Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach


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Each oversea expedition which goes out to solicit Armshells or Necklaces sets up a kind of temporary market for the inter- district exchange of more utilitarian goods" Uberoi ; underlined by A. Whereas in the ceremonial exchange of fish and yams a mutual sense of equivalence prevails between the two sides, in barter of fish for yams there is haggling.

Such barter of useful articles is characterized by the absence of ceremonial forms and special exchange partners. In regard to manufactured goods, barter is restricted to new objects, second-hand goods, which may have a personal value, being excluded" Polanyi It is the specific nature of the transaction, of the relation between the partners, which defines barter with respect to other types of exchange.

Barter may occur in contexts in which other modes of exchange prevail. Although the main objective of the Kula was the exchange of valuables between partners in view of establishing political associations, during the Kula, purely economic transactions, in the form of barter, did occur.

Barter transactions may also occur sporadically while other types of trading are being carried on. If a mutual economic interest creates the relationship between the two parties which are trading and if no third factor intervenes, then the transaction may be considered barter. Barth, writing of people who inhabit the Fly river headwaters in New Guinea, describes such a case of barter in the context of traditional reciprocal trading between friends. Between communities, it mainly passes between special trading friends. Such partners stand in a life long relationship to each other [.

If the latter desires something in exchange which the former does not have, he offers his friend's wealth object for barter within his community, haggling over the exchange as if it were his own, and saving the fruits of the exchange for his friend to receive on his next visit" Barth ; underlined by A. The man who barters for his friend does not constitute a "third factor" in this case because he simply substitutes for his friend, does not receive a compensation for this service and has no specific ties with his barter partner.

Barter may be either inserted in a ceremonial or political context as secondary trade during the Kula , be an adjunct to a traditional social pattern of exchange. Or barter may exist by itself. Barter may be carried out by a third person if the person is simply acting for one of the parties and if otherwise the transaction complies to the model in that it be direct, purely economic exchange.

For instance McCarthy writes, citing Taplin with respect to a trading pattern in southern Australia, of exchange between tribes on the Murray river and those near the sea, that their respective tribes select a trustworthy agent to carry on the inter-tribal barter. The agents were bound together as ngia-ngampe, by a ritual carried out by their fathers when they were children and because of which they could neither speak to one another nor approach one another.

These ritual partners were the agents through which their respective groups carried on barter. While he lived on the Murray he sent spears and plongges, i. The estrangement of the ngia-ngampe seems to answer two purposes. It gives security to the tribes that there will be no collusion between their agents for their own private advantage, and also compels the two always to conduct the business through third parties" McCarthy ; see also As exemplified in the above citation, the trading partners may be ritually bound to one another and also a certain ritual or gift-giving may precede the transaction as often occurs in Australia.

If these are simply a function of the economic interests of the parties, the transaction may still be considered barter. These modalities do not alter the basic model. Barter partakes of, but does not dissolve into other types of exchange. It may also involve certain rituals whose purpose is to guarantee that the sole objective of the transaction be respected, that is, the direct exchange of goods. Many of the references in the literature to so-called barter between trading partners and direct exchanges which are expressions of kin, rank, ceremonial or political concerns and as such, are not considered barter as defined in this article.

Einzig writing of African communities describes the opposition of professional traders to the introduction of money "on the ground that under a barter system they stood to make a profit both ways".

Duplicate citations

This example evokes the problem of profit in barter transactions. The problem is not treated as such in this paper though it may be advanced from the outset that barter invariably involves mutual gain or advantage for both parties as otherwise no original agreement to barter would be reached. However this situation should not be confused with gain or profit that one party may obtain at the expense of the other, for the context necessarily implies that an estimation of the relative value of the two objects exchanged can be made.

The difficult subject of value will be approached later, pp. Barter as a culture pattern. Barter is probably practiced in any type of society. It may occur almost at any place where people live together or meet: in the home, in schools, in hospitals, prisons,14 or the army, on the street, in the country, in market places, along trading routes, at quarry sites, at crossroads along borders, during ceremonies, etc. It may be preceded or followed by the exchange of gifts between the partners.

It may be spontaneous, take place without previous contact of the actors, or be traditionally performed in certain localities where the interested parties journey to meet. It can occur between tribes, nations, states, kin, friends, children, strangers or even enemies. Barter may well be one of the most archaic and universal means by which people acquired needed or desired objects they lacked as well as products they had never seen before. It undoubtedly played a vital role in early hunting- gathering societies by establishing contact with peoples beyond their cultural and linguistic horizons.

There is reason to believe that in prehistoric times, barter was one of the principal means of cultural diffusion. It stimulated the insertion of foreign goods into local groups and with the objects often went new concepts and alternative ways of dealing with all sorts of problems both practical and ideological. I quote here in extenso the excellent study of McCarthy on trade in native Australia. There is so much to be gained in this manner that we find barter and exchange to be important institutions, often necessitated by a lack of essential requirements, among both nomadic and sedentary peoples throughout the world, and by which their material wealth and social life are enriched.

The evidence brought forward in this paper demonstrates that in Australia local groups and tribes barter with their neighbours on all sides and also receive articles from far-distant localities" McCarthy These routes I have called trunk trade routes[. When known for the whole of Australia, and studied in conjunction with the geographical distribution of all traits, and with the journeys of the spiritual ancestors and culture heroes[.

Barter may well have been vitally important in the acceleration of the early diffusion of mankind over the globe. Early Homo Sapiens S. Perhaps barter played an essential role in the realization of this great initial "diaspora". The human animal cannot survive without objects selected from nature or manufactured by him, and this biological limitation, as is well known, he turns to his cultural advantage. Again with reference to Australia, I quote McCarthy:. For North America, Driver and Massey observe:. And in South America, according to Roth:.

Their expeditions sometimes occupy months, sometimes years [. Certain it is in some cases that the organized system of traffic has opened up new trade routes in the strict sense of the word" Roth Barter was likewise common in regions with diverse ecospheres, whose inhabitants produced complementary rather than competitive goods. Such was the non-Kula trade described by Malinowski between the Amphlett tribe which exchanged pottery for food such as sago, pork, coconuts, betel nuts, taro, yams and stone implements with the Trobrianders and the Dobuans.

This was also true where neighboring tribes specialized in the manufacture of certain articles as in the upper Xingii region of Brazil where, according to Oberg:. In exactly what quantities objects will be exchanged will, in the final analysis, also depend upon the individual wealth and desire of the two individuals involved in barter" Oberg An excellent illustration of the "embeddedness" of the economy in a society where barter, if existent, is very marginal.

Each village has one or more special products that it provides to its allies [. Each village is, economically speaking, capable of self-sufficiency. The steel tools and other products from civilization constitute the major exceptions. The explanation of the specialization must be sought, rather, in the sociological aspects of alliance formation.

Trade functions as the social catalyst, the 'starting mechanism', through which mutually suspicious allies are repeatedly brought together in direct confrontation. Without these frequent contacts with neighbors, alliances would be much slower in formation and would be even more unstable once formed: A prerequisite to stable alliance is repetitive visiting and feasting, and the trading mechanism serves to bring about these visits" Chagnon In some societies barter was forbidden or simply not practiced among people who related in certain ways.

And there were also restrictions on the type of goods that might be bartered. For instance Malinowski observed that among the Trobrianders the Kula partners did not barter. He states that second-hand goods were never bartered [ibid. Among the inhabitants of the Huon Gulf, in northeastern New Guinea, barter was not carried out between kin groups because, as Herskovits reports , "it was considered to be incompatible with blood ties". Einzig mentions that under the rule of the Incas, the subjects were not allowed to barter their clothes, even though they were permitted to exchange foodstuffs.

According to Polanyi 81 no barter at all was permitted in the Dahomey markets. Pospisil , writing of the Kapauku Papuans, states that pigs, planks and canoes were never used in barter. This does not imply however that any. As approximately only one tenth of the trade was carried out through barter, the exclusion of these items may simply have resulted from their great importance as commercial goods. In Abyssinia, such a situation is clearly described by Thurnwald:.

Maria Theresa dollars, bars of salt, beads or skeins of yarn. Genuine barter only took place in trading food-stuffs" Thurnwald Quoting Warner, he writes that tribes of Arnhem Land resisted Malayan cultural influence and that the people of Cape York absorbed only those traits from New Guinea and Melanesia which fitted into their patterns of culture. Barter was practiced by European explorers when they first encountered the "natives" of different lands. If the explorers coveted an exotic object, sometimes they obtained it in peaceful exchange for some trifle.

The local people might willingly swap their much esteemed goods for knick-knacks because the latter appealed to them also as exotic, because of their usefulness or for some other reason. For example, Robert-Lamblin referring to the Bering expedition of states that a rusty kettle, five needles and string were bartered with people of the Aleutian islands for an elaborate head-dress worn only by men of high rank. The Aleutians normally exchanged these hats with other Eskimos for one or even three slaves, and slaves were scarce. Often there is a sexual division of labour in bartering, each sex being the proprietor of the artifacts which are manufactured and bartered.

The Eskimos of northern Alaska as reported by Spencer, are a case in point. Men traded with men, women with women. Each person was free to make his own decisions and to trade the products of his labor as he saw fit. Husbands and wives did not consult each other in the trading arrangements they made. Family groups separated, in fact, each going his own way to drive the best bargains possible" Spencer Of a modern Aymara village market of Bolivia, Tschopik wrote:. Communities also specialize [.

Barter is often described as trade between communities rather than exchange within a given group. Many authors assume that barter did not exist within the primitive community. Einzig contests this generalization on two levels; conceptually and empirically. Given the absence of division of labor except sexual in most hunting-gathering cultures, barter is said not to have been practiced within the group simply because all the products were available to everyone.

