call this customariness a "norm"is merely to describe it. [1981, p. 1006] Both functionalist and social exchange theories provide convincing ac- counts of this gift-giving system (or any other) taken as a whole. Func- tionalism, with its realist conception of society, looks to the contribution that a given system of activity makes to the maintenance of some larger and more durable system: the institution, the culture, the society. Ex- change theory, implicitly nominalist, looks to identities in human nature to account for observed uniformities in social behavior. Some recent in- vestigators, notably in ethnomethodology, have modified this view with- out attenuating its nominalism by asserting that exchange transactions seldom involve rational calculations of self-interest but are typically based on tacit understandings rooted in previous experience (see Cicourel 1973; Deutscher 1973; Cancian 1975). Ekeh (1974) distinguishes between "collectivistic orientations" in social exchange theory, exemplified by Durkheim, Mauss, and particularly Levi- Strauss, and "individualistic orientations,"whose principal spokesmen he identifies as Homans and Blau, although very similar positions were articulated much earlier by Frazer (1919) and by the forgotten American sociologist Albert Chavannes, who was rediscovered by Knox (1963). The collectivistic orientations emphasize systems of exchange and their con- tributions to social solidarity. The individualistic orientations propose that the self-interest of individual participants provides sufficient explanation for particular transactions and ipso facto accounts for any similarities displayed by a plurality of transactions. But the two approaches, when applied to particular cases, are not as contradictory as their protagonists claim, since the collectivists cannot demonstrate that individual trans- 1318
Middletown actions do not satisfy the self-interest of participants in an exchange system, while the individualists have never, to my knowledge, attempted to show that the repetition of similar transactions does not contribute to social solidarity. Indeed, it is very easy to cross from one side of this street to the other when working with empirical material. An earlier report of this study proposed a functional explanation of Christmas gift giving in Middletown as serving to reinforce group solidarity (Caplow and Wil- liamson 1980), and another report of the same study suggests that indi- viduals are persuaded by self-interest to concentrate their gift giving on persons whose goodwill is wanted but cannot be taken for granted (Ca- plow 1982)-an individualistic account with no reference to group solidarity. But while it may be possible, if not prudent, to use opposing theories of social exchange to illuminate different facets of the same data, it must be admitted, nevertheless, that neither theory directly explains cultural uniformities in gift giving. In the collectivist perspective, any type of exchange transaction, whether it is cross-cousin marriage in New Guinea or Christmas giving in Middletown, binds the entire community together.
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