Chapter 16: Barter
Patrick Heady ‘Barter’ is a non-technical English term which anthropologists have applied to a range of transactions that share certain characteristics. Barter typically denotes the direct exchange of goods or services for each other without the medium of money. Within this broad class of exchanges, the term is generally restricted to those in which the prime focus of interest for the exchange partners is in the goods and services themselves rather than the social relationships arising from the exchange: where social relations are the prime focus of interest the transaction is usually referred to as gift exchange (see Yan chap. 15 supra). However, as we shall see later on, the boundary between barter and gift exchange can be rather fuzzy. I shall start by looking at the practical advantages and disadvantages of barter compared with exchanges mediated by money, paying a good deal of attention to the questions of ‘transaction costs’ and how to ensure ‘coincidence of wants’. After that, I shall look more closely at the relation between barter and gift exchange. The discussion will be framed within a more general contrast between exchanges in which the partners emphasise their own material advantage at the expense of building goodwill between them, and exchanges (of which the most pronounced are outright gifts) in which the partners forgo some material advantages in order to strengthen their relationship. I shall look at how far, and when, exchanges can become purely material, and whether these circumstances are more typical for barter or money-mediated...
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