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Anthropology Concepts Derived from Functionalism and Culture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Anthropology
Wordcount: 2295 words Published: 26th Apr 2018

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His approach to anthropology was based on functionalism and culture. Functionalism ascribes meaning, function, and purpose to the elements within a whole. Culture defines that whole, and it constitutes the entity in which the various functional elements act and are interdependent.

Malinowskis understanding of functionalism was in large part derived from a system of balanced reciprocity that he observed while conducting fieldwork. This system is known as the Kula Ring and involves annual inter-island visits between trading partners who exchange highly valued shell ornaments. The goods used in Kula exchanges consist of two types: necklaces (soulava) and armbands (mwali). Neither trade item is particularly well made or crafted of rare materials. He inferred that the principal motivation for the enormous expenditure of time and effort involved in Kula expeditions to be non-utilitarian.

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In the system, each participant is linked to two partners. One partner trades a necklace in return for an armband of equivalent value. The other makes a reverse exchange of an armband for a necklace. While each Kula partner is tied to only two other partners, each contact has an additional connection on either end of the distribution chain. This eventually forms the Kula Ring and this links more than a dozen islands over hundreds of miles of ocean. Malinowski reasoned that the expense and preoccupation with Kula trade must be functional in nature and most likely served to solve fundamental spatial problems in the Islanders lives. He argued that Kula Ring served three functions in Trobriand society.

  1. First, it serves to establish friendly relations among the inhabitants of different islands and maintain a pattern of peaceful contact and communication over great distances with trading partners who might or might not speak the same language.
  2. It provides the occasion for the inter-island exchange of utilitarian items. These utilitarian items are shipped back and forth in the course of Kula expeditions.
  3. Finally, they reinforce status, since the hereditary chiefs own the most important shell valuables and it is their responsibility for directing ocean voyages.


Second, symbolic objects and gifts have long been recognized as a form of interartion that can create meaning for group memebers, especially in terms of fostering connection among group memebers or between groups. Polanyi (1944) and Sahlin (1972) showed how, until very recently in human history, was not about gaining profit but about forging and maintaining group solidarity.

Marcel mauss:

To give, to accept, and to reciprocate.

Door Janet T. Landa

Malinowski rejected the notion that Kula gift exchanges were motivated by economic considerations. Rather, Malinowksi emphasized that the motives were social and psychological. Thus began a long debate among anthropologists attempting to to unravel the puizzle of the Kula ring. As a result of subsequent work by anthropologists, a view began to crystallize that the instrumental function of the Kula Ring was the creation op political order via the creation of networks of alliances among stateless societeies so as to facilitate commercial trade. This view, implicitly or explicitly, attributed an underlying economic function to Kula gift exchanges and did much to explain a major puzzle of the Kula ring. The anthropological viewpoint – that the Kula gift exchange system creates primitive laws and order in a stateless societies – is consistent with modern PR PC theory, which emphasizeds the importance of institustions in facilitating exchange. Richard Posner (1980) in his insightful paper on the economic functions of institutions of primitive societeies, explains the Kula ringa as an institution that facilitated trade. Quoting Belshaw (1965), Posner says:

“ The Kula itself wsa not oriented to mindividual trade in ints ceremonial activities. But alonghside the kula persons visiting theru partners took advantage of the oppurtunities to engage in trade. Malinoswki makes point that kula partners would exchange gifts of a trade character in addition to vaygu ‘s (the ornamental objects exchanged in the kula ring), and the szecurity afforded by the partenership would make it possible for the visitor to make contact with other persons in the village and trade with them.

An explanation of the Kula ring in terms of its role in facilitating trade, while explaining the major puzzle of the kula ring, leaves unanswered tow other major puzzles of the kula ring – not explained by anthropologist or anyone else. The two puzzled, which this paper will attempt to explain, are

1. Why is the Kula trade organized in the form of a ring of connected partners? and
2. why in the kula ring are there two different ceremonial goods circulating in opposite directions perceptually around the ring?

In this chapter we on PR-PC theory of the economics od signaling to develop a theory of the Kula ring that will unravel the Kula puzzles. Fundamental to our theory of the Kula ring is the assumption that transaction costs are positive. The emphasis on the importance of the foundations of modern PR-PC theory and modern monetary theory. Recdently, the insoight that “institutions matter” in a world with positive transactin costst has been extended to explain certain institutions of primitive societies.
The theory of the kula ring presented in this chapter is consisten with the transaction costst approach to intitutions in emphasizing that the kula ring is an institutional arrangement that emerged primarily in orde to economize on transaction costs of intertribal commercial exchange in stateless societies.


A visiting Kula partner arrives with a “solicitary gift” (e.g. food) and is given an “opening gift”, say a necklace, from his host Kula partner, the must be reciprocated woth a counter-gift, an armshell, of equivalent value at a future date. It should be noted that no kula valuables are carried on overseas kula expeditions; the visiting kula partner visits his host partner in order to receive gifts and not to give them. Between any two kula partners, the is an institutionalized delayed reciprocity, involving two opposite kinds of objects. But at the same time, each of these two objects must be passed on in one direction only so that a chain of unidirectional trading kula partners is built up in the kula ring. The global structure of the kula exchange is one that is characterized by cyclical, indirect reciprocation between connected pairs of partners (levi-strauss 1969). Furthermore, a time limit is also prescribed for a recipient of a gift to pass it on to one of his partners:

A man who is in the kula, never keeps any article for longer thas, say, a year or tweo. Even this exposes him to the reproach of being “niggardly” and certain districts have the bad reputationj of being “slow” and “hard” in the kula… (Malinowski, 1961).

