||Reciprocity (from Latin reciprocus, â€˜alternatingâ€™), in sociology, describes a situation in which an item or service is returned. It demonstrates a mutual exchange between persons or a social group that acts to unite them while, at the same time, differentiating them as separate members in the exchange relationship.
Marcell Mauss is the first prominent theorist on the subject of reciprocity. In his 1925 work, The Gift, he comments on how reciprocity entails a moral obligation to return the value of the gift to the donor, either immediately or in the distant future.
Later critics said that there is little clarity in Mauss\'s use of reciprocity. They questioned whether it refers to something that is visibly returned, a social ideal or human nature: that is, where gifts are not returned visibly, could a different kind of return (for instance, emotional, spiritual or religious) be envisaged? Such would be the case with the Christian practice of giving alms with the view to gain merit in the next kingdom.
K. Polyani identifies reciprocity in an economic idiom claiming that reciprocity is the dominant mode of distributing goods and services in certain societies. The other two modes of distribution were redistribution when goods are pooled together at the political centre to be distributed out later, as in feudal society; and market exchange as present in capitalist society.
Marshall Sahlins identifies three kinds of reciprocity in precapitalist society, depending on the kinds of materials exchanged and the social distance between the participants. Generalized reciprocity is characteristic of people in intimate relationships like that of the family. This creates greatest solidarity, there is no strict obligation to return the item, but reciprocity is still apparent when it is viewed in a moral way, such as when close kin are expected to support and help members in need. Balanced reciprocity marks an equivalence between goods and services exchanged. It is characteristic of trade relationships and is more economic than moral in character. Negative reciprocity applies to those situations in which attempts are made to make gains at the expense of the other side as instanced in theft, raiding and warfare.
Reciprocity may also be considered in the light of marriage arrangements where women are regarded as symbolic gifts. All these areas demonstrate how reciprocity is a many-sided organizing principle in the lives of people in societies. RK
See also economic anthropology; exchange.Further reading Claude LÃ©vi-Strauss, The Elementary Structure of Kinship; , K. Polyani, Primitive, Archaic and Modern Economies; , Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics.