Tristan Partridge

 

massumi

“Diagramming is the procedure of abstraction when it is not concerned with reducing the world to an aggregate of objects but, quite the opposite, when it is attending to their genesis… extracting the relational-qualitative arc of one occasion of experience and systematically depositing it in the world for the next occasion to find… the activity of formation appearing stilled” (Massumi 2011: 14, 99).

 

The ongoing use of diagrams in anthropology has its roots in the emergence of the discipline itself. Ever since the work of Malinowski and a number of notable predecessors, diagrams (along with maps) have become a customary feature of ethnographic monographs – with some more standardised and familiar than others. A two-dimensional, often schematic, arrangement of lines drawn to show the organisation, appearance, arrangement, mechanisms or interactions within an area or action of analysis, the diagram has appeared in many different forms.This introductory review focuses first on two particular kinds: those used to convey information regarding kinship, and those depicting different forms of exchange.

Critiques and Challenges

Compared with other practices that rely on the visualisation of ideas and data, and which also operate within an interdisciplinary context, diagrams in anthropology have received less critical scrutiny than, for example, cartography and visual research methods. Photography and film – within Visual Anthropology – have become established forms of both presentation, and of method. They also provide objects of analysis in and of themselves. Interrogating the pitfalls and potential of their display via digital media has led to the development of ‘hypermedia anthropology’ (Pink 2006: xi) – enabling novel combinations of the visual, aural and textual. For some, this counteracts a previous rejection of the ‘visual, sensory and applied’ that coincided with social and cultural anthropology establishing itself as ‘a scientific discipline’ – a rejection of the ‘subjectivity of photography and film’ in favour of adopting ‘visual metaphors such as diagrams, grids and maps to synthesise and objectify knowledge’ (Pink 2006: 8; Grimshaw 2001: 67).Framed this way, diagrams lack the sensory transmission that multimedia forms of presentation seek, in part, to address.

Another critique questions the ‘decontextualisinglinearity’ (Ingold 2000: 140) of diagrams. In this light, the kinship diagram, for example, is seen as a chart that ‘can be taken in at a glance’ and ‘scanned indifferently from any point in any direction’, thus presenting ‘the complete network of kinship relations over several generations… as a totality present in simultaneity’ (Bourdieu 1977: 38, at Ingold 2007: 111). For Ingold, such a ‘snapshot’ resembles ‘the sterile austerity of an electrical circuit board’ – a schematic devoid of human inspiration – even adopting the technical convention of drawing a ‘hump’ where unconnected lines cross one another, echoing the circuit drawing of electrical engineers (Barnes 1967: 122; Ingold 2007: 111).

(Leach 1961, at Ingold 2007 112: Kinship Diagram as Circuit Board): “The lines of the kinship chart join up, they connect, but they are not lifelines or even storylines. It seems that what modern thought has done to place – fixing it to spatial locations – it has also done to people, wrapping their lives into temporal moments” (Ingold 2007: 3).

(Leach 1961, at Ingold 2007 112: Kinship Diagram as Circuit Board): “The lines of the kinship chart join up, they connect, but they are not lifelines or even storylines. It seems that what modern thought has done to place – fixing it to spatial locations – it has also done to people, wrapping their lives into temporal moments” (Ingold 2007: 3).

However, given their innate reliance on the visualisation of data, diagrams also appear to have much to offer the development of forms of ethnographic presentation that challenge, or augment, an exclusive reliance on text. Relationships between the two vary greatly, and critical approaches to cartography raise questions that are equally applicable to diagrams. For example, the idea that they conceal as much as, if not far more than, they reveal, and that any sense of accuracy comes at the cost of minimising complexities inherent in the lives and locales of research. Recognising that maps, as representations, are necessarily selective (Turnbull 2000: 101) leads many, among them Monmonier (1991), to emphasise how all maps ‘tell lies’.

This is not simply because the quest for an ‘accurate’ or ‘precise and comprehensive’ representation of reality raises impossible questions regarding what counts as ‘detail’ and ‘information’ on one hand and what constitutes the infinite, remaining ‘particulars’ on the other, but is because in the cartographic world, all is ‘still and silent’ – as opposed to the world of our experience that is ‘suspended in movement’ (Ingold 2000: 242). Crucially, for the types of diagram under consideration here, this cartographic or diagrammatic world threatens to conceptualise social relations as static social facts rather than as ‘dynamic phenomena,’ offering a particularly empty conception of social life (Kertcher 2006) and envisaging these relations without space to query how they persist or diminish over time (Suitor et al 1997). As we shall see, however, questions around how diagrams are used in anthropology are as numerous as the forms they adopt. Maps of places can be used for guiding and informing our interaction with the world. Diagrams of human relations of different kinds tend not to share such an explicit purpose, however. The role of an exchange diagram, for example – what we might decide it is for – depends very much on the ethnographic material that accompanies it, and which generated it in the first place. In what follows, I present various examples drawn from the anthropological to begin exploring some of these issues and relations.

Kinship

Bourdieu questioned the origins and meanings of familiar ‘graphic representations of kinship,’ recommending a ‘social history of the genealogical tool’ (Bourdieu 1977: 38, 207) – a task which Mary Bouquet addresses by highlighting affinities between ‘European iconographical tradition’ in ’sacred, secular and scientific family trees’ and the ‘conceptual field’ around the anthropological kinship diagram (Bouquet 1996: 45, 59). As elsewhere, these traditions and influences are seen as coalescing and finding form within the work of W. H. R. Rivers and his visualisation of kinship in the genealogical diagram (ibid.).

 

(Rivers 1910: 1 – The Genealogical Method (Kurka’s genealogical diagram)

(Rivers 1910: 1 – The Genealogical Method (Kurka’s genealogical diagram)

Rivers is usually credited with developing the ‘genealogical method’ within anthropological inquiry. In his words, this was to involve the means of both ‘obtaining information’ and of ‘demonstrating the truth of this information.’ In this, diagrams were seen as crucial devices in the presentation of ‘facts,’ and as a way to ‘guarantee the accuracy and completeness [of those facts]’ (Rivers 1910: 11). This was a ‘staunchly positivistic approach’ (Stocking 1992: 34) and explicitly sought to establish the emergent discipline of ethnology ‘on a level with other sciences’ by ‘demonstrating the facts of social organisation’ in such a way as to ‘carry conviction to the reader with as much definiteness as is possible in any biological science’ (Rivers 1910: 12). Visual representations thus became ‘an argument for the credibility of the scientists’ inferences’ (Gifford-Gonzalez 1993: 26, at Bouquet 1996: 45). Kinship diagrams were not his invention, however: Morgan’s ‘diagrams of consanguinity’ in his Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1871) were also based on historical models of the ‘family tree.’

 

(Left) One of Morgan’s (1871) ‘diagrams of consanguinity’. (Right) This ‘Dance Diagram’ by Charles Seligman (1910: 156 – WHR Rivers’ colleague and part of the Torres Strait Expedition) prefigures the symbols used today in kinship diagrams with circles in outline (women) or shaded (men), to distinguish between people of different genders.

(Left) One of Morgan’s (1871) ‘diagrams of consanguinity’.
(Right) This ‘Dance Diagram’ by Charles Seligman (1910: 156 – WHR Rivers’ colleague and part of the Torres Strait Expedition) prefigures the symbols used today in kinship diagrams with circles in outline (women) or shaded (men), to distinguish between people of different genders.

Rivers argued that the systematic presentation of genealogical ‘facts’ offered a way to get ‘beneath the skin’ of human beings to the relations that people were born into and developed throughout their lifetime, admiring how once people had been identified in a genealogical diagram they ‘became real personages… although I had never seen them’ (Rivers 1968: 105, at Bouquet 1996: 45). This reflects both the ‘concrete method’ of questioning in order to learn personal names and terms ‘known by informants,’ and also the weight given to the ‘abstract system of relations underlying those names’ – an abstract order that was itself ‘reconcretized (visualized)’ in the ‘genealogical diagram’ (Bouquet 1996: 45). Rivers’ diagrams led to the conventionalisation of inverting the ‘tree’ of family trees, placing ‘its roots at the top’ (Bouquet 1995: 42–3; 1996), and thus erasing “the image of the tree as a living, growing entity, branching out along its many boughs and shoots, and [replacing] it with an abstract, dendritic geometry of points and lines, in which every point represents a person, and every line a genealogical connection” (Ingold 2000: 135).

This inversion had lasting effects.The stories that ‘people tell about themselves’ and ‘the information gleaned from them by systematic forensic inquiry’ (Bouquet 1993: 140) that Rivers described continued to influence the ‘systematic collection of genealogical data’ – methods that in 1967 Barnes acknowledged could ‘scarcely be improved’ (Barnes 1967: 106, at Ingold 2007: 110). Bouquet also suggests that visualising kinship in the genealogical diagram reflects “the limits of a specific ideological consciousness, [marking] the conceptual points beyond which that consciousness cannot go, and between which it is condemned to oscillate (Jameson, in Clifford 1988: 223)” (Bouquet 1996: 44). Their presence persists (Bouquet 1996: 44) and genealogical diagrams are established as images for use “on the edge of the text” (Stoller 1994: 96) – each (diagram and text) expanding on the explanatory reach of the other.

