The Kula and reciprocity in the rest of the world in a functionalist lens

kula ring

It would appear that the large span of geographic and social connections of the people of South pacific Asian island regions play a part in a larger social functionality and system. Unknowingly we too contribute and participate in systems like this daily. The Kula ring represents a system of trade, societal, and geographic connection between communities and cultures spanning hundreds of miles. These connections support a system of both economic and social traits. Not only is the system of trade of economic but it is critical to social connections and building relationships between kinships. 

In many ways this way of trade and social economic system in not much different in modern American culture. In contrast to the expansive networks peoples living in the Kula ring, we have those within our culture and kinship systems in which we practice a similar system of economic reciprocity. Friends and those we consider to be part of our own kin are usually the beneficiaries  of such a system. For example, the way in which we give more freely to people we consider close to us. This comes in the forms of large offerings such as an 18th or 21st birthday or a graduation party. The gifts given, often times money is expected to be reciprocated at some point for the children of the gifters family.

Even in smaller more insignificant settings the idea of sharing and providing services or gifting things to others bonds us together and grows kinship even among friends. These examples can be seen through gestures such as paying for ones food if you were to go out to eat with them. In most cases this gesture will be reciprocated equally if not more in the future as your relationship with that person grows.  In the same way that the Kula do not place the value of the gift in the item but in the gesture made by giving it. Buying someone lunch or a drink when you are out with them in our society could be comparable to that of the trade in the Kula Ring yet on a much smaller scale. It goes to show that reciprocation of favors is truly a bonding and essential part of social relationships.

Through these connections and relationships we can make an abstraction on the system in place that supports the trade between the Kula ring. Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski described functionalism in a way that came in a fatal contradiction with conflict and competition. In the Kula system the main competition is the ability to reciprocate what is being gifted. If one is unable to gift back something of equal value the debt will be held until the next time the two participants meet. In this specific system of trade functionalism seems to fit a plausible way of explaining how the system continues to work.




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