I here quote Einzig extensively because of the coherence of his argument. It is a concept accepted uncritically by many economists and economic historians as well as anthropologists. Yet it stands to reason that although a community may be entirely pastoral there may be individuals within it who specialize in breeding cattle or goats or sheep or horses [. Secondly Einzig [ibid. Internal barter may very well have flourished, even though there is little data concerning it. Einzig argues that the outsider the data collector rarely had any opportunity to observe barter within a group.

He also points out that, archeologically, trade or barter is assumed to be largely external because it is more easily documented than internal trade. He concludes that it cannot be taken for granted that barter was more frequent between groups than within a given community and that to the contrary, local barter was in all probabilities more common than foreign barter or trade.

There is in effect some data on internal barter. The great "beauty" of barter lies in its permissiveness. It allows for exchange of objects to take place irrespective of the social or cultural definition of the partners. Certain societies deliberately restrain this freedom. But left to. When the goods are vital for survival this freedom is essential to the society as a whole, as it might as well be for any two individuals at a given moment of their existence.

Barter is motivated by the mutual advantages it affords to both parties, not by profit seeking though profit, or gain, may be made, under some circumstances, by one of the parties. Given the virtual impossibility of complete autarchy for any community, large or small,21 barter comprises a manner of exchanging objects without compromising the actors. In this sense it is neutral. As noted previously, it can even be carried out between people on the verge of conflict as well as between traditional enemies. It requires no engagement for future relations though some groups do barter by agreement, over long periods of time.

Barter affords the simplest common denominator for the exchange of goods. Barter is a universal means of communication. It necessitates neither the use of a common language nor mutually intelligible signs nor even the physical presence of the interested parties. In this sense it has far greater " efficiency " than any other means of communication. This is true primarily because the objects which man makes or appropriates from nature are alienable. Nor is any given language. In some cultures a person makes a ritual gesture when he detaches himself from a possession to trade it or when he receives an object in exchange.

Nor are they always unique to just one culture. Often they may be exchanged with a people who need or desire them regardless of other considerations. This applies even to items which are seen for the first time by a group ignoring completely the means by which they were produced and their purpose.

Newly acquired objects are sometimes rapidly integrated into a receiving culture, fulfilling functions for which they were never intended. Barter is distinguished from various types of institutionalized trade which involve simultaneous or delayed cyclical exchanges on non-economic levels, be they social and kin, ritual, symbolic, sexual, religious, political, juridical or a combination thereof. Barter is not embedded in society. It stands out by itself as a purely economic transaction. What then is its role in history, in process? If barter is not an institution it might be termed a cultural or behavioral pattern.

It is distinguished from other patterns or traits in that it can be invented on the spur of the moment, it needs no tradition nor specific learning. Even if we belong to different cultures you may have something I desire and vice versa. If we agree to exchange our objects and if no norm counters our intention and no one prevents us from doing so, we barter. Barter is latent in any exchange situation, accessible, as it were, if the need arises.

This is true, I propose, partly because objects are not necessarily embedded in the society which produces them. Those that are not, may be exchanged among very different cultures, though "cultural conservatism" may set limits on their acceptance. Moreover objects made for one purpose may be used for another or simply kept as curiosities, prestige items, museum pieces, etc.

The object may be loving as a Teddy Bear, ambivalent as a sharply edged slice of steel, beautiful as an arc, mysterious as the Mona Lisa, etc. It often becomes imbued with an immense variety of connotations, both personal and public; symbols of all sorts. There exists a general feeling, an awareness, that somehow our society let the object escape human control and that it now has turned on us dictatorially ordering our lives, now sweetly, now menacingly.

Decades ago, Thurnwald commented:. Le projet. Since Mary Goodwin's Frankenstein, "the object" has become a power which must be "harnessed", domesticated. Without the object we would have remained animals, with it we may cease to be. No human institution could be invented that did not bring into play some universal propensities or characteristics of the human being as a cultural animal and as a psyche. If this were not so, we today would have no means of comparing cultures or societies which are very different from our own and from one another. Anthropology would not exist.

Distinct cultures would be studied as discrete categories or as auto-regulating systems, unrelated to each other, each exemplifying its special, particular and unique "laws" of operation and process. These "laws" would be subjectively incomprehensible to us were there no common experience which renders them intelligible. Animals do not have culture, so the study of their behavior does not pose this problem. Though our sensibility to animals reveals our common ancestry with them. To understand what is special to the economies anthropologists deal with and what they share with all other economies requires comparative analysis of the kind Polanyi provides.

In order for anthropologists to see what is analytically important in Trobriands' economy they must first understand the structure of industrial capitalism. Now I shall briefly describe five mechanisms of exchange by means of which barter may operate. These are: 1 bargaining; 2 use of set or customary rates; 3 exchange without bargaining or set rates; 4 delayed exchange or credit; 5 use of money as a measure or standard of value see pp. They do not aspire to represent the totality of mechanisms to be found in the literature as my research was by no means exhaustive.

