Saturday, February 7, 2015

Economic Activity and Intimate Relationships

Zelizer's article raises a lot of important questions about economic activity and intimate relationships. As she explains, the two can work in harmony, but many times they do not. On their faces, what is it about economics and money that contaminates intimate relationships?

I've always said I'd never want to be President. I feel like all the time, half the people would despise me and the other half adore me. Does this paradigm play a role in economic activity in relation to intimate relationships?

Lastly, I really enjoy the sort of closing question posed by Zelizer. Given that we live in a world of money and cannot sustain our lives without it, how can we possibly decide who owes what to whom? Is money truly the root of all evil?

Cultural differences and the density of objects

In the reading " Cultural differences and the density of objects", Weiner talks about how multiple crowns (or any other items) made of the same material can vary drastically in what they mean to someone or how much economic value it is worth. It seemed they used some of there prized possessions in exchange for everyday items.  And the items worth, or how much wealth a person has is by, well the possessions the own, but in the objects in what they have been through.  If an object was once used by a war god(so to say) then it what have much more significance which leads to more value that an item of the same material same everything has that has not been owned by them.  I guess if you look at society today we kind of do the same thing.  Say i own a baseball used by the great bambino; this item is not the same as a ball i bought from the store.  It still causes me to wonder about the banana leaves, and what material value they have.  I will have to do more research on the Trobriands people.  Good read though

Creating Values & Hierarchies in a Capitalist Market

In her piece, cultural differences and the density of objects, Weiner invites us to consider the impact of withholding particular items from commodity circulation in order to increase their prestige and value within the marketplace. She uses examples from non-capitalist societies such as the kula shells, fine mats, and other cloth-types that are imagined to exist on a continuum that ranges from highest rank and inalienable objects to low status, common objects used to circulate goods. She emphasizes how "juxtaposing one society's valuable objects against another's" facilitates understanding of how historical happenstance and cultural circumstances generate the symbolic nature of an "inalienable object" and the implications of keeping it out of common exchange.

Following this suggestion, I immediately began to think of how American society values art (which she ended up mentioning briefly at the end of the article). Last semester I had a class on Art in Social Context, where we touched on the notion of money's relation to artworks. One example I always found outrageous, Mark Rothko's White Center, sold at auction in 2007 for $72.84mil to a private collector. I found it hard to believe that a man could paint three blocks of colors on another color, a skill found in that of drawings done by toddlers, could be worth that much money. However, prior ownership is involved here, as this painting may be more well known by its common name, Rothko's Rockefeller, alerting all that this particular Rothko piece was once owned by American-famous capitalists, the Rockefeller family. Everyone in the collectors realm wanted to own a prestigious-by-association painting. Although this is confusing to many on why it matters that the Rockefellers happened to own something, other people that recognize their historical significance within a culture that hinges on the tenants of capitalism, would kill to get their hands on any worldly possession of the family. By making this connection, I found it easier to envision the continuum of hierarchy involved with objects as described by Weiner.

Although I find the prior example to be obvious, I further tried to place the notion of an object's created value within my own context. In a more simplistic view, I thought of the assigned value of "rare" objects. A trip to my local fish store could even help to exemplify these views, where the owner has a rather large fish, a zebra pike cichlid (which is impractical to keep for most people of the hobby based on its sheer size), advertised as "EXTREMELY RARE!!! $699". Now, it is reasonable to say, who in their right mind would spend that much money on a fish? It is eventually going to die, it doesn't serve much utility other than to have something pretty to look at (same function as Rothko's Rockefeller). This fish has no particularly special prior ownership and doesn't serve to increase one's socio-political status...but the point I'm trying to make is based in the fact that because the zebra pike cichlid rarely enters the US aquarium trade, the high pricetag attached to it can be seen as reasonable. 