 

Diagram as Method and Delivery

To recognise this is to emphasise how “the diagram is a possibility of fact – it is not the fact itself” (Deleuze 2004: 110). That is, genealogical diagrams are ‘contemporary models for social relations’ (Barnard & Good 1984: 9), portraying the inter-relationships of ‘real or imaginary individuals’ (ibid. p.8). The significance of these diagrams is not established until ‘the nature of those relationships between the individuals portrayed is clarified’ (Bouquet 1996: 45). Malinowski recognised the visual clout and direct efficacy of the reduction of data within visual forms, whilst at the same time elaborating on the kinds of details and observations that are necessary in establishing the relationships portrayed – how to flesh out the bones of the genealogical diagram: “The method of reducing information, if possible, into charts or synoptic tables ought to be extended to the study of practically all aspects of native life. All types of economic transactions may be studied by following up connected, actual cases, and putting them into a synoptic chart. Also, systems of magic, connected series of ceremonies, types of legal acts… a table ought to be drawn up of all the gifts and presents customary in a given society, a table including the sociological, ceremonial, and economic definition of every item… Besides this, of course, the genealogical census of every community, studied more in detail, extensive maps, plans and diagrams, illustrating ownership in garden land, hunting and fishing privileges, etc., serve as the more fundamental documents of ethnographic research” (Malinowski 1922: 11).

(Left) Malinowski’s use of diagrams extended to documenting canoe types and construction (1922: 83/top; 85/bottom). (Right) He also used diagrams in his linguistic work (here from 1948: 261), on the ‘phatic’ (or performative) use of language (Gellner 1998: 148).

(Left) Malinowski’s use of diagrams extended to documenting canoe types and construction (1922: 83/top; 85/bottom). (Right) He also used diagrams in his linguistic work (here from 1948: 261), on the ‘phatic’ (or performative) use of language (Gellner 1998: 148).

Malinowski, along with Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, and Fortes (among others) sought to understand the ‘basis for the orderly functioning’ of small-scale, effectively state-less societies, and kinship was seen as ‘constituting the basis and structure for social continuity’ in these settings (Carsten 2004: 10). Latter work was dominated by ‘avowedly ahistorical studies of African unilineal kinship systems,’ treating the lineage as bounded units, and developing a ‘complex typology’ to describe the functioning of these systems, involving ‘maximal’ and ‘minimal’ ‘lineages’ and ‘sublineages’ (Carsten 2004: 11).

Evans-Pritchard adapted the visual metaphor of the tree to account for such notions of scale in the inter-relationships between Nuer clans and lineages. He also made attempts to represent Nuer descriptions and depictions of these inter-relationships.

 

Evans-Pritchard’s (1940) diagrammatic lineage trees of the Jinaca (196/l) and Gaatgankiir (197/r).

Evans-Pritchard’s (1940) diagrammatic lineage trees of the Jinaca (196/l) and Gaatgankiir (197/r).

 

In these attempts, Evans-Pritchard explicitly states that it was only the analyst (or ‘we’) who insisted on this visual metaphor, highlighting something of its limitations and biases: “[the Nuer] do not present [lineages] the way we figure them as a series of bifurcations of descent, as a tree of descent, or as a series of triangles of ascent, but as a number of lines running at angles from a common point… they see [the system] as actual relations between groups of kinsmen within local communities rather than as a tree of descent, for the persons after whom the lineages are called do not all proceed from a single individual” (Evans-Pritchard 1940: 202).

 

(Left) Evans-Pritchard’s (1940: 201) outline of a Nuer system of lineage, compared with (Right) “how the Nuer themselves figure a lineage system” (1940: 202).

(Left) Evans-Pritchard’s (1940: 201) outline of a Nuer system of lineage, compared with (Right) “how the Nuer themselves figure a lineage system” (1940: 202).

During this era of kinship studies in Britain, ‘largely preoccupied with the analysis of descent groups’ (Carsten 2004: 12), such projects in France followed a route influenced by Lévi-Strauss’s The Elementary Structures of Kinship with an emphasis instead on social rules, the generation of exchange, and marriage (ibid.). The once-raging debates between adherents of “alliance” or “descent” theories do not need to be repeated here. For current purposes, I focus on how the established symbolic formulae of kinship diagrams have been adapted for use in different ethnographic works, and how the diagram has been modified to focus analytical attention on different aspects of social life. Kinship diagrams do not always fit the static model they imply: it’s not always the intention for ‘each triangle and circle [to represent] one real man or woman’ since they may be used ‘to be used to represent fictive genealogies of imaginary persons’ (Barnard & Good 1984:7). Even when the correlation between diagram symbols and living individuals is more direct, kinship diagrams have been diversely adapted, and ‘constructed so as to bring out certain structural features’ that the work seeks to draw attention to (Bouquet 1996: 60).

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Relationality and Decentering

The different variations on kinship diagrams above share in common a recognisable linearity. Reflections on these conventions question their impact on reinforcing particular notions of relationality, and subsequent effects on ideas around alterity and the individual. In the above examples, the passage of time (in people’s lives) has a directional, generational thrust that can be depicted (across the page) accordingly. For Ingold, this trend reinforces anthropological habits of insisting that ‘the way people in modern Western societies comprehend the passage of history, generations and time’ is ‘essentially linear,’ which casts anything that is not immediately recognisable in an opposing category: “alterity, we are told, is non-linear” (Ingold 2007: 3) – and this, in turn, equates ‘the march of progress’ with the ‘increasing domination of an unruly – and therefore non-linear – nature” (Ingold 2007: 155).