They are not confined to barter nor are they all mutually exclusive. Barter "uses" them as a means to its end, that is, to exchange objects. The first three form a paradigmatic set but the remaining two are not part of the set because they may be combined with any of the first three operations, as well as with each other. Adam Smith was one of the first scholars to propose a labor theory.

His statement concerning bargaining as a means of establishing approximate equivalencies, is important. It is often difficult to ascertain the proportion between two different quantities of labour. The time spent in two different sorts of work will not always alone determine this proportion [. In exchanging indeed the different productions of different sorts of labour for one another, some allowance is commonly made for both.

It is adjusted, however, not by any accurate measure, but by the higgling and bargaining of the market, according to that sort of rough equality which, though not exact, is sufficient for carrying on the business of common life" Smith , I: ; underlined by A. Bargaining is a key factor for any theory of barter. Some scholars assumed that barter was typically carried out by means of bargaining.

Any theory of barter must take account of the range of its exchange operations. This is one of the most puzzling and difficult attributes to analyze. Among the Selk'nam in Tierra del Fuego, Gusinde enumerates the following:.

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Einzig writes of the Naga tribes of India, that a fixed ratio existed between cattle and rice, fifty baskets of rice being equal to one cow. Blackwood details some set rates in the context of bartering among tribes of northwestern Solomon Islands:. There are, therefore, at short intervals, prearranged meetings of the women of one village with the women of another. With the Selo people, 2 fish for 6 taros. These rates are said to have been fixed for them by Morena, the 'culture heroine' from whom they trace their origin. Einzig counters the theory of Schurtz and Thurnwald that barter by fixed rates leads to money economy with the comment:.

Bartering by fixed rates does not necessitate a standard of value. The rates may be determined simply by usage and tactical agreement as among the Selk'nam, by tradition and attributed to mythology as cited above in the Solomon Islands, by a community or a political authority, etc. The items are exchanged without discussion of their quantity or quality nor reference to norms of equivalencies.

Barter, exchange, and value: an anthropological approach

Einzig describes such a circumstance of bartering between people of fishing and gardening villages in the Loyalty Islands. At the end of the day, each party hands over the unsold products to the other party" ibid. Einzig's comments on credit in this context are important. This was not realized by some economists, who, however distinguished in their own lines, were unacquainted with the elements of anthropology [ It is described sometimes as 'money barter'" Einzig ; also: , , -.

The 'handling' of the unit consists in the operation of 'tagging on' a numerical value to at least one of the units with the effect that 'apples and pears' can now be summed up in a meaningful way by relating them to the 'standard'. The effect is that barter is facilitated [. These and other scholars such as Marx , Schneider and Melitz concerned with the prehistory of money have noted that the standard usage occurs quite independently from money as a universal equivalent, also termed all-purpose money.

Referring to Menger, Einzig even suggests that standards for evaluating stored wealth may historically have preceded barter. This seems unlikely if only because most known hunters, gatherers and fishers did not accumulate much "wealth" but many did barter. The standard is not necessarily represented by a material object. For example, it may consist of imaginary units or of a mathematical device for calculating relative worth of goods against a given symbol or entity.

The use of standards in barter is known among such diverse cultures as those of the Philippines, Mongolia, Nicobar Islands, southern India of the 14th century A. III Barter and money. The position of scholars in recent times is directly related to the definition of money they employ. Without aspiring to contribute to the very complex problem of the origin of money or monies , it is necessary to situate the barter phenomenon with respect to it. Barter as well as reciprocal and redistributive exchange forms Polanyi's terms prevailed in certain nearly contemporary hunting-gathering societies which did not employ money of any sort in so far as is known see below.

It may be surmised that such was the case in at least some early paleolithic societies. It can therefore be postulated that historically barter preceded money. Even though money may have developed from a generalized use of a favorite object of barter, as many authorities have proposed, it is now believed by some students of primitive economies that money uses did not arise from the so-called inconveniences of barter.

Moreover barter sometimes utilizes a standard of value to calculate equivalents which, according to the definition presented above, can be considered money. In our type of society barter is quite frequent and the equivalents are usually established by reference to our universal, all-purpose money which also acts as a standard.

So while barter may have preceded money historically, the two can be integrated. They are however incompatible when money functions as an "intermediate factor" see "A Model of Pure Barter", p. Obviously goods that are exchanged for money are not bartered. In many societies barter and money coexist even at the same time and place as for instance in the Aztec market tianguis where money was apparently.

An authority on the subject, Carrasco, writes:. These exchanges were made in the form of barter, or through the use of quasi-money objects — principally cacao and cloth — which as general means of payment also served as a medium of exchange [. Dalton proposes a conceptual framework, the "peripheral" market, as a context in which both barter and money though not universal modern money were used in the transactions. We call these market exchanges 'peripheral' because land and labor are not bought and sold and because most people do not get the bulk of their income from market sales" Dalton 52; underlined by A.

Money does not negate barter. It does not render it obsolete nor replace it. Barter may never have been the unique form of exchange in any type of society. This problem remains open. I favor the hypothesis that there were no "barter societies". But money does predominate, rendering nearly all goods and most services or labor convertible into money, in at least one type of society, namely capitalism. There are also numerous societies which employ some kind of money.