In this Kula gift exchange the equivalence of the closing gift is left to the giver. What are the mechanisms for ensuring that the partners will honor the obligation to reciprocate? Four mechanisms can be identified.

1. Role of “intermediary gifts”: if a kula partner cannot repay his partner when the latter visits him, he must reciprocate the opening gift with a smaller gift, and “intermediary gift”, given in token of good faith, which itself must be reciprocated by his partner. Thus the time interval between receiving the opening gift and reciprocating the closing gift is bridged by a series of smaller gift exchanges between Kula partners.

2. Role of reputation: A kula partner who does not repay a gift will eventually lose his reputation and Kula partners.

3. Role of “give and take” moral code in which the wealthy man is obligated to share wealth: the higher the rank the greater the obligation

4. Role of public magical rites and ceremonial acts: magical rites and public ceremonial acts always accompany an overseas Kula expedition; these rites and ceremonies “act indirectly on the mind of one’s partner and make him soft, insteady in mind and eager to give kula gifts”. Malinowski also suggested the use of sorcery by a kula trader against the defaulting partner.

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A third set of rules governs membership in the kula ring. Kula exchange is not free exchange between anonymous parties whenever the opportunity arises. Strict rules govern who can enter the Kula ring. To enter the ring, a man must inherit a kula object and magic from his father or mother’s brother. Once he obtains a kula object, he can initiate a kula partnership with his father’s or mother’s brother’s partners or other partners in the kula ring. Once a kula partnership is established, it is a lifelong partnership and is passed on from generation to generation: “ Once in the kula, always in the kula.” Not all East Papuo-Melanasionans in massim, however, can participate in the Kula ring. For example, ceratin “inferior” sub-clans in Kiriwana are excluded.

A man can have few or many partners depending on his rank. A commoner in the trobriands would have a few partners who lived in nearby islands, whereas a chief would have hundreds of partners distributed over several islands. But there is a geographic limit beyond which no kula traders, not even the most influential chief, has any partnerd and the furthest limits of kula partnership are the same for all the memebers of the kula community. Thus, for example, no man in SIneketa has any partners in Kitiva, and no man in S.E. Dobu or Dobu island has Kila partners in Sineketa. Beyond the geographic limit , however, a kula trader still know the mnames of his indirect partners, i.e. the partnersfo his partners.. Participants of the kula ring regard the kula trade as acircular system (Damon 1983). The pattern of kula exchange is ver comples. The simplest structure of exchange would be one in which:

If we were to imagin that in the kkula ring, there are many peopke who have only one partern at each side, the the ring would consist of a lartge number of closed circuits, on each of which the same article swould constantly pass.

However, the actual structure of the kula exchange is much more complex since

Every small kula man , as a a rule, has on one side or the other, the big one, that is a chief. And every chief plays the part of a shunting –station for kula objects. Having so many partners on each side, he constantly transfers an object from one strand to another.

EIGEN TEKST (uit boven staande site ge parafraseert)

Structure of intertribal commercial trade

Anthropologists that studied Malinowski’s account of the Kula ring (Campbell 1983; Dalton 1978); Mauss 1979; Sahlins 1969; Uberoi 1971) , feel that Malinowski underestimated the importance of the economical function of the Kula ring, and the way in which it made commercial exchange much easier. Looking closer at the trade process, it is noted that there is a division and specialization of work. Different parties have different specialties for which they are known (e.g. yams, wooden bowls, pots, sago, canoes, etc.), and there is a certain pattern in the different kinds of those finest products that are exchanged between islands in the Kula ring (e.g. yams from the Trobriands against pots from the Amphletts).


– Its all about relationships, social capital.
– Kula the ring of power, identity/status
– Identity confirmed by what you receive
– Will the kula survive  essay question
– Right of passage
– Obligations (inner)
– Generosity  exoectations of return
– Magic
– Role of taking risks  negative more important than positive experiences, dare to be courageous. Going through all shit makes you a man.

Classical anthropologists and ethnologists like Malinowski, Mauss and Lévi-Strauss studied the origins of social order by focusing at a very concrete habit that appears to be wide-spread in archaic society: the exchange of gifts. The principle of give-and-take, or reciprocity, proves to be the main underlying rule, and it is this principle that fulfills a crucial role in creating social ties, trust and community. The exchange of gifts makes possible other types of exchange: of material and nonmaterial goods, services, help and information. These anthropologists not only described the practices of gift giving in great detail but also pointed to their manifold – social, religious, psychological, esthetical, juridical – functions. The functionalist approach exemplified in the work of Malinowski is echoed in Durkheim’s views on the functions of mechanical and organic solidarity. From the anthropological studies a greater range of possible motives for solidarity can be distilled compared to the studies by sociologists.


Levi-Strauss: Goods are not only economic commodities but vehicles and instruments for realities of another order: influence, power, sympathy, status, emotion; and the skillful game of exchange consists of a complex totality of maneuvers, conscious or unconscious, in order to gain security and to fortify one’s self against risks incurred through alliances and rivalry.

Radin 1971: There is no such thing as a free gift
Levi-strauss 1969: Exchanges are peacefully resolved wars and wars are the result of unsuccessful transactions.




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