As products of socialization to a capitalist society, we better understand Weiner's points through an exchange value associated with money rather than an association to a particular person or cultural meaning. This is because the American market depersonalizes objects to attend to monetary exchange values that are known constants by all consumers - in effect, it reifies the continuum described by Weiner as objects can be ranked according to their pricetags (ones worth more money are considered to be more valuable than those with low, everyday prices). What Weiner is observing is the process in which an object generates a "pricetag" or value within its social context. It makes sense why it may be hard to grasp the concepts of the shells, mats, or cloths for people who are not embedded within that cultural circumstance because we have no prior notion of the history and social ties affiliated with the objects discussed. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Guyer: Marginal Gains

What I found interesting in Guyer's revist to the Tiv economy is that it seems to be a pre-colonial thought on exchanged. Meaning, that the exchangeable gifts are based on moral values. This seems to be a more previous look at a lifeworld style thought rather than a "systemic" approach because it is not basing it on just the thing itself, but the morality that comes with that certain thing/exchangeable gifts. The conversion table provided in the piece also allows to see that could be viewed as the most "basic" needs such as food is not a high commodity in the conversion based on its conveyance. However, it could also be argued that this is "systemic" approach to exchangeable gifts as well in Atlantic Africa because there is still an exchange system itself. It just applies more "totality" I believe on the gifts rather than it just being a "thing" that is handed for something else.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Apologies for my earlier misspelling/mis-pronounciation!

The word/practice I was referring to is guanxi - relationships, connections.

Here's a quick discussion of guanxi in business practices in China from the BBC. This ties in well with our discussion of gifts among business bosses-employees in Japan!

I first encountered the concept in the book "Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: the Art of Social Relations in China" by Mayair Young. The book provides a much broader analysis of guanxi beyond business relations.

On Shells, Bikie (iron currencies), Keith Hart and Jane Guyer

As discussed in class, I'm posting a link to the transactions website. I want to draw your attention to two entries that speak to topics that relate to these last two weeks' readings:

1.  Keith Hart's description and discussion of the kina shells necklace (not to be confused with the kula shells!) circulating as currency in Africa. The discussion moves from the shells to Mauss so it connect with many of our discussions on Mauss.

2. (you'll have to scroll down to find this) Jane Guyer's discussion of "The iron currencies of Southern Cameroon" regarding her discovery through museum objects, archives and ethnographic work of the bikie (iron rods), pre-colonial currencies in circulation in south Cameroon before colonial currencies were introduced/imposed. The background she provides here helps to further explain the discussion of multiplicity of currencies in Atlantic Africa.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Gift Exchange Compared to Market Trade

In the article “Some Principles of Exchange and Investment among the Tiv,” Bohannan discusses the ways in which the Tiv organize their economic world, and begins by pointing out the ways in which they distinguish between “gifts” and “market” goods (p.60). Before going into the details of how their market it organized, he describes how gifts are considered separate from other commodities in that they are important for building relationships.
In light of our recent discussions in class about gift exchange, how might this distinction between gifts and market goods be similar (or different) to other systems we have studied? For example, in the United States most items that are given as gifts are also often items that are produced in what we consider to be the market, and there is a strong connection between seasons of gift exchange and market sales. While we ideally consider gifts to be separate from trade items, they appear to be far more connected in our own economy, in comparison with how Bohannan describes the distinct “spheres” in the Tiv’s economy (p. 60). It may not be particularly useful to closely compare these two economies in terms of their markets, but it seems to me that the practice of gift exchange has more similarities across different cultures.

