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Malinowski and Value

Page history last edited by Julia Derouard 14 years, 7 months ago

Malinowski asks about kula necklaces and armshells, "Why, then, are these objects valued, what purpose do they serve?" (p.168, Theory 4th edition). How does he answer this question? What are the implications for our understanding of value as a concept?


Re: Value?

Alexandra Gagne

I think that Malinowski's comparison between The Crown Jewels and kula is definately an important one. It shows that sometimes our value is not measured by utility, but my possession for possessions sake. I do, however, think there is a big problem with this comparison. The Crown Jewels are in fact extremely expensive in terms of money and cost. The kula, in Western markets, would not be held on the same level. The Crown Jewels are important because of history, but also because they cost alot. It seems like the kula is more impressive in this way, because it is not valuable because of any monetary value- this system and the actual items have a hold on these people, just as money has a hold on us. I think that it would be hard to actually find a good comparison in our culture because we do not have a universal idea of value which excludes money. Of course everyone has things that are cheap but mean so much, but we as a culture do not share something like this.


Joey Perry

The comparison between Kula and the Crowned Jewels illustrates that value is not an intrinsic characteristic to any particular item, but rather there must be a collective agreement within a particular society to bestrow value- and the amount of value- onto a particular object. Without having that collective understanding and agreement, gold would only be a type of rock rather than an item of great value. The contrast drawn by Malinowski also illustrates the differing paradigms surrounding wealth and value in different cultures. In Western ideals, valuable items are collected, stowed away (often in locked safes!), and left for the wealth to constantly accumulate over the span of a person's life. By contrast, Trobriand islanders believe that wealth is displayed by giving; the more wealth a person has the more he will give away. To them, valuable items are ephemeral and not meant to be kept for long periods of time. Additionally, the story behind the Kula is important to the value of the Kula rather than being inherently valuable. These contrasts illustrate the binding ways in which cultures cause people to value varying types of actions and items, as well as revealing the illusionary quality of value; however, Malinowski does also point out that even though the cultural attitudes surrounding wealth may be different, the desire to value wealth and bestow heriarchical qualities of value onto items is still a common feature in both cultures.



Re: Joey's post

Lindsey Scott

I agree with Joey's point when she says that value is something that must be a collective agreement.  Without the society deciding that an item has a certain value, there would be no understood value given to any object.  By using Malinowski's example of the Crown Jewels compared to the Kula bracelets and necklaces, we can see exactly what value means to the different cultures.  To the British culture, the Crowned Jewels are one of the most prized possessions that the country has.  But to the Kula, these jewels woud not have much value.  The same goes for the bracelets and necklaces that the Kula trade.  As Joey points out, in the western culture, valuable items are store somewhere safe so that their value can increase over time.  But the Kula put value in other tings and ideas.   None of this would exist without the collective agreement by cultures on value.



Mental Attitudes of a Society Determines Attitude

Estelle Charlu

A great aspect of Malinshowski's work in describing vaygu'a is comparing the Kulu's objects through other objects that are relatable to the reader. Through answering his own question of why these objects are valued, he gives the example of the Crown Jewels that are under lock and key in the Edinburgh Castle. Both the vaygu'a and the crown jewels are herilooks too valuable and too cumbersom to be worn. They are "merely possessed for the sake of possession itself, and the ownership of them with the ensuing renown is the main source of their value (169.)" He then goes on to explain that what makes an object valued is determined through the psychological and sociological forces at work within a culture. It is the "mental attitude which makes us value our heirlooms, and makes the natives in New Guinea value their vaygu'a (170.)" Like Perry says above, it is the collective agreement within a particular society that bestows the value of an object.


Re: Social Code Defines an Objects Value

Erin Neill

The most significant point that Julia brings up is that of context in the determination of value. The value that any culture places on an object is due to the intricacies of the culture and that is inevitably, as Julia writes, due to the established social code. Malinowski's analogy concerning the European Crown Jewel establishes this and answers the question.

As a concept, value and possession are based on established rituals and beliefs. The value of the Kula is tied to the cultural significance of the act. Understanding value beyond our own cultural context is necessary to comprehend significant exchanges and ultimately the larger role that they play. In some cases it would be difficult to see these important interactions without understanding value as a universal concept. Value has an impact of the actions in many cultures, as Malinowki points out, and plays a wide role in human interactions.


What is value?

Alexandra Gagne

Although the kula does not hold monetary value, this system of exchange seems to hold far more importance. "Value" is a hard word for starters- it's something very subjective. My 5 dollar necklace means more to me than anything else I own, because of the meaning behind it. To someone else, a pair of shoes could hold great value. The kula, as Malinowski explains, is something like an heirloom (Crown Jewels). It is irreplaceable where it can be found. It is something far bigger than any person, community, or island. Its history and regularity make it something to marvel at. The jewelry that is exchanged time after time binds this area together. The kula creates and keep social connections that may otherwise never have existed. The items are not important to own, but rather they are important in their exchange. Allies and friends can be found within the kular circuit. This, then, is the value which this system holds. Unlike money, the kula is personal and historical, while connecting perhaps thousands of people- perhaps without their knowledge. Also, it is important to note that to the islanders, giving is in fact the gift. Therefore, this constant exchange can allow people to fullfil their need to give.


Value and Semiotics

Lauren Deal

I find value to be a really interesting topic especially in conjunction with semiotics. Semiotics is the study of signs, signification and communication but I find that Malinowski's article, as well as the Evans-Pritchard and Mauss articles, help to show how this concept can be applied to the study of culture. I know that I am not the first to apply semiotics to culture, it is in many ways an essential part of the anthropologist's arsenal. I simply wanted to muse upon the ease with which these articles illuminate this concept. They are particularly useful because they deal with the concept of value. Value in and of itself is obviously arbitrary. The Trobrianders inscribe value upon the necklaces and armshells through ritual and the buying into of this value makes them essential in these sam rituals as well as in social life. Similarly, we inscribe meaning upon little green slips of paper, all of which are made of the same materials, in varying degrees and trust in the government and the treasury to back that up with gold that is long gone. Going deeper, we must remember that the value of that gold is communally agreed upon and arbitrarily assigned. It is both an act of face and a product of society that we see these things as valuable at all. In essence, the things themselves, whether they are the necklaces or dollar bills, are symbols of an agreed upon meaning or value. They have no value or mean nothing if we don't all agree that they do. Moreover, the fact they have value is only true in relation to something else. This is an essential concept in linguistics and semiotics but it is equally true with cultural value. The kula shells are worth more than mere jewelry. This relative hierarchy is the foundation of a value system. What emerges then in linguistics is the structural system by which the linguistic units or symbols are related. What arises in terms of culture is the total social phenomenon that Mauss talks about. Value in its very nature shows that the kula ring is not one dimensional but rather the product of all of the underlying functions and cultural processes that define Trobriander culture. I guess that my point is, when taken in light of the semiotic nature of culture, value is a concept that is extremely useful and extremely telling. I believe that that is the most useful feature of Malinowski's article, at least to me at this time. Maybe I am wrong but as I read Malinowski's comparison of the armshells and the Crown Jewels, I could not help but think of the arbitrariness of it all and that thought process took me immediately to semiotics.



Kula and Utility Values

Savannah Fetterolf

In the field of economics, there is a great deal of discussion regarding the utility value associated with specific items.  Utility value is how happy possessing a specific product or service makes the consumer.  When brought into the terms of anthropology, utility values, much as Lauren noted, are the value of items that are culturally determined and assigned in each society.  Since the "Western world" clearly conceives of value as something that is assigned based upon a monetary system and the accumulation of goods, there is conflict in the ability for an outsider to recognize the kula trade as a true economic transaction based upon determined utility values.  Therefore, if we look at the utility value of the kula in the Trobriand Islands, we see that it is partially determined by the available supply of kula armbands and necklaces (since their numbers are limited due to restrictions upon their creation) and also determined by the demand for a specific piece as established by its history.  Therefore, when Alexandra wrote that the Crown Jewels do not serve as an adequate metaphor, I would have to say that I disagree.  The monetary value assigned to the Crown Jewels is a completely culturally determined assessment, as is the vale of the kula objects; however, the Trobrianders do not think in terms of monetary value, but instead place trading value arbitrarily on the items that have the most historical worth and the best craftsmanship. 



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