Conflict and Resolution: Exchange Versus Reciprocity

Bourdieu's symbolic violence, I think, is central in reciprocity as Nash Equilibrium is in exchange.

I remember writing a post before about how my grandmother and my friend's grandmother practiced reciprocity. They gave each other food, drinks, clothes, jewelries, plants, and even animals that they did not need, value, and meaningfully utilize. It was an ego reciprocating another ego back-and-forth in an almost endless fashion. They were outdoing each other. Once, my grandmother gave her a broiled pig, in return, my friend's grandmother sent back a big bowl of turtle stew, which was priced and rare. Feeling outdone, my grandmother gave her a waling-waling, the most expensive orchid in the Philippines. Since my friend's grandmother was not into plants, she sent back a caged "limokon," a rare bird that hoarsely whistled. Until they died, they reciprocated. Even in their funerals both of their families sent each other funeral money, flower, and food.

Reciprocity, even if not done as a bloody revenge, is "symbolically violent." Bourdieu, in his Algerian example, viewed it as a negative relationship since a benefactor puts a beneficiary into debt of gratitude, especially if the act is too impossible to reciprocate. I would love to critique his ethnographic example and analysis, but for this post, I want to pay homage to him and his critique of Mauss that helped me understand reciprocity as an act-for-act phenomenon as opposed to value-for-value. I think new terms and meanings are needed to expound the concept of gift.

I view reciprocity as a relationship that contains and controls physical violence, relational conflict, and social chaos. Even among gangs, a violent act for a violent act, which does not weigh the equality and gravity of results, is contained. Imagine if gang violence is not relational between two gangs, they will be killing members of others gangs or innocent people because they don't know whom to retaliate. In reciprocal violence, an assault responded with a murder may continue or stop, but gangbangers, definitely, have the control to give up or make their hostile relationship worse. There will always be "losers" and "winners" even in debt of gratitude. The good thing with reciprocity is that it is long-term, and participants have a tendency to surrender, grow out of it, give way, cooperate, pacify, or make amends. Reciprocity, with violence or gift, does end.

The role of reciprocity, in relation to giving and receiving, is to foster cooperation, maintain stability, and solve a relational problem. It is exchange--contracted formally or informally, commercialized like the use of money, and traded as in value-for-value exchange-- that is the source of conflict, opposition, and problem. My laundry example demonstrated that. I had an exchange with a laundry owner. I gave money and he gave service value-for-value, but the result was not what I expected. His act of not charging me solved the problem on my part and my act of deciding to become his loyal customer did not put his sacrifice in vain. We cooperated; thus there was a resolution. Exchange shifted to reciprocity. In this example, reciprocity is act-for-act, ethical, and relational, while exchange is value-for-value, commercial, and transactional. Therefore, reciprocity is the opposite of exchange and vice-versa.

An ideal exchange follows Nash Equilibrium, where both participants gain from the decisions they decide mutually--in relation to each other's decision. A buyer who maximizes his one dollar in relation to the candies he buys and a seller who has an intent to maximize profit from the candies he sells are in an exchange relationship that is in equilibrium if they reach a deal. This is the ideal exchange, but since decisions are involved, any form of exchange inherently effects strategy, suspicion, and conflict. We have concepts of law, crime, and punishment, also because of exchange. Not everyone is capable of deciding correctly, wisely, and gainfully all the time.

Again, there are winners and losers in any activity that involves mutually opposing decisions. Win-win situation occurs when a loser softens up and compromises. Win-win is more of cooperation rather than competition. It is because of equality and balance we idealize that we have concepts such as ethics, morality, justice,and retribution. People are shortchanged, undervalued, and exploited because of exchange. Good thing we have a concept of judicial reciprocity, for example, that reciprocates a criminal act with an act of punishment which is not really an eye-for-an eye or value-for-value since a murder is not equal to a life sentence, or a life of a murdered doctor is not equal to a mugger sentenced to death or a family killed is not equal to a criminal hanged. For cultures and societies that do not complexly practice reciprocity, institutional interventions are needed for their complex practice of exchange. American society is an example where one can buy a cup of hot coffee and sue the coffee shop that sells it afterwards. Frivolous lawsuits are rare in my country. I suspect it is due to how we practice reciprocity. If a Filipino customer says his hot coffee burns his tongue, a Filipino cafe owner may give him a free rice cake or an advice to order a cup of cold coffee with a plastic straw next time.

As I see it, we cannot dismiss the interplay between exchange and reciprocity in the emergence of a structured, hierarchical, systemic society. Besides ethnography, logic can also be an evidence.

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