In previous chapters I have explored how concepts of affect play out in everyday social relations; how they shape the way people consider issues of morality, and motivate certain culturally recognised and recognisable forms of interpersonal and social exchange. In this chapter I consider the interplay between forms, material conditions and social relations of exchange as a model or theory of exchange in its own right. I employ Sahlins’ general scheme of reciprocity as a heuristic, overlaying it with Yolŋu terms and concepts, to clarify what I see as the basic Yolŋu theory of exchange. My argument is that ŋayaŋu waŋgany (‘one state or sense of feeling’) is a fundamental value in both material and non-material exchange.
While I make use of Sahlins’ continuum of reciprocities, I need elucidate how his theoretical presuppositions and scheme ultimately differ from those I require to account for the Yolŋu material. Specifically, what I seek to account for is an apparent lack of correlation between the material, and the moral and political dimensions of Sahlins’ scheme when overlaid with the Yolŋu material – whether the material forms of exchange are considered or felt to be positive and ‘good’ or negative and ‘bad,’ and their socio-political entailments – the nature and degree of solidarity that they result in, or effect. Based on empirically observable criteria, certain cultural forms of exchange described in previous chapters can be confidently placed at certain points along Sahlins’ continuum – as material forms. However, when we consider the moral and social dimensions more closely, there appears to be a mismatch between the moral and political entailments and the way these forms are locally conceived. As this material suggests, there are large differences in what-counts-as-what when it comes to the way people consider and experience balance and value in social exchange.
I will argue that we cannot, based on empirical observations alone, assume or deduce the moral entailments of exchange – whether the exchanges observed are considered and felt to be normative and balanced, positive and good, or negative and bad. Nor can we assume or deduce the political entailments – the nature and degree of solidarity that these forms of exchange result in or effect. In order to understand these dimensions of exchange I argue that it is first necessary to understand the terms and concepts that people draw on themselves to interpret, frame and talk about such relations. In the Yolŋu case these are the key body of terms and concepts associated with affect and morality, introduced in Chapter 3. In the Yolŋu case, this associative body of knowledge pivots around the concept of ŋayaŋu (‘state or sense of feeling [among and between people]’).
† The featured image is obviously not included in the Chapter!
†† There is one paragraph missing, as I’m not quite 100% confident with it just yet.