Bohannan, Paul, “Some Principles of Exchange and Investment among the Tiv,” American Anthropologist 1955

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sociteies and the Economy

Sphere of exchange are hierarchical restrictions on the flow and exchange of goods according to the kind of good and the value attached to the kinds of goods in a certain sphere. Among the Tiv people, at the bottom of the hierarchy was subsistence items such as locally produced foodstuffs and household items. Above that, goods such as cloth, cattle, slaves and copper bars were associated with prestige and the highest sphere was the rights in humans; women exchanges in marriage between kin groups. Trading across the spheres was perceived as acceptable if one converts from the a lower sphere in order to acquire commodities in a higher sphere, with the ultimate goal being to convert subsistence wealth into women(the rights in humans). On the other hand it is thought as bad to trade downwards. In addition to Bohannans modeling of the spheres of exchange, Guyer adds an extension by considering a larger geographic area and by so doing, slightly altering underlying notions of Bohannans model. By covering a larger geographical region and not concentrating on a single people group, trading and exchanges between different groups changes the concepts of conveyance and conversion. I find this particularly helpful to think about how indeed the economic practices of a region is dictated by the society. Transplanting a western economic model into nonwestern societies comes with the repercussion of changing the dynamics within the society itself.

Tiv (un)categorization of exchange

In “Some Principles of Exchange and Investment among the Tiv,” Paul Bohan describes the three categories of items with exchangeable wealth he observes in Tiv society.  One group contains items related to subsistence, focusing on local food items.  This is a category considered to fulfill needs of all people, unlike the second category, associated with wealth and status.  Cattle, slaves, and metal bars are exchangeable commodities that fall into this grouping.  The third relates to rights, especially of "dependent" Tiv people like women and children. 

Any commodities left uncategorized are considered without an exchange rate despite their reciprocal value.  This interested me, and I was wondering how these items may have been exchanged/acquired.  Some of these commodities could be produced individually and therefore have no market demand or value.  Considering Bohan's definition of market, these also could be acquired in the form of a gift.  It is an item having no attachment to exchangeable wealth but usually having an expectation of return of something with equivalent/greater value. 

Bohannan, Paul, “Some Principles of Exchange and Investment among the Tiv,” American Anthropologist 1955

Western Influence on the Tiv

For my post this week, I would like to respond to the article by Bohannah about the Tiv and provide some topics for discussion. .I was most interested by the complications western influences created for the Tiv peoples economy.Visitors from the west tried to shift the Tiv method of exchange and gift giving from what was outlines in the first section to a system based on currency, and this caused a great deal of problems for the Tiv. Mainly it brought a new dynamic to their process of exchange which complicated gift giving, market exchanges, and marriage dowry practices already being implemented. After this change, the Tiv found themselves with less resources as more was being exported for money, and in my opinion i believe this process will only continue until the Tiv find themselves with greater levels of inequality and accessibility to resources characteristic of a western economy. The questions I would pose for discussion are as follows. Was the influence the Western nations had on the Tiv positive? Was it right for this form of change to be encouraged by the West? What reasons are there for why the conversion may not be well received by the Tiv?

Natural growth of the Tiv economy

The traditional market system of the Tiv was one in which individual men could grow their own wealth by exchanging their items for items in higher levels of the market hierarchy, called by Bohannan "conversion." Bohannan illustrates this increase of wealth through an archetypal tale of a man starting with a baby chicken as a child and then eventually converting to an exchange marriage (p65). Naturally, the economy grew equally for all participants with good luck in the markets; however, when money was interjected into the Tiv economy, that growth ceased, as "Money does not ... reproduce itself or bear seed. You spend (vihi, literally 'spoil') money and it's gone" (p68). While items (certain types, at least) exchanged through the traditional market system possessed potentially infinite potential for wealth accumulation, money was a stagnant mode of exchange.

In our economy, it seems money only takes on life when something is sold for a higher price than for what it was purchased, yet even so we have rises and falls. In a system like the Tivs', would there ever be anything that could decrease collective, communal wealth other than a natural disaster? Inflation occurred in the economy after the introduction of money, but in a market of goods for goods, could there ever be inflation?

Additionally, in relation to Agapi Fos's response to this reading, I, too, noted the exclusion of land as a trade-able item; rather, land rights are distributed amongst male family members, so families within the same lineage remain organized spatially around one another (p63). However, practically, if land cannot be exchanged between strangers so that the collective amount of land designated to a particular lineage does not grow, at some point each descendant will inherit less land than necessary to produce the necessary amount of items to exchange in the market in order to live. What was the Tivs' solution to this dilemma?

