concept in cultural anthropology that refers to the non-market exchange of goods or labour

Reciprocity is a situation or relationship in which two people or groups agree to do something similar, provide the same help or advantages, to each other. The characteristic of being reciprocal.


  • When one cultivates to the utmost the principles of his nature, and exercises them on the principle of reciprocity, he is not far from the path. What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others.
  • Cultures of gratitude must also be cultures of reciprocity. Each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship. Just as all beings have a duty to me, I have a duty to them. If an animal gives its life to feed me, I am in turn bound to support its life. If I receive a stream's gift of pure water, then I am responsible for returning a gift in kind. An integral part of a human's education is to know those duties and how to perform them.
  • Reciprocity helps resolve the moral tension of taking a life by giving in return something of value that sustains the ones who sustain us. One of our responsibilities as human people is to find ways to enter into reciprocity with the more-than-human world. We can do it through gratitude, through ceremony, through land stewardship, science, art, and in everyday acts of practical reverence.
  • Reciprocity is the basis of each relationship as long as the values to be exchanged are left open to interpretation. Measurement is enforced only when relationships break up. Just think of divorce proceedings. Accordingly, measurement cannot only devalue the goods measured, but also a relationship.
    • Arjo Klamer (1996). The Value of Culture: On the Relationship Between Economics and Arts, p. 24; cited in: Sławomir Magala (2005), Cross-cultural Competence.
  • A gift is the transfer of a good without an explicit specification of a quid pro quo. The good can be a tangible thing or money, but it also can be intangible, as in the form of time, attention, information or knowledge. A present is a gift and so may be the attention that one person ‘gives’ another, or the time that a person donates to an art institute as a volunteer. Usually a gift entails reciprocity: the giver expects something in return for the gift given. Friends expect friendly gestures in return for their friendly gestures; donors expect some form of appreciation or another; and those who give presents at Christmas expect to receive presents in return. The key to understanding the phenomenon of the gift is the nature of the reciprocity involved.
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