A Handbook of Economic Anthropology
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A Handbook of Economic Anthropology

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.
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Chapter 16: Barter

Patrick Heady


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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