And there are "moneyless societies". Moneyless societies are typically though not universally nor exclusively hunting-gathering societies. I shall not attempt here to draw up an inventory of such societies but rather simply illustrate the gamut covered by citations from the writings of various scholars. The Indians of the west coast of North America, however, are exceptions to this general rule [.

Thus money is entirely unknown in South America, even among the semicivilized Incas" Loeb It is not a phenomenon of simple hunting cultures — if I may be permitted, cultures of a band level. Neither is primitive money characteristic of the more advanced chief doms, where wealth tokens though certainly encountered tend to bear little exchange load" Sahlins It was used mainly to purchase wives, or as a treasure to be displayed in ceremonies or as compensation for personal loss or injury.

Wampum in the East was associated with an even greater amount of formality and ritual. Einzig cites the following groups "in which no money whatsoever is known to have existed, at any rate for internal purposes":. The outstanding characteristic of most of the societies, cultures, or groups cited above is their communal "mode of production", lack of hierarchies based on the economy. However other societies having this mode of production did use some form of money, such as certain indigenous groups in South America, in California, not to say Melanesia.

This problem should be studied with great care. Here we might find answers to some of the most puzzling problems concerning the origins and functions of money and of the different modalities of exchange. Certain forms of money may act as catalyzers. The various categories of money are not simply culture traits, they are privileged areas of research.

I want to pause now in order to emphasize a factor, even at the risk of excessive reiteration, which will prove crucial for the discussion of process at the end of this paper. Barter exists with or without money money — in the broad sense of the term as defined on page 53 ; in societies having institutionalized ceremonial gift trade as well as in those in which the state palace, temple or high ranking clan, lineage, caste, feudality or "strata" administer most of the trade.

Under capitalism where money is a universal equivalent and standard medium of exchange, barter is marginal, having little effect on the dominant system, except in periods of.

Barter system and drawbacks of barter system

But despite its marginality or perhaps because of it, barter apparently occurs in all types of societies. Not only does barter persist "through the ages" as I wrote metaphorically at the beginning of this paper, but reciprocal and redistributive patterns do also, in one form or another. Whatever categories are employed to analyze the different economies or privileged parts of them, economies, it would seem, are consistently "pluralistic", even though perhaps in almost any society, one "type" of economy tends to predominate.

And now to Dalton who conceptualizes this point as follows:. Rather, that in any society — including our own, and most certainly the primitive — there exist spheres of economy with different principles of organization, different sanctions to induce conformity, different institu- tionalization of economic mechanisms, indeed, different moral values for judging worth and performance.

Polanyi as well as Marx and many other scholars were aware of this configuration. IV Barter according to Polanyi.


  1. 'Qualified value: the perspective of gift exchange' | University College London?
  2. Moving Day.
  3. Barter as a Universal Mode of Exchange?

Polanyi considered barter to be a pattern or principle of exchange,32 though unfortunately he never developed his research along this line. As a principle of exchange, barter was simply a market element, linked conceptually to the price-making market to capitalism. He conceived of barter as a behavioral pattern which as such could. Lacking the necessary institutional conditions, behavorial patterns could never evolve into socially integrated structures. By classing barter as an exchange principle, he implied that he viewed it as a sui generis economic phenomenon.

Heretofore, in all previous societies, the economy had been "embedded"36 in the social-kin, religious, aesthetic or political domains of culture. Polanyi did not insist that barter can occur without bargaining or gain as well as without the use of money in any form. He usually referred to barter as a transaction involving bargaining higgling and haggling. He makes this point when he defines exchange and barter in the following terms. In simpler terms, barter is the behavior of persons who exchange goods on the assumption that each makes the most of it.

Higgling and haggling are the essence here, since there is no other way each person can make sure he is gaining as much as possible from the bargain. Haggling, in this case, it not the result of some human frailty, but a behavior pattern logically required by the mechanisms of the market" Polanyi 42; underlined by A. Though he was aware that money was inexistent in some societies,37 he considered certain money uses to be "as old as mankind".

Polanyi is obviously correct; this sort of barter could not be carried out in the absence of a standard equivalent. Just as he did not stress that barter does occur without bargaining or gain and without the use of money as a standard of value, he underestimated or ignored the fact that barter can take place at set rates see p. Though he usually considered barter as an exchange pattern, in an early text he stated that barter not only assumed a reciprocal form but also that it was usual, "in the vast ancient systems of redistribution".

Polanyi's failure to stress that, as barter does prevail in almost any type of society, it cannot logically be attributed a causal role in the genesis of any particular economic system, deprived him of a powerful argument with which to challenge the formalists. If in Adam Smith's words, there be a propensity in human nature "to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another",41 this does not imply that a propensity to barter necessarily generates the phenomenon of profit seeking, nor for that matter that barter be directly relevant to the development of capitalism.

