoralists, and industrialists. Which strategy is used in a society is highly based on the factors described above. Although often spoken as a linear progression, I am reminded of an earlier lecture about how there isn’t necessarily a “best” way to do things, just different. A lot of the strategy of a society can be influenced by the size of the population where smaller population is often more egalitarian whereas industrialist societies are often larger and less egalitarian as the division of labor is greater. Additionally, it should be know that hunting and gathering societies, while more common in the past, still exist. The reading titled, “Production, Distribution, and Consumption” discusses how these types of societies have adapted to the modern world. For example, many societies that hunt and gather are part of mixed economies where foraged goods can be sold for cash to manufacture items. These societies are guided by cultural morals in terms of what sort of modern tools and commercial development they want to allow.
In talking about distribution as the other main component of an economic system, it refers to the manner in which goods circulate and how value is accrued to them. The three main types of exchange in distribution are reciprocity, redistribution, and market exchange.
Reciprocity, also known as reciprocal exchange, is circular and done with people of equal status. It is the back and forth exchange of goods and services between two, sometimes more, entities based on obligation. The main example used in the lecture and is described in the reading is the Kula Ring. Items of ceremonial value like necklaces and arm cuffs are exchanged between islands in a circular rotation. The items increase value each time because of the cultural significance in their history.
Redistribution is the collection of goods by central authority followed by distribution according to normative or legal principles. A common example is taxes where everyone contributes money in exchange for things the society collectively needs like roads and schools.
Lastly is market exchange where the buyer doesn’t need a social relationship with the seller and profit making is at its core, with currency being present. It’s most common in industrialized, urban societies, such as the U.S. as a whole, although other systems also exist.
In industrial societies in particular, labor has become a large part of the systems of exchange. There is a large division of labor that changes and affects its participants. It is most noticeable in the working class and can be seen in detail in “Poverty at work” where the replacement of manufacturing jobs with service jobs displaced those workers who then have less well-paying jobs that also aren’t culturally fit.
In hunting gathering societies the division of labor is often simply based on sex as the nature of the society is egalitarian. This leaves females in charge of gathering and collecting while males do the hunting. Often communal work where members team up to complete tasks can be seen such as the case with Myanmar women and Volga boatmen. This is strongly related to kinship groups in the society.
Various systems of exchange exist in every part of the world and vary in time and location.