Samjela Ndifontah – Week 5 – Systems of Exchange

Every culture is unique in a variety of ways, and one of the ways in which a society and a culture differs from another is the exchange systems that are being utilized. This week’s reading expands on a number of systems of exchange which are associated with different cultures. As well as the anthropological approach to these systems of exchange, including how the people exploit and put to use the resources that are available in their environment. The economic system is comprised of two components, which are production and distribution, as these are necessary for any kind or form of exchange to take place. According to Rosman and Rubel from the readings, production is, ” when a society uses its tools, energy sources and other resources together with the labor of its citizens to create goods necessary for the maintenance of the society as an ongoing entity”.

Moreover, this week’s lecture outlined five different strategies by which culturally different societies acquire their food. The first method was hunting and gathering, this form of production or subsistence involved the gathering of food and basic necessities mainly by hunting. Most of the communities that practice hunting and gathering are egalitarian with little labor differentiation. Another subsistence strategy are horticulturalists, whereby food is planted in gardens. The crops could be planted on the land as single or mixed, and there is little labor differentiation. Pastoralists is another form of subsistence, where animals are highly relied upon for food and clothing. The domestication of animals is a major practice in this kind of subsistence strategy.  Likewise, we have agriculturalists, which consists of high and extensive production of food characterized by heavy use of machinery. Irrigation is also utilized and some cultures use their animals in the place of machines that cannot be afforded. The form of labor for this form of subsistence is very differentiated, as everybody is responsible for different tasks. Finally comes the industrialists, which are dominated by economic specialization and by market systems where goods and services are exchanged.

The second component of the economic system is distribution. Distribution, ” is the manner in which cultural products circulated through the society” (Rosman and Rubel). This week’s lecture 5.2., addresses the three different components of distribution; reciprocity, redistribution, and market exchange. Reciprocity deals with the exchange of goods and services between two parties mainly based on obligation. Most of these obligations are socially constructed and help in building relationships between the giver and the receiver of goods. The example of the Kula king from the lecture illustrates how reciprocity builds social relationships between groups and power over others. In addition, redistribution is another component of distribution which is the, “collection of goods by a central authority and then later distributes it according to a legal principle” (Lecture 5.2.).  Redistribution is guarded by a set of principles or laws to ensure efficiency and that the resources are dispensed appropriately. The barter system, a kind of distribution system that involves the direct exchange of goods. Largely due to the lack of a unitary or universally accepted currency. In this system the ongoing relationships experienced in the reciprocal system is not achieved. On the other hand, the successor of the barter system is the market exchange system, which is the exchange of goods and services for money. The prices in this particular system are driven by the economic laws of demand and supply, with profit maximizing being the main focus. The market exchange system is very prevalent in urban and industrial communities, since there is a great dependence on money.

The driver for the economy as a whole is the ability of the citizens to labor and contribute in both production and distribution. Labor contributes greatly to any type of exchange system, because it is as a result of an individual’s labor that goods are produced, which then leads to exchange. Similarly, because labor has a cost, it affects the exchange system in industrialist societies because of their dependence on money.

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