Like Marx, Polanyi considered barter to be a subordinate form of exchange, though for him, this term had different connotations than it did for Marx. V Barter according to Marx. According to my reading of Marx,42 he fails to distinguish adequately between two axes of his analyses: the initial part of the demonstration of his value theory and the exposition of his theory of direct exchange barter. His demonstration dissects, so to speak, the phenomenon of value; composing various forms in a.

On the other hand, as a social evolutionist, he generally conceived of Society as proceeding from simple primitiveness to complex modernity. Marx describes this aspect of his methodology with respect to money in the following paragraph:. Thus in this respect it may be said that the simpler category can express the dominant relations of a less developed whole, or else those subordinate relations of a more developed whole which already had a historic existence before the whole developed in the direction expressed by a more concrete category.

To that extent the path of abstract thought, rising from the simple to the combined, would correspond to the real historical process" Marx ; underlined by A. He immediately qualifies his statement on historical process with the observation:. Peru" ibid. Given the close coincidence of the rules of logical demonstration for the initial development of his value theory with the premise of simple to complex process for his direct exchange theory , Marx had no obvious reason to question the validity of his method. However in the former the demonstration , the movement is purely psychological concerns "abstract thought" in his words cited above , while the latter is purely historical or societal.

So on this level, the coincidence is non-operative. The respective subjects are formally entirely distinct. A demonstration requires no factor of causality because causality is inherent in the dialectics of the opposing elements by means of which, or through which, reasoning advances from one premise to another, from the simple to the complex, in theory building.

History and Society on the contrary, are concepts by means of which we seek to comprehend a certain exterior reality. They are not inherent in the mind but rather an expression of it, a striving to relate intel-. The development of a logical construct cannot be simply assimilated to an endeavour which aims at explaining an objective process, even though they may appear to be identical and in some cases follow the same route.

They may be analogous but they pertain to distinct categories of reasoning. When he arrives at c m c and finally the capitalist system with m c m, the analogy ceases: circulation expels two-way exchange, so to speak. On the other hand, there develops a whole network of social connections of natural origin, entirely beyond the control of human agents [. The economy, now geared entirely to the production of commodities, drops a curtain on previous economies wherein such production and circulation were subordinate factors, if at all. Capitalist production now establishes itself as a mode of production sui generis.

Marx deals extensively with the dual nature of the commodity: its use-value and value form of value, magnitude of exchange-value ,etc. He begins his analysis of direct exchange or barter with the use-value concept, the exchange of a given quantity of two products having only use-values, not. In the lines to which I have just referred in Capital, volume I, he states:. So they cannot become something else commodities "through the act of exchange", unless a new factor is introduced.

Therefore as they read, the last two sentences cited above are illogical. However in other parts of his work, Marx proposes that the transition between exchange of use- value products to that of commodities occurred through gradual change caused by an increase of trade of surplus products along borders between primitive communities. As the products become converted into commodities, or when they do, a rupture is provoked in the communal mode of production by the insertion of the new relations involved in the production of communities, of "values" destined for exchange.

In this context, he states:. At this stage,. The need for this form first develops with the increase in the number and variety of the commodities entering into the process of exchange. But he didn't. His analysis of barter is mainly focused on the commodity not the product. With the commodity the concept of value is introduced as objectified or abstract labor time, separated from the use-value. This is a crucial point in the development of his theory of value. As has been pointed out, Marx states that exchange originated in the context of trade of products having use-values between two communities on their shared border, and that as the volume of trade increased, the products were transformed from objects having use-value concept which here includes direct labor into objects having value abstract labor time as well as use- value.

The labor necessary to produce the object has now passed from the use- value concept to the value concept. The causal incidence of this momentous development is the result of exchange between communities, that is, not of an internal transformation in the mode of production within the community or communities involved.

I shall return to this point presently. They are exchanged in this relation. The commodities are first transformed into bars in the head and in speech before they are exchanged for one another. They are appraised before being exchanged, and in order to appraise them they must be brought into a given numerical relation to one another. In order to bring them into such a numerical relation, in order to make them commensurable,. The bar has a merely imaginary existence, just as, in general, a relation can obtain a particular embodiment and become individualized only by means of abstraction.

In order to cover the excess of one value over another in exchange, in order to liquidate the balance, the crudest barter, just as with international trade today, requires payment in money" Marx ; underlined by A. And when he did encounter primitive barter of this sort, he discounted it as not relevant. I am referring to the following note in Capital I:.

This statement, like one in Grundrisse , " His dismissal of the "chaotic mass" case cited above is doubly unjustified because it also refers to a primitive population engaged in barter and as such is pertinent to a theory of the origin of exchange. Marx challenged Ricardo, chiding him for his "Robinson Crusoe stories", for converting the. On this occasion he slips into the anachronism of allowing the primitive fisherman and hunter to calculate the value of their implements in accordance with the annuity tables used on the London Stock Exchange in " Marx , n. Despite his irony, Marx himself was confronted with this same problem, i.