Sahlins, meanwhile, suggests that “the partible ‘dividual’ has become a regular figure of kinship studies as well as a widely distributed icon of the pre-modern subject,” perhaps as a result of anthropologists “staring too long at ego-centred, cum egocentric, kinship diagrams” (Sahlins 2011: 13). As such, we have learned to make the mistake of “rendering the relationships of kinship as the attributes of singular persons” (ibid.). Not only this, but also considering ‘kin persons’ as the only kind of persons who are ‘multiple, divisible, and relationally constructed’ leads to a tendency to overlook the fact that more familiar terms are also relational, among them ‘employees’, ‘clients’, ‘teammates’, ‘classmates ‘, guests’, ‘customers’ and ‘aliens’: “When aspects of the same person, variously salient in different social contexts, they are instances of partibility. But they are not instances of ‘dividuality,’ since they do not entail the incorporation of others in the one person” (Sahlins 2011: 13).



Clockwise from bottom left: social structure and marriage rules within Aranda kinship (Lévi-Strauss 1972 [1966]: 83); Ambryan kinship systems (Lévi-Strauss 1969, fig. 5), cited by Gell 1998: 91; (Upper right) Figure 24 – Relationships and Contexts (Rose 2000: 222); (Lower right) Figure 9 – Yarralin marriage practices and identities cross-cutting moieties and social categories (Rose 2000: 77).

Clockwise from bottom left: social structure and marriage rules within Aranda kinship (Lévi-Strauss 1972 [1966]: 83); Ambryan kinship systems (Lévi-Strauss 1969, fig. 5), cited by Gell 1998: 91; (Upper right) Figure 24 – Relationships and Contexts (Rose 2000: 222); (Lower right) Figure 9 – Yarralin marriage practices and identities cross-cutting moieties and social categories (Rose 2000: 77).

Rhizomes 

In her description of the Yarralin people’s world view, Rose (2000: 221) describes individuals as shaped by their own personal ‘angle of perception,’ the angle of their matrilineal identity, and their ‘various country angles which tie them into other species and to the workings of the world” (ibid.). The diagram drawn to reflect this resembles Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘rhizome’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 18): “a dense and tangled cluster of interlaced threads or filaments, [where] any point in which can be connected to any other” (Ingold 2000: 134). As we have seen, the tree has become one of the ‘most potent images in the intellectual history of the Western world,’ not only used in diagrammatical form to represent ‘hierarchies of control and schemes of taxonomic division’ but also, and above all, ‘chains of genealogicalconnection’ (ibid.). The rhizome model, by contrast, looks beyond the ‘static and linear, arborescent and dendritic imagery of the genealogical model’ to begin thinking ‘about persons, relationships and land’ in a world in movement, “wherein every part or region enfolds, in its growth, its relations with all the others” (ibid.): “a continually ravelling and unravellingrelational manifold” (Ingold 2000: 140).

Rose’s description of relationships and contexts – based on Yarralin ideas about wisdom, difference and interconnection – includes the influence of (physical and relational) positioning on perception, in a strikingly ‘rhizomatic’ account: “an angle of perception is a boundary, and boundaries are both necessary and arbitrary. Necessity lies in the fact that there are no relationships unless there are parts, and without relationships there is only uniformity and chaos. Arbitrariness lies in the fact that since all parts are ultimately interconnected, the particular boundary drawn at a given point is only one of many possible boundaries. Each line in Figure 24 is both and boundary and a relationship. Each node (A, B, C, etc) is both a context and an angle of vision, another centre… One particular human angle defines our world as it is because it is we who are looking. Perception distorts, but wisdom lies in knowing that distortion is not understanding” (Rose 2000: 222).

Such developments and reflections take us beyond the more recognisable examples of kinship diagrams, especially those focused on lineages and descent. As mentioned above, Lévi-Strauss’s work on kinship shifted focus to the importance of marriage, and of exchange more generally, in ‘establishing and maintaining relations between groups, rather than just individuals’ (Carsten 2004: 14). In this, he developed models for ‘elaborate, long-term exchange[s] involving the transfer of goods, services, and people that cemented relations between groups’ (Carsten 2004: 14) – making extensive use of diagrams.

 

 

(Left) Lévi-Strauss (1969: 64) draws on Firth (1936) to highlight the ‘astonishing complexity of matrimonial exchanges in Tikopia’ (Solomon Islands), cementing relations between specific groups of ‘in-laws’ and binding each lineage (or kinship group) in ‘a system of directional exchanges’. (Lower right) Lévi-Strauss (1969: 35) focuses on the ceremonial distribution of meat in Burma, emphasising the role played by kinship systems in determining the kinds and quantities of meat received by different individuals, and the subsequent effects that generosity expended in such feasts have on future marriage arrangements. (Upper right) Robinson (in the volume Marriage in Tribal Societies, ed. Meyer Fortes 1962: 129) specifies not only the kinds of foodstuffs (re)distributed as marriage gifts and the order of consent and expectation between specific members of the bride and groom’s families, but also the temporal order of the transfers, spread over a number of days around the ceremony itself (1962: 130).

