OVERVIEW A first and necessary step into understanding the process of exchange, undertaken in the preceding chapter, was to identify the most important specific characteristics of the exchange environment, the attributes of actors and the items traded. These characteristics, in different combinations, shape and capture distinct exchange configurations. In other words, each combination of environmental settings, nature of actor group and of the item they exchange results in relatively distinct configurations and homogenous transactions. With a view to the very large number of widely varying characteristics of exchange elements discussed in Chapter 4 one may wonder if exchange configurations are a manageable concept. Each actor is unique, items are seldom identical, and the environment varies strongly over space, so, at the limit, it would be possible to define as many exchange configurations as there are individual transactions. Fortunately, however, this theoretical problem evaporates in practice. Section 5.2 addresses this matter systematically. The following arguments are discussed in some detail. First of all, many characteristics of exchange elements tend to have non-continuous and often bimodal distributions and tend to be highly interrelated. Furthermore, it appears that specific transactions derive from (small numbers of) specific characteristics of elements of exchange. These considerations appear to be robust and to apply generally. Thus, for any exchange configuration, the number of characteristics to be considered is modest and easily manageable. And, finally, the costs of developing new forms of transactions as well as the costs of operating in many different configurations tend to also restrict...
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