He too looked at the development of barter in the mirror or through the prism of his own theory of value, as expressed in the commodity. Such an endeavour should not be disqualified a priori if the analysis is elaborated on a theoretical as well as an empirical level. The value issue as expressed in the commodity is then the central focus of his barter direct exchange theory.

But Marx's commodity is a discrete concept. The commodity cannot crystallize or objectify labor time partially, nor can the commodity exist in an embryonic state. A commodity has value as abstract labor time, otherwise it is not a commodity. In this context the value of the commodity can be neither "simple" nor complex, although value may acquire other characteristics and be treated as an independent variable, as Marx does in his initial demonstration and subsequent analyses.

But in terms of process historically the commodity must have "appeared" full blown.

Barter as a Universal Mode of Exchange - Persée

As a discrete category it cannot be treated developmentally. Here we are face to face with a fundamental problem. This does not imply however that the commodity necessarily dominates a given system. Marx is correct, I believe, in postulating the production and circulation of commodities as a subordinate form in certain non-capitalist societies, for which only certain restricted types of goods, given categories of labor, specific kind of land, etc. If so, it would follow in Marx's terms that money as revenue and as a general not universal equivalent plays a decisive role in these contexts, which are represented as c m c.

Money as capital and as the universal equivalent emerges only with capitalism m c m. His cmc model represents the exchange of use-values between independent producers and money as a means of circulation and revenue not capital. But, as he emphasizes, the money which one person receives in exchange for his commod-. This reference should suffice to simply point up the role of money in c m c. Under capitalism m c m Marx insists time and again that the commodity contains both paid and unpaid labor time, though it is sold at its value. Without attempting to deal here with the less obvious distinctions between CMC and mcm, it may be affirmed that both models, as representations of circulation of the commodity, differ radically in their social and economic implications, from his models of direct exchange or barter.

The commodity plays no part in direct exchange or barter, contrary to Marx's affirmations, if my analyses are correct. The labor of each article of barter is obviously contained in the article itself but it is not objectified, nor quantified nor averaged as social labor time, that is "value", as abstract labor time does not exist in this context. In this social situation, barter is simply exclusively an exchange act. But this occurs only when c m c "appears", when cmc has become a subordinate or the dominant mode of exchange, and of course under capitalism mcm.

When money is utilized only as a standard or measure of equivalents in a transaction, the exchange still does not implicate commodities because this money has no value no congealed labor , nor use-value; it is simply a counting device. However if a money object is employed, even if it be but a limited equivalent only utilizable in exchange for certain articles, then the transaction is no longer barter and the articles exchanged may be considered commodities.

When a money object intervenes in exchange, the formulas c m c or m cm should theoretically apply. When the circulation of commodities c m c exists in one form or another. Under capitalism the products bartered are commodities in their usual context in mcm and the money used in this barter serves only to establish the equivalency between the products being bartered, though normally in m c m a money object intervenes in the transactions.

No causal link is assumed between the exchange of products and that of commodities. The problem, in terms of this paper, remains open. I return now to Marx's initial demonstration of his value theory. No matter how "simple" the value may be, if it is contained in the commodity it must by definition consist of abstract labor time. How could commodities this sort of value be produced as a surplus by nomadic herdsmen, hunters or the like, as Marx proposes? Moreover to maintain, as Marx does, that commodities could have originated under conditions created by inter-community trade, by chance or accident and in gradual evolution, poses virtually insolvable problems.

There are at least four causal factors in Marx's theory of direct exchange: 1 accident or chance; 2 events exterior to the community; 3 gradual increase of exchange or trade; 4 creation of surplus products. Here follow a few remarks concerning them. Therefore this factor cannot be structured into a theory of this nature. This critique raises some crucial problems, the scope of which lie beyond the limits of this study. Among some hunting, fishing, and gathering people, for instance, food which is set aside for future consumption is not necessarily bartered or exchanged.

Surplus can be obtained in many ways. I shall confine my example to three: a it may consist of a strike of luck, an unexpectedly abundant kill or the like, that is, a windfall, b it may be a constant factor and be due to economic specialization in an area which is bountiful in a certain item, or c some goods may be produced in surplus quantities for given purposes. To conclude here; the creation of surplus may be due to such various types of economic behavior, that surplus of itself cannot be assumed to represent a given causal factor.

Marx states repeatedly that under capitalism value does not arise from circulation but rather from the specific relations of production. If value is a major component of his analyses of capital, the commodity also is. Moreover it is the starting point of his great work. Why then did he postulate the origin of the commodity as simply an accidental occurrence of exchange? One would think that logically the origin or origins of the commodity in or among pre-capitalist societies would be postulated as a privileged subject within the framework of a given mode of production, and not on its fringes as a sort of ad hoc, residual phenomenon.

