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Dissimilarity Between Commodities and Gifts

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Societal anthropology conventionally differentiates between two kinds of trade in human social orders. This difference is founded on the extent of friendliness that is engrossed in the trade. The root of the so-termed commodities vs. gift argument rises from the notion of Marcel Mauss that argues that two kinds of trade associations exist: gift associations and commodity associations. The 1954 seminal essay by Mauss regarding the gift motivated many commentators and scholars (Kaplan 2017; Mauss 1954). Mauss queried the supposition taken by the proponents of free market money matters that people are fundamentally propelled by a desire to capitalize on proceeds in the type of comfort, pleasure, and material belongings (i.e., value), and that all the relations and motivations of people can thus be explored in cost-effective terms (Mauss 1954).


In numerous pre industrial market systems, present-exchange is a feature of most trades that occur between corporate categories (i.e., families, tribes, etc.). In some instances, these trades are ceremonial; possessing stylized rite content engrossing items of little intrinsic worth, like the Kula ring in Malinowski (1922). In other instances, the trades engross subsistence or prestige items where associations of interpersonal reliance habitually seem to be basic qualifications to any deal.

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Since these types of economic interaction appear to dominate common market systems, they have been talked about a lot in anthropology literature. Nonetheless, present-exchange has not been a noteworthy subject in the literature of economics. Akerlof (1982) implied that rewards are an aspect in employer-employee associations while Becker (1974) referred to presents in the perspective of more broad discussion (Akerlof 1982; Becker 1974)

Generally, anthropologists comprehend presents to vary from merchandise in that the former engross some aspect of inter-individual reliance; the benefactors of a present remain an aspect of the service or good and do not isolate themselves from it (Akerlof 1982; Becker 1974). The typical example of a present is a daughter offered in marriage; the given bride remains one’s daughter, even as she becomes another person’s wife. Therefore, an organic connection is created between otherwise detached family groups. Therefore, a present suggests an objective to establish or sustain a social association among the parties to the trade. On the contrary, items of trade are exchanged firmly in correlation to other items exclusive of any insinuated lasting obligations or associations between the engrossed parties.


As per Gregory (1982), market-exchange establishes quantitative associations that make it possible for the trade parties to stay autonomous after the deal is concluded (Gregory 1982). On the contrary, reward-exchange establishes qualitative associations between benefactors and beneficiaries that make them mutually reliant. For that reason, reward interactions also maintain the exchange associates obliged after the dealings have been concluded. They cannot move away austerely like in the case of market exchange.

Regarding this conceptualization, market trade or commodity-trade are deals that have a low extent of cordiality and a great extent of impersonality in the midst of trade partners. In instances of market exchange, the financial worth of commodities that are handled is very critical, while societal associations are demeaned (Gregory 1982; Kaplan 2017). Market trade is a deal that typically occurs among unfamiliar persons where the trade deal imposes no enduring personal relationship or social obligation. Thus, it is presumed to be a business deal without nearly all communal contemplations. It evades the sensations of gratitude and obligation that is engrossed in reward-giving. In market exchange, after the deal is concluded, the parties have no obligation to have any further shared obligation or association. For example, a packet of milk bought at a convenience store does not construct any responsibility to purchase the commodity there afterwards.

Commodities versus Gift

The sharp difference between commodities and gifts has been queried by numerous social researchers in the past few years. Although the difference between commodities and gifts can be valuable for purposes of analysis, many academics have proposed that the reciprocally restricted distinction between commodities and gifts is not justified. They advocate for this far-reaching hostility to be discarded. In their observation, the dichotomy between the traditional society’s socially entrenched, ethnically determined present-market system and the Western society’s impersonal, logical market financial system is founded on ethnocentric premises of the West; the synthetic formalization of the notion of ‘wholesome present’ in the civilization of the West and the Romanization of present-trade in conventional civilizations.

One category of disparagements centers on the thought that the notion of present-economy essentially derives from the Romanization of present associations in societies that are not Western. For example, Frow (1997) suggested that the distinction between market-trade and gift-trade is essentially based on the regretful depiction of conventional cultures as founded on societal unselfishness that provides rise to present-offering as a foundation for the whole social institution (Frow 1997). Other academics have implied that present-exchange most likely engrosses much more financial computation than Marcel Mauss had presumed. This financial computation in present-trade can be observed both in conventional civilizations like in capitalist ones. According to Gell (1992), conformist definitions exaggerate the disparity between commodity-trade and gift-trade, and that present-trade is much more like market exchange than Gregory (1982) is ready to accept.

