Gift giving is an important social action in many societies. Discuss.
Many exchange mechanisms can be observed throughout the worlds cultures; these include reciprocity, redistribution and down the line exchange.
Reciprocity is a form of gift exchange whereby objects have no concept of perceived value. Social gain is seen as more important than any potential economic result in this system. An object would be presented to another and this gesture insure social relations, a return object (or gesture) may be presented at a later date, but the main aim of reciprocity exchange would be the strengthening of social bonds.
An example of reciprocity exchange would be that of the Kula ring (described by Malinoski) in this system objects of perceived value are exchanged in a continuous cycle, which links several islands in the area. These objects (shell necklaces and armbands) are exchanged by individuals in ritual ceremonies where the links between these islands are reinforced and obligations to one another created.
Societies which practice a reciprocity form of exchange can do so for several different motives but in all cases the social/political aspect overrides and economic gain. In the Kula ring the system ensures that all of the islands will aid one another in times of difficulty, relieving social tension and aids in social stability which detracting nothing from the local economy/resources. The Dani, however, although still practicing a form of reciprocity do so for the gain of social status of big man by conspicuous displays of wealth, power and important through their gift giving activities.
It can be difficult for people of a western culture to understand how a process such as that in the Kula ring where little to no personal gain can be seen can be viewed as important, but the point that these people are willing to continue this tradition and carry out a potentially dangerous journey...