Reciprocity is different from sharing and dividing up, as mutuality is its defining property. If a transaction is reciprocal, we can establish a link between an individual act of provisioning and an individual benefit.
# The Features of Reciprocity - conveys the idea of a balance of comparable mutual sacrifices (Alfred Gell (1999: 88). - among generations: not necessarily a relation between interacting contemporarians, or adjacent generations (parents -> children), but according to Thomas Widlok:
"To consider it to be mutual, we would need to stretch it further by equating the parent who provides for today’s children with the children of tomorrow’s parents, i.e. conceiving of the grandchildren as receiving back from their own parents what their grandparents have provided to these parents when they were bringing them up."
- Evolutionary anthropologists, human behavioural ecologists and evolutionary economists or psychologists tend to interpret pro-social, "altruistic" acts, as something that it ultimately benefiting the performer. This way the can stick to the conventional vision of the human being and its calculative rationality, while acknowledging that humans indeed sometimes do things for one another. According to Widlock:
The notion of reciprocity allows the accommodation of such pro-social acts in a closed universe of material survival pressures, and as an expression of mechanical processes of selection. Such assumptions explain the tenacity with which many researchers insist to see reciprocity where there is no evidence for it. ...Taken together, the ethnographic record of sharing and the numerous (wo)man years of field experience that they represent strongly point away from reciprocity.
- reciprocal flows can be visible (money, material goods) or tend to be invisible (admiration, followership) - TO BE CONTINUED
# The Myth of Reciprocity
Occasionally, “reciprocity” is applied as a shortcut key to invoke an image of human cooperative rather than competitive transactions but, ..., it can also be used to implicitly cement a utilitarian view of all transfers as quasi-market exchanges. In sum, Pryor and Graburn (1980) speak of the “myth of reciprocity” and Graeber (2001: 217) points to the fact that the notion is so widely used today that it has become “very near to meaningless”.
There is also an ideology of reciprocity (and, at times, an ideology of rejected reciprocity) among those who practice sharing and gift giving
# There is no such thing as negative or generalized reciprocity
Sahlins’ model is flawed conceptually and almost from the start it has been criticized on two counts: firstly, it overstretches the notion of “reciprocity” to cover transactions that are clearly not reciprocal at all, namely “generalized reciprocity” for sharing and “negative reciprocity” for stealing (... a summary is provided by Hunt 2000); secondly, it assumes that “generalized reciprocity” always implies close kinship relations.
This does not stand up to the fact that sharing has been observed to be at times indiscriminate with regard to specific kin relations, since it may include everyone present, even “distant” visitors or anthropologists who are not treated as close kin in other contexts (see Woodburn 1998).
# Sources Thomas Widlok (2017): "The Anthropology of the Economy of Sharing" Oxford: Routledge.