According to Bourdieu & Nice (2013), mostly, the single item that makes present-trade dissimilar from straightforward barter operation is the sheer drift of points in time between present and counter-present (Strathern 1992). As per this thought, it can actually be supposed that a present is simply a circuitous delayed trade of services or goods (Bourdieu & Nice 2013). This case was pushed further to some extent by Apparudai (1986) in his renowned foreword to the manuscript The Social Life of Things. Arjun Apparudai perceived that what societal anthropologists have expressed as reward-trade in miniature scale cultures, is actually not merely bounteousness, however, like market-exchange, merely an issue of individual-interested scheming. For example, when a person gives out his daughter for marriage, he intends to create a strong bond between the two families and create allies who he can count on for support in case the need arises.

Apparudai (1986) insinuates that the reification and exaggeration of the distinction between commodity and gift in anthropological literature has numerous roots. One of these tendencies is romanticizing small-scale societies while marginalizing and underplaying the self-aggrandizing, impersonal, and calculative elements of non-capitalist civilizations. As per this category of academics, present swap over is in any case not that dissimilar from trade since, on the long term, the two exploit the same individual-interested, logical basis (Appadurai 1986). For example, if a person sells his cow and another one gives it to his son and at some point both the men fall ill, the one who sold it will use the money to seek medical treatment while the one who gave his to his son will receive assistance from the son.

There is another dissimilar type of criticism from scholars regarding the notion that capitalist civilizations are set apart by impersonal, selfish, logical market swap over, whereas minute scale cultures are distinguished by reward swap over. In investigating commodity-reward dichotomy, this strategy analyzes the function of rewards in industrialized social orders (Miller 2001). The researchers imply that the point of view assumed by Gregory (1982) & Strathern (1992) belittles reward conduct. Their key protestation is that developed civilizations possess very significant financial spending on rewards (Cheal 1988). For instance, Christmas presents in the US embody one of the largest parts of crucial financial drivers for vendor sales. As such, the researchers argue that it is not right to belittle reward conduct in capitalist civilizations and take it as some type of minor appendage to existence there. In western civilizations, numerous cases in point of exchange transactions that possess the attributes of reward-market system: free giving out of information and files on the web, free exchange of knowledge in the scientific community, etc. in fact, the market financial system has a rather noteworthy quantity of dealings that are founded on the rule of giving back and powerfully bear a resemblance to the present-economy (Miller, 2001).

In studying the difference between commodities and gifts, some other societal researchers endeavored to get to a kind of concession on the issue. They suggested that gift-trade and commodity-trade do not sternly embody two completely dissimilar and jointly select community forms, but instead, merely two perfect forms of trade. As a matter of fact, any financial system will be a combination of these two kinds of trade. Bloch and Parry (1986) associated gift-swap over and commodity trade to long-run and short-run cycles of trade. They argued that both forms of trade, instead of being equally restricted, have a tendency of co-occurring in individual communities. Thomas (1991) & Miller (2001) also affirmed that the two forms of dealings are interlinked with each other, and often there are elements of both at hand in any specific trade circumstance. Carrier (1992) implied that every society has a field of Maussian market trade, a capitalist-area, existing alongside a field of Maussian present exchange, non-capitalist area, even if this dichotomy is a generality of a murkier actuality.


The foundation for the anthropological comprehension of markets was first theorized in 1925 by Mauss. At the time, merchandises were still wholesome embodiments of unfriendly market associations. Nonetheless, recent years have brought progressively more personal strategies in commodity-exchange that do not fit precisely into the conventional present-market dichotomy.

The dissimilarity between commodities and gifts is not as pointed as was conventionally believed. Gift-offering approaches and simulated closeness are increasingly extended to apparently impersonal commodities of market exchange. Commodity exchange strategies were and are also extended to personal items of gift exchange. For example, a person will give another his harvest anticipating that when the receiver harvests his, he will reciprocate. The current commodity-exchange deals very often possess attributes that are conventionally credited to reward-trade. Consequently, even if there is agreement that the commodity exchange financial system relies basically on impersonal, logical economic reasoning, commodity-exchange associations also most often apply attributes of reward-exchange among exchange parties. It is clear that commodities are habitually not wholesome embodiments of most probably aloof market associations, but instead, provide rise to associations that can bear a resemblance to those of reward-trade and vice versa.


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