Reciprocity – Concept, implications, principles, examples

We explain what reciprocity is and why it is a value. Also, its meaning in anthropology and what is the principle of reciprocity.

Reciprocity is a relationship that offers the same to both parties.

What is reciprocity?

Reciprocity is the correspondence in the dealings between two people or in the interaction between two objects. Relations that meet this condition are called reciprocal, a word that comes from Latin reciprocate, a term that was used to describe the back and forth movement of the waters of the sea, whose movement on the sand is always equidistant: it comes and goes in the same measure.

Thus, when we say that something is reciprocal, we mean that it “comes and goes”: that it offers the same to both parties or that it corresponds in the right measure. For example, a reciprocal love is one in which both people are in love, and a reciprocal help is one in which both parties help each other.

A good part of human relationships are sustained in reciprocity or at least in her promise. This is what the proverb “today for you, tomorrow for me” expresses: sometimes by helping others we guarantee ourselves help when we need it in