(Left) Lévi-Strauss (1969: 64) draws on Firth (1936) to highlight the ‘astonishing complexity of matrimonial exchanges in Tikopia’ (Solomon Islands), cementing relations between specific groups of ‘in-laws’ and binding each lineage (or kinship group) in ‘a system of directional exchanges’.
(Lower right) Lévi-Strauss (1969: 35) focuses on the ceremonial distribution of meat in Burma, emphasising the role played by kinship systems in determining the kinds and quantities of meat received by different individuals, and the subsequent effects that generosity expended in such feasts have on future marriage arrangements.
(Upper right) Robinson (in the volume Marriage in Tribal Societies, ed. Meyer Fortes 1962: 129) specifies not only the kinds of foodstuffs (re)distributed as marriage gifts and the order of consent and expectation between specific members of the bride and groom’s families, but also the temporal order of the transfers, spread over a number of days around the ceremony itself (1962: 130).

 

Exchange

There is a tension at the heart of anthropological diagrams of exchange concerning attempts to represent movement (spatiotemporal change) and the effects of time passing. Holbraad (2012: 101) asks why a line is ‘appropriate for representing a trajectory [of change]’ and how the inherent continuity of trajectories relates to the ‘momentum’ of movements and action. Is demarcating, visualising and representing the ‘continuity of plotted trajectories’ not a ‘very faint way of expressing momentum’ (ibid.)? He adds that ‘tota simul representations on paper’ have to be ‘economical’ since ‘they do not move in themselves, and hence they cannot really have a momentum,’ but argues that this economy ‘comes at a price’: “For the point about momentum is not only that it renders motion both continuous and directional, but also that it does so as a matter of necessity: momentum describes the inner compulsion of motion. The best way to understand this, I think, is cinematic: imagine panning away from the bird‘s-eye perspective of diagrams, and placing the “camera” at the helm of a moving trajectory, cockpit-style” (Holbraad 2012: 101).

 

Flow

With kinship diagrams, their linearity directed the passage of time and the segregation (or interaction) of generations. Attempts to visualise and represent exchange, however, emphasise the ‘movement’ of transfer – relying on directional arrows to depict action and change, often across both time and space. As the following examples illustrate, on the more abstract level of economic theory, diagrams are apt devices for illustrating modes and relations of trade and transfer – operating at different scales in order to reflect different ‘flows’ (Appadurai 1996) of goods, labour, capital, value, commodities, people and technologies.

 

(Left) Gudeman (2001: 6) diagrams the neoclassical economy, in the style of work that deals explicitly with ‘Economics,’ eg. (Right) Harvey (2003: 10) outlining the ‘paths of capital circulation’ (in capitalist society).

(Left) Gudeman (2001: 6) diagrams the neoclassical economy, in the style of work that deals explicitly with ‘Economics,’ eg. (Right) Harvey (2003: 10) outlining the ‘paths of capital circulation’ (in capitalist society).

 

Building on diagrams of neoclassical economy (see above), Gudeman (2001: 7) draws the Economy as a complex of ‘practices and relationships’ that are ‘constituted within the two realms of market and community’ and the four ‘value domains’ he terms ‘the base, social relationships, trade, and accumulation’ (Gudeman 2001: 5). In this diagram (below, left), he emphasises the difference between established contemporary theories of value relativism through individual preference and its influence on demand and supply, and his own that proposes a world of ‘inconsistent, or incommensurate, domains of value that are locally specified’ – ‘culture’ is thus “made and re­made through contingent categories, such as home and work, body and the other, weekdays and weekends, beauty and efficiency, or friend­ship and love. Different value arenas make up economy” (Gudeman 2001: 6-7).

(Left) Gudeman 2001. (Right) Gudeman & Rivera (1990: 119, used here by Mayer 2002: 22) delineates the flow of expenditures and leftovers within a specific (if unidentified) site – the house (more on ‘Sites’ of exchange, below).

(Left) Gudeman 2001: ‘market’, ‘community’ and ‘value domains’. (Right) Gudeman & Rivera (1990: 119, used here by Mayer 2002: 22) delineates the flow of expenditures and leftovers within a specific (if unidentified) site – the house (more on ‘Sites’ of exchange, below).

 

The economic diagram format suits cases where the directional flow of abstract goods or entities is depicted in transfer or exchange with similarly abstract (or, rather, generalized) actors. Gregory’s work on gift economies makes extensive use of such diagrams: at the initial level, distinguishing between the single, quantitative exchange relation ‘established between objects’ in commodity transfer, and gift exchange that ‘consists of two transactions [where] the transactors become mutually indebted to each other – the exchange relation is established between the transactors rather than the objects’ (Gregory 1982: 46). The gist of these differences is summarized in two, simple figures (3.1/2, below).