To this extent Marx's treatment of process in his direct exchange theory is at odds with the method he employs for his analysis of the development of capitalism and its mode of production. Here genesis is not accidental. It is founded on, or created by, certain specific historical conditions. Moreover its. The process is analyzed dialecti- cally and deals with internal contradictions in the feudal mode of production. Nor does capitalism originate gradually, as simple growth. And finally, in his analysis of the commodity under capitalism m c m , surplus value and different types of labor are not axioms, but rather, privileged postulates.

They form part of the value theory and are endowed with an extraordinary explanatory power. The causal factors Marx brings into play in his theory of direct exchange and the origin of the commodity are amazingly weak and strangely contradictory to the theory of history historical materialism he applied to capitalism and so resolutely defended. This is not to say that his theory of direct exchange be without consequences. No matter how inconsistent and contradictory such a profound thinker as Marx might appear or prove to be with respect to a given problem, the very force of his analytical talent or genius raises new questions, reveals perspectives for a richer and more significant approach to the subject, despite the errors.

The phenomenon of barter may be conceptually linked to the economy of modern society, in so far as barter be a purely economic transaction. Polanyi implied this, and Marx worked on such a premise. But what does this similarity signify? The capitalist system arises from its immediate history. But back beyond the mercantile phase, beyond the Renaissance, beyond feudalism, the Romans and the Greeks, where are its roots?

Or were all primitive societies frozen on the outer rims of "history" and all archaic societies doomed to move in cycles ultimately to decline? Did the Greeks invent history only for our usufruct? VI Polanyi and Marx. Among the theories and models which concern themselves with the problems evoked above, I shall again refer to those of Polanyi and Marx. Polanyi considered capitalism sui generis, an emergence, as decisively distinct from all previous and contemporary societies or economies.

Barter was only a behavior pattern. It had no role, however remote, in the instituting of the "self -regulated system of markets", liberal capitalism, which flourished particularly in England during the 19th century. The phenomena of barter and the price-making market were discontinuous, disjunctive. Structurally they were incomparable, but they shared certain characteristics, and hence they pertained to the same "principle", to exchange, as distinguished from the principles of reciprocity and redistribution. Only with capitalism did trade, money and markets fission into the "exchange system or form of integration".

The entire society was then organized in terms of the exigencies of the price-making market, the market which priced all forms of wealth and especially land and labor. Only with capitalism did the economy emerge as an autonomous entity. In all other types of society the economy had been "embedded" in the social, kin, religious, juridical or political matrix to such an extent that any peripheral manifestation of purely economic activity, such as barter, was of little or no consequence.

Polanyi has the great merit of contributing to the complex problems of comparative economics, three powerful models reciprocity, redistribution and exchange. These models permit a considerable portion of the vast documentation on distribution, circulation and exchange of goods to be apprehended on an empirical level. One of the problems which all comprehensive theories in comparative economics and economic anthropology must ultimately face concerns the place of economy in Society. If the economy is autonomous or predominant in capitalism but embedded in other spheres of culture in non-capitalist societies, this discontinuity negates the possibility of formulating any universal economic theories.

If so, capitalism at least is a special case having its own "laws". This problem was one of Polanyi's deep concerns. There are, he argued, two meanings of "economic"; the substantive and the formal. With respect to the former he stated:. It can be briefly if not engagingly defined as an institutionalized process of interaction between man and his environment, which secures him want satisfaction" Polanyi ; see also Formal economics however deals fundamentally with the logic of rational actions.

Its postulates are valid, he contended, only for the price-making market capitalism.


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He denied that the dictum of the formalists that choice is induced by scarcity situations, that economics is the study of the allocation of scarce means to alternative or graded ends be applicable to any society but capitalism. Polanyi's critique of the formalists is, I believe, of great significance. He viewed the problem as follows:. But the problem should be constantly reposed. It may be viewed in terms of any one of a variety of hypotheses, as for example the following:. In other societies the economy is embedded in the cultural matrix and they are regulated by entirely different domains of culture.

These domains may vary with respect to different types of societies. Society exists synchronically and diachronically as a complex system of interacting forces whose structure or "laws" are revealed for example by a "total" comprehension of the individual, of the individual in society and of society in nature.

There can only be a series of contending theories, not susceptible to general agreement or consensus. But they can be critized, as theories, on the level of their inner logic and consistency, in terms of their stated or implied premises and on that of their explicit range of applicability. Polanyi was close to Marx in his insistence on the predominance of the economy under capitalism. Marx saw that in pre-capitalist societies, the individual was not "free", that.

It had "freed" them while creating a world of commodities wherein their labor could be systematically exploited and was quantified regardless of extraneous factors, that is, an economic world based on a complementary opposition; the fear of hunger of the working class which obliged the potential worker to sell his labor as a commodity and the quest for profit of the capitalist class which strongly motivated the entrepreneur to constantly increment his capital investment.

But while Marx considered capitalism a unique historical emergence and a necessary stage in the evolution of Society, he saw "subordinate" forms of commodity production and exchange in archaic societies and, rather summarily, in primitive society. Only under capitalism is the dominant mode of production commodity production.

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Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach
Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach
Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach
Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach
Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach
Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach
Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach
Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach

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