Name of student: Topic: Lecturer: Date of Presentation: Introduction The exchange of goods and services has been going on in the society from time immemorial. It is believed that the traditional societies exchanged goods for goods – a process which is commonly referred as barter trade, but due to its inconveniences such as bulkiness of goods and lack of proper measure of goods that can be exchanged for other goods, as well as scarcity of some items, money was invented as the medium of exchange (Kranton, 1996)…
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Traditional gifts used to be in form of personal items such as the shells by the Trobriands, but in modern societies, gifts are manufactured, thus transforming commodities into gifts (Miller, 1993). It is, thus, evident that various forms of exchange exist in society, such as gifts, commodities, money, and services, but they depend on cultural practices and values. Though modern societies rely on money as means of exchange, gifts are still in existence. For example, the ‘Kula Ring’ of the Trobriand society is still in existence, but in modern society gifts have been commercialized. The aim of this paper is to analyze some general aspects of the economic processes such as the gift, commodity, service economies and their implications for exchange systems. To achieve this, the gift economy will first be explored and the commodity economy will be discussed thereafter. Differences between the gifts and commodities will also be outlined. The service economies will then be discussed as well as the implications of these economies on exchange systems. This is based on the anthropologists’ belief that the mode of production of a certain community determines the mode of exchange, thus exchange systems depend on the culture in existence. The Gift Economy A gift economy is defined by Cheal (1988, p. 19) as a mode of exchange where valuable goods and services are given often without any agreement for return in the future. It is “a system of redundant transactions within a moral economy, which makes possible the extended reproduction of social relations” (Cheal, 1988, p. 19). Gifts can be given collectively by the society or individually depending on the purpose of the gift. For example, bridewealth is a collective affair while birth day gift is personal or a gift to a friend. Gifts are exchanged on various ceremonial as well as non-ceremonial occasions. For example, it is a norm for Christians to exchange charismas gifts or for people to receive gifts on their birthdays or weddings. However, traditional society’s gifts were used as a means of exchange. For example, the Trobriands exchanged Kula variables such as armshells and necklaces with their trading partners (Yan, 1996). Though gifts can be seen as mere presents, they are theorized differently by different individuals. Anthropologists such as Mauss believe that gifts are not free since they must be returned. There has been a lot of controversy as to whether gifts are philanthropic acts or they are an economic rationality, i.e. they arise from self-interest. For Hide (2007), two economies exist: the gift economy and the commodity economy depending on the motive of the gift. This distinction will be elaborated further in the following sections. According to Mauss’s theory, giving of gifts was driven by the principle of reciprocity in that whoever received a gift was expected to return a gift of equal or higher value (Mauss, 1990). The gift economy is, thus, dominated by three essential features: obligation to give, obligation to receive and obligation to make a return for gifts received (Cheal, 1988, p. 2). If gifts are given voluntarily, why then do people have to reciprocate gifts?
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