(Bottom left) The standard conception of ‘the general relations of production, consumption, distribution and exchange’ within the broader economy is represented diagrammatically by placing production (represented by firms) in opposition to consumption (represented by households), in a relation mediated by exchange (the product market) and distribution: ‘households supply labour and demand consumption goods; firms demand labour and supply consumption goods’ (Gregory 1982: 103). (Upper left) Gregory on Commodity exchange and Gift exchange (1982: 46). (Right) The échange a trois central to Mauss’s work on The Gift as developed by Sahlins (1972: 159), emphasising the role of ‘the second donee in the parable’ (Damren 2002: 86), and using a particular case (4.1) to elaborate on the consequences for our understanding of gift exchange more broadly (4.2). In the former, “the mauri that holds the increase-power (hau) is placed in the forest by the priests (tohunga); the mauri causes game birds to abound; accordingly, some of the captured birds should be ceremoniously returned to the priests who placed the mauri; the consumption of these birds by the priests in effect restores the fertility (hau) of the forest (hence the name of the ceremony, whangai hau, ‘nourishing hau’” (Sahlins 1972: 158). Thus, “the meaning of hau one disengages from the exchange of taonga is as secular as the exchange itself. If the second gift is the hau of the first, then the hau of a good is its yield, just as the hau of a forest is its productiveness… if the point is neither spiritual nor reciprocity as such, if it is rather that one man’s gift should not be another man’s capital, and therefore the fruits of a gift ought to be passed back to the original holder, then the introduction of a third party is necessary. It is necessary precisely to show a turnover: the gift has had issue; the recipient has used it to advantage” (Sahlins 1972: 160).

(Upper left) Gregory on Commodity exchange and Gift exchange (1982: 46).
(Bottom left) The standard conception of ‘the general relations of production, consumption, distribution and exchange’ within the broader economy is represented diagrammatically by placing production (represented by firms) in opposition to consumption (represented by households), in a relation mediated by exchange (the product market) and distribution: ‘households supply labour and demand consumption goods; firms demand labour and supply consumption goods’ (Gregory 1982: 103).
(Right) The échange a trois central to Mauss’s work on The Gift as developed by Sahlins (1972: 159), emphasising the role of ‘the second donee in the parable’ (Damren 2002: 86), and using a particular case (4.1) to elaborate on the consequences for our understanding of gift exchange more broadly (4.2). In the former, “the mauri that holds the increase-power (hau) is placed in the forest by the priests (tohunga); the mauri causes game birds to abound; accordingly, some of the captured birds should be ceremoniously returned to the priests who placed the mauri; the consumption of these birds by the priests in effect restores the fertility (hau) of the forest (hence the name of the ceremony, whangai hau, ‘nourishing hau’” (Sahlins 1972: 158). Thus, “the meaning of hau one disengages from the exchange of taonga is as secular as the exchange itself. If the second gift is the hau of the first, then the hau of a good is its yield, just as the hau of a forest is its productiveness… if the point is neither spiritual nor reciprocity as such, if it is rather that one man’s gift should not be another man’s capital, and therefore the fruits of a gift ought to be passed back to the original holder, then the introduction of a third party is necessary. It is necessary precisely to show a turnover: the gift has had issue; the recipient has used it to advantage” (Sahlins 1972: 160).

(Left) The Temporal the Dimension of Exchange: Gregory (1982: 48) responds directly to the question of temporality in exchange: “simple commodity exchange established a relation of equality between heterogeneous things at a given point in time while gift exchange establishes a relation of equality between homogenous things at different points in time” (Gregory 1982: 47). The earlier diagram is tabulated to illustrate this: “A and B exchange x and y. This is simultaneous exchange but it can be split up into two parts that can be thought of as occurring at two different points in time. If this pair of temporally separated transactions is reproduced at a further two points in time, but in the reverse direction, the temporal outcomes of the debts thereby created will differ depending on whether the debt was of the commodity or the gift variety” (Gregory 1982: 47). (Right) Roads of Gift-debt:the circulation of gifts of different ‘rank’ and ‘velocity’ create ‘roads of gift-debt’ that ‘bind people together in complicated webs of gift-debt’ Gregory (1982: 57-9). The two diagrams show the ‘minor roads’ of exchange that formed the outward and return sequences of exchange, respectively, and emphasise the importance of timing: in both sequences C was a major injunction, whose gifts depended on the prior receipt of goods and gifts from others, which in turn were dependent on the prior return of offerings from still other parties (Gregory 1982: 59).

(Left) The Temporal the Dimension of Exchange: Gregory (1982: 48) responds directly to the question of temporality in exchange: “simple commodity exchange established a relation of equality between heterogeneous things at a given point in time while gift exchange establishes a relation of equality between homogenous things at different points in time” (Gregory 1982: 47). The earlier diagram is tabulated to illustrate this: “A and B exchange x and y. This is simultaneous exchange but it can be split up into two parts that can be thought of as occurring at two different points in time. If this pair of temporally separated transactions is reproduced at a further two points in time, but in the reverse direction, the temporal outcomes of the debts thereby created will differ depending on whether the debt was of the commodity or the gift variety” (Gregory 1982: 47).
(Right) Roads of Gift-debt:the circulation of gifts of different ‘rank’ and ‘velocity’ create ‘roads of gift-debt’ that ‘bind people together in complicated webs of gift-debt’ Gregory (1982: 57-9). The two diagrams show the ‘minor roads’ of exchange that formed the outward and return sequences of exchange, respectively, and emphasise the importance of timing: in both sequences C was a major injunction, whose gifts depended on the prior receipt of goods and gifts from others, which in turn were dependent on the prior return of offerings from still other parties (Gregory 1982: 59).