Bohannan, Paul, 1955. "Some Principles of Exchange and Investment among the Tiv." American Anthropologist.

Bohannen Traders and Women’s Domain

Semiprofessional traders that begin to exchange grain across Tiv borders and utilize subsistence marketing for purpose of increasing money is uncomfortable. Tiv women’s role within this area correlates to sphere of exchange and not monetary lowest category complex. Interestingly semiprofessional traders and women who now share these marketing routes are observed “admirable” by Bohannen’s Tiv. However I wonder if this internal acceptance is easily received and/or observed when engaged with different trading groups.

Tiv paradox near of end of article estimates subsistence exports to insatiable non-local market as without sustainable recourse to local consumption. I cannot imagine hardships dealing with non-Tiv trades while attempting to outbid markets that demand higher production than time allows.

Some thoughts about Cancian's study of Zinacantan Society

It's a very short bit in chapter four, toward the end, but the authors reference Cancian's studying of Zinacantan society and how he found that "the riches and poorest" strata were not likely to try experimental methods to increase their wealth was very interesting. He found that it was only the middle sections of the economic spectrum of society that were willing to try more innovative ways of gaining wealth.

This reminds me of the American notion to claim one's middle class status, even in cases when people don't even fall into the middle class. I've seen statistics that roughly 70 percent of Americans think they're middle class, which can hardly be true, despite the edition of "upper" and "lower" modifiers to the term "middle class." It seems that American capitalist society is characterized by the use of innovative, experimental and often risky methods for trying to increase wealth. That parallel between ancient Mayan society and modern American society can serve as evidence that the ancient ideas of "economy" really do have roots that grow into today's society

The future of the "Spheres of Exchange"

Bohanna discusses how the Tiv are concerned because their categories of exchangeable items cannot be maintained. He says that there are three mains reasons for this fact: (1) two of the categories today have no overt validity, (2) many new commodities have been introduced which do not belong to any category, and (3) money has provided a common denominator among the categories which was previously lacking. With this being said, along with the introduction of money, are tiers of exchange an appropriate and correct way to categorize and identify the principles of exchange and investment amongst the Tiv? If not, what might this new categorization demonstrating the principles of exchange and investment look like?

"Exchanging" thoughts...

O'Jays - For the Love of Money
(A sound track for reading this post)

I am prompted to share an ironic meta-level observation after reading Hart and Hann, Bohannan, and Guyer[1].  In these writings, frequent references appear which frame the formalist and substantivist discourse in economic anthropology. Where does truth reside? In theory? In praxis? Surely in the ideas themselves—yes! Ideas--the whole dynamic of the value-exchange of ideas, of intellectual property--that is an interesting thing to consider! It is definitely another site for exploring the social constructions of exchange. 
            But back on planet Earth, from Bohannan, I was also interested in his discussion on the positionality of land, in terms of the exchange structures of the Tiv.  Because they organize their lives spatially, through their inherited forms of land tenure, land is not considered property for exchange.[2] As a food systems scholar, I understand this connection to an economy identity rooted in subsistence agriculture. I can appreciate the functionality of an economy based on having enough land to grow what you need. Clearly, the introduction of money into this culture, which creates commodities of all things, including land, is challenging very deeply held ways of knowing—that is to say, the social foundations we count on to make sense of the world.

[1] Bohannan, Paul, “Some Principles of Exchange and Investment among the Tiv,” American Anthropologist 1955 . 
Hart and Hann, Economic Anthropology, Chapter 4 & 5
Guyer, Jane, “Conversions: Asymmetrical Transactions” [from Marginal Gains]

[2] Bohannan, Paul, “Some Principles of Exchange and Investment among the Tiv,” American Anthropologist, p. 63.