Valuing coins, coining values: friendship after money
10 / 2006 - 11 / 2012
Friendship is a historical variable: the way people think and speak about friends and friendship can be affected by great historical changes in social structures. One such historical transformation is the invention of coin money and the rise of a market economy. My research focuses on the way this historical revolution transformed the way interpersonal relationships were conceived of in 5th and 4th century Athens. The underlying assumption is, roughly, that in a pre-monetary era, friendship equalled a gift-giving relationship, being thought of as an exchange relationship and providing the dominant model of reciprocity. Gift-giving presupposes and generates long-term relationships based on mutual dependence; the value and the meaning of objects of exchange are essentially intertwined with the identity of the exchange partner involved and the history of the relationships between the exchange partners. The invention of money, on the other hand, contributed to the increasing dominance of a fundamentally different type of exchange: market economic transaction, involving immediate exchange of goods of equivalent value, between mutually independent partners. The relationship between these partners of exchange is taken to be short-lived; it may be immediately dissolved after exchange has taken place. Until today, gift-giving has remained a phenomenon central to personal relationships. But we do not commonly take gift-giving into account when we discuss economics. The key concepts of our type of economic analysis (value, self-interest, production, consumption) essentially describe relationships between individuals and objects, instead of relationships between people. We prefer to consider economic processes in abstraction from social structures and relationships; we tend to think our economy is disembeded from these structures and vice versa. My research concerns a process of conceptual disembedding of economic analysis from interpersonal relationships in classical Athens, while focusing precisely on the reverse side of the coin: what happens to the way people construct the concept of interpersonal relationships and friendship in an era in which competing models of exchange (gift-giving vs. market-economic transactions) are available, in which friendship can no longer be equated with a gift-giving relationship, in which the notion of reciprocity needs to be redefined. How do people construct the difference between a gift-countergift mechanism and a market economic transaction? Why is it not done to calculate the exact value of a gift? What is the difference and connection between being indebted and being grateful ? Different texts provide different answers to these questions. My point of departure is that the plurality of models of friendship in classical Athens, often leading to conflicting interpretations of the phenomenon in social interaction and in present-day scholarship, is indicative of a dynamic process in which different discourses serve to control the process of constructing friendship. My corpus consists of tragedy (Euripides), oratory, law, ethical disquisitions (Xenophon s Memorabilia, Plato s Lysis, Aristotle s Nicomachean Ethics), and fictionalised biography (Xenophon s Cyropaedia and Agesilaus).