 

Sites of Exchange

Another broad category of anthropological exchange diagrams attends less to abstract principles or temporality and instead focuses on the specific locales, or sites, of exchange interactions. As such they more closely resemble maps/plans, but often also contain or suggest particular forms of movement and/or interaction.

(Left) Gell’s (1999: 122) plan of the Dhorai market, and (Right) how people in the market are ‘put in their place’ in symmetrical and competitive (as opposed to hierarchical) relations: in the outer zones relations are ‘territorial and segmentary,’ with traders and associates from a given locality all expected to be seated together (Gell 1999: 127).

(Left) Gell’s (1999: 122) plan of the Dhorai market, and (Right) how people in the market are ‘put in their place’ in symmetrical and competitive (as opposed to hierarchical) relations: in the outer zones relations are ‘territorial and segmentary,’ with traders and associates from a given locality all expected to be seated together (Gell 1999: 127).

Gell’s account of the Dhorai market (in Madhya Pradesh, central India) pictures the market as a wheel: different groups of traders are able to sit and transact business in particular areas according to social rank, and the goods they trade in are also ranked, from the most prized (more central) to the less valuable (more peripheral) (Gell 1999: 121).

 

(Left) Duranti (1994: 50) publishes a page of fieldnote sketches later refined for print (Right) where the organisation of spatial relations exerts a critical influence on the political prestige of participants during a meeting held to distribute kava, and the sequential serving of drinks makes and remakes social hierarchies (Duranti 1994: 70).

(Left) Duranti (1994: 50) publishes a page of fieldnote sketches later refined for print (Right) where the organisation of spatial relations exerts a critical influence on the political prestige of participants during a meeting held to distribute kava, and the sequential serving of drinks makes and remakes social hierarchies (Duranti 1994: 70).

 

(Left) Sequences of affinal payments made for a canoe by individual recipients: each payee makes his gift directly to the canoe’s builder (Munn 1986: 133). (Right) This diagram (Gurven et al 2004: 33) models relationships of interaction, viz. the path model of foraging and sharing partnerships, specifying sites in relation to ‘forest days’ and time spent away from home.

(Left) Sequences of affinal payments made for a canoe by individual recipients: each payee makes his gift directly to the canoe’s builder (Munn 1986: 133).
(Right) This diagram (Gurven et al 2004: 33) models relationships of interaction, viz. the path model of foraging and sharing partnerships, specifying sites in relation to ‘forest days’ and time spent away from home.

 

(Left) Gell (1999: 64) and an ‘impossible figure’ to reflect the symbolic practices of marriage and affinity, dependent on ‘cross/sex unmediated and same/sex mediated ‘readings’ of gendered exchanges’ – at the root of conflict between alliance theory and feminist critiques (ibid.). This model derives from the fact that ‘any Melanesian marriage is both collective and individual’ unlike what might be a more familiar stipulation that ‘relations are either between individuals (interpersonal/private) or between collectivities (corporate/public)’ (Gell 1999: 63). Since individual and society are not opposed, the ‘relationship between marriage (the union between specific spouses) and alliance (affinal alliance linking collectivities such as clans) can be understood in terms of fractal magnification/minimization’: an approximate, but not exact, analogy between ‘spouse-to-spouse relations and affinal-group to affinal-group relations’ (ibid.) (Right) Another ‘Strathernogram’ from Gell (1999: 72) detailing the specific working and feeding relations that constitute and support the dala: a matrilineal sub-clan described as the ‘enduring, self-reproducing, building-blocks of Trobriand society’ (1999: 70).

(Left) Gell (1999: 64) and an ‘impossible figure’ to reflect the symbolic practices of marriage and affinity, dependent on ‘cross/sex unmediated and same/sex mediated ‘readings’ of gendered exchanges’ – at the root of conflict between alliance theory and feminist critiques (ibid.). This model derives from the fact that ‘any Melanesian marriage is both collective and individual’ unlike what might be a more familiar stipulation that ‘relations are either between individuals (interpersonal/private) or between collectivities (corporate/public)’ (Gell 1999: 63). Since individual and society are not opposed, the ‘relationship between marriage (the union between specific spouses) and alliance (affinal alliance linking collectivities such as clans) can be understood in terms of fractal magnification/minimization’: an approximate, but not exact, analogy between ‘spouse-to-spouse relations and affinal-group to affinal-group relations’ (ibid.)
(Right) Another ‘Strathernogram’ from Gell (1999: 72) detailing the specific working and feeding relations that constitute and support the dala: a matrilineal sub-clan described as the ‘enduring, self-reproducing, building-blocks of Trobriand society’ (1999: 70).

