[Agnostic Exchange: Homeric Reciprocity and the Heritage of Simmel and Mauss]: A Commentary

Essay Excerpt

Beidelman's article can be considered on two levels. As an exercise in textual ethnography, it succeeds very well in extracting from the Homeric poems a complex yet consistent model of "agonistic exchange," and in making the case for its centrality as a mode of social interaction among men outside the boundaries of kinship and domestic relations. At the second level, it raises general issues concerning the theory of exchange, specifically championing Simmel against Mauss as more relevant to the social-psychological aspects of exchange upon which he concentrates. It is this orderof issues that I wantto address in my comments. Against both Mauss and Simmel, but with Marx, I would argue that exchangeas it exists in any society must be understood in relation to the total process of social production, circulation, and reproduction of which it forms but one moment or aspect. Of more specific ethnographic relevance to Beidelman's Homeric case, however, is the interesting fact that Ancient Greek society itself presents us with such a totalizing theory of exchange among its earliest known documents of social speculation: the myths of Prometheus and Pandora recorded in Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days and the references to gift giving and thievery in the "Homeric" hymn to Hermes. I shall therefore attempt to couch my theoretical discussion in terms of this Archaic Greek theory of exchange. (Beildelman, 260)

About the Author

Terence Turner, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Cornell University, has conducted research and worked as an activist with the Kayapo, a Ge-speaking people of Central Brazil, since 1962. His writings on the Kayapo cover social organization, kinship, myth, ritual, history, the construction of the person, ontological and epistemological aspects of representation and imagery, political organization and mobilization, values, and inter-ethnic relations. He has also published numerous papers on general theoretical topics, including critiques and developments of structural analysis and interpretationist approaches to ritual and myth, cosmology and social consciousness, the social construction of bodiliness, emotions and subjectivity, family structures and kinship terminology, the application of Marxian theory to anthropology, methodological and theoretical insights obtained from combining long term field work with controlled comparison in time and space, and the theoretical basis of anthropological approaches to human rights, multiculturalism, and activism in support of indigenous causes. He has made ethnographic films about the Kayapo with the British Broadcasting Company and Granada Television International. In 1990 he founded the Kayapo Video Project, through which the Kayapo have become able to shoot and edit videos about their own culture and encounters with Brazilian society.

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