Table of Contents

A Handbook of Economic Anthropology

A Handbook of Economic Anthropology

Elgar original reference

Edited by James G. Carrier

This unique Handbook contains substantial and invaluable summary discussions of work on economic processes and issues, and on the relationship between economic and non-economic areas of life. Furthermore it describes conceptual orientations that are important among economic anthropologists, and presents summaries of key issues in the anthropological study of economic life in different regions of the world. Its scope and accessibility make it useful both to those who are interested in a particular topic and to those who want to see the breadth and fruitfulness of an anthropological study of economics.

Chapter 14: Ceremonial Exchange

Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart

Subjects: economics and finance, behavioural and experimental economics, economic psychology, methodology of economics, social policy and sociology, research methods in social policy, sociology and sociological theory


Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart Ceremonial exchange is a term that anthropologists have applied to systems in which items of value are publicly displayed and given to partners on a reciprocal basis over time. Typically, these occasions are marked by dancing and festivities, where men, women and children participate in one way or another. This involvement of the community demonstrates the social importance of the complex events involved. These events also create and maintain forms of political alliance between the partners, whether these are particular persons or groups. Ceremonial exchange therefore becomes an important constitutive factor in the political order of society. Further elements may be added to those we have specified here. For example, the exchanges may take place along lines of intermarriage between sets of kin. They may also spring from compensation payments for deaths that have occurred through inter-group fighting or individual conflicts. Social features of this sort can be added to or subtracted from the basic model, which specifies that ceremonial exchange consists of reciprocal relationships over time that are marked by public transfers of wealth items between partners. In a broad sense, we can also say that the term ‘ceremonial’ refers to the formalised and customary practices of display and communication that take place on these occasions. Owing to the value accorded these practices, we can say that the exchanges form ritual sequences. Finally, it is important to realise that often the exchanges take place in terms of delayed reciprocity. Rather than the two...

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