Reciprocal Transactions, Social Capital, and the Transformation of Bedouin Agriculture

By Qalyoubi-Kemp, Rula; Kemp, Thomas | Journal of Economic Issues, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Reciprocal Transactions, Social Capital, and the Transformation of Bedouin Agriculture


Qalyoubi-Kemp, Rula, Kemp, Thomas, Journal of Economic Issues


This work attempts to analyze the changing organizational structure of Bedouin agriculture from the 1930s through the 1960s. This period was chosen because it represents a critical moment in time when the Bedouin were first introduced in western agricultural technologies. It was also the period in which rapid social transformations were taking place in the Jordanian Bedouin community. Specifically, we focus on the decline of reciprocal relationships in production and the role that this has had on social capital formation. We focus on agriculture because it is primary to human survival.

Scope and Method

A thoroughgoing analysis of reciprocal transactions is beyond the scope of this paper; however, some explanation is required. Reciprocal transactions serve the dual purposes of organizing material production and shoring up social relationships. The importance of reciprocal transactions to the sound functioning of any socio-economic system is well recognized within the literature (Portes 1998; Woolcock 1998; Stanfield and Stanfield 1997; and Putnam 1995). By reciprocal transactions, we mean transactions in which the basic economic questions of what to produce, how to produce, and for whom to produce are answered by custom and are free of the quid pro quo mentality of market relationships. While this definition may seem unconventional to those trained in institutional economics, it is in the authors' experiences, an effective way to communicate the idea to heterodox and orthodox economists while at the same time remaining true to the idea as presented in the foundational work of Polanyi (Polanyi [1944] 1968, 47-50).

Within the literature, reciprocal transactions are generally treated as an aspect of social capital. Social capital was originally defined by Pierre Bourdieu as "the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition" (Bourdieu [1980] 1985, 248). Strictly speaking, social capital is not reciprocity, bur reciprocity does contribute to social capital (Castillo and Carter 2002). Hence, the work that has been done under the banner of social capital research offers a great deal of insight into the significance of reciprocal relationships in a well functioning social and economic system. Most particularly, this literature offers a tested rubric from which social capital can be evaluated. With this in mind, we consider the quality of social capital to be a function of a) intra-community integration; b) extra community linkages; c) State-society synergies; and d) corporate cohesion (taken from Woolcock 1998). (1)

Economists within the institutionalist tradition have long argued that the rise of market forces brings about a neglect of reciprocal transactions. This neglect, in turn, contributes to social and cultural decay as human relationships become increasingly commodified. This does not mean that reciprocal transactions are not subject to instrumental value criterion. One can easily envision reciprocal relationships that have damaging effects upon human development. Specifically, the exclusion of outsiders; excess claims on group members; restrictions on individual freedoms; and the downward leveling of norms can all result from the "wrong" kinds of social capital development (Portes 1998, 15). Whether reciprocal transactions have a positive effect is largely determined by the extent that social relations are prevalent at both the person to person and person to State level (Woolcock 1998, 186). That is, reciprocal transactions are most instrumental when they are part of a broader social system of checks and balances.

From an analytical standpoint, it is important that we distinguish between sources of social capital and the derived benefits. As such, we treat reciprocal transactions as an empirically verifiable aspect of social capital. That is, we treat the incidence of reciprocal transactions as a "cause" of social capital development. …

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