 

Routes 

Malinowski’s (1922: 63) famous map of the Kula ring – an extensive form of exchange carried out across a wide range of islands that form a ‘closed circuit’: “in the direction of the hands of a clock… long necklaces of red shell, called soulava… in the opposite direction… bracelets of white shell called mwali… Each of these articles, as it travels in its own direction on the closed circuit, meets on its way articles of the other class, and is constantly being exchanged for them” (1922: 64). We are told that ‘every movement of the Kula articles’ is ‘fixed and regulated,’ that no one ‘ever keeps any of the articles for any length of time in his possession,’ and that transactions lead to ‘permanent and lifelong’ connections – none of which is visualized around the text (Malinowski 1922: 62). Others (two examples follow) have subsequently revisited the Kula ring.

Malinowski’s (1922: 63) famous map of the Kula ring.

Malinowski’s (1922: 63) famous map of the Kula ring.

 

Hage's (1977) "undirected graph of the Kula Ring".

Hage’s (1977) “undirected graph of the Kula Ring”.

Hage (1977: 29) describes his diagram as “an undirected graph of the Kula Ring” – it follows Malinowski’s descriptions and plots 18 points (each representing a Kula community) at their ‘approximate relative locations’: “Each point is enclosed by a broken line roughly indicating the territorial extent of the Kula community as an island, a part of an island or a group of islands as in Map V in Argonauts of the Western Pacific. The unbroken lines represent trading relations between these communities” (ibid.) – adopting this form to highlight how trade links may be of any physical distance but ‘may not pass through the territory of another Kula community’ (Hage 1977: 30).

 

(Left) Damon’s (2002: 108) map of locations within and around the Kula ring adopts cartographic norms and scales, and focuses on the names of locations (as part of a paper focusing on the production of ‘fame’ within the system’s exchanges). (Right) An earlier map (from Herskovits’ landmark Economic Anthropology 1952: 200) tracing historical trade routes for various commodities exchanged across the Australian continent, with trade connections extending to the ‘Torres Strait islands and Western Papua’.

(Left) Damon’s (2002: 108) map of locations within and around the Kula ring adopts cartographic norms and scales, and focuses on the names of locations (as part of a paper focusing on the production of ‘fame’ within the system’s exchanges).
(Right) An earlier map (from Herskovits’ landmark Economic Anthropology 1952: 200) tracing historical trade routes for various commodities exchanged across the Australian continent, with trade connections extending to the ‘Torres Strait islands and Western Papua’.

 

‘Baruya trading partners’ (Godelier & Jablonko 1998).

‘Baruya trading partners’ (Godelier & Jablonko 1998).

Godelier and Jablonk’s (1998) diagram (above) combines elements of each category outlined above: flows; sites; sequences (interactions); routes. The Baruya had trade links with 12 other tribes; whose territories are located from 1/2 day’s walk to more than 3 days’ walk away’ – journeys were made to exchange ‘bark cloth, bows and arrows, stone adzes or steel axes, feathers, shells, dogs, and pigs’ (ibid.). This account queries standard notions of the operations within cashless economies: “With such a diversity of goods being exchanged, it might be difficult to find just the partner who had on hand the item one wanted. The problem does not arise, however, because salt bars, like currency, can be exchanged for all kinds of subsistence goods (e.g., bark cloth, stone adzes, arrows) and all kinds of luxury goods (e.g. feathers, shells). Salt bars crisscross all these distinctions. There is a known and accepted rate of exchange of salt bars for any given type of item with each other tribe. The partners in this exchange system are not trading in order to make profit, but rather in order to fulfill their needs as individuals and as members of their society. Nobody hoards salt bars, and nobody withholds goods in order to create an artificial scarcity to force a rise in price. This trading system requires regular, permanent, face-to-face relationships with people with whom one will continue to deal for many years. Everyone knows the accepted rates of exchange” (Godelier & Jablonko 1998).

 

Directionality and Irreversibility

Questioning and expanding on the diverse use of diagrams in anthropology parallels broader concerns within the discipline as a whole – not least how we understand attempts to create ‘a moving picture of a world that doesn’t stand still’ (Clifford 1997). Bourdieu (1990) challenged the structuralist analysis of gift exchange and the idea of ‘some abstracted and synchronic “law of reciprocity,”’ highlighting instead ‘the political judgement of the agents involved as regards the timing of the giving of the initial gift and then of the counter gift’ (Jedrej 2010: 692). This is to question structural analyses that ‘deal with a synchronic virtual reality’ and tends to ‘privilege spatial relations and their analogues in such forms as synoptic tables, diagrams (structures) and figures,’ and is instead to deal with ‘practice,’ which ‘necessarily unfolds in time and has all the properties which synchronic structures cannot take into account, such as directionality and irreversibility’ (ibid.). There are works – such as those on the concept of landscape – that explore and articulate the intersections of time, space and practice (Jedrej 2010: 692). As the above examples suggest, those same intersections urge further examination and exploration through the use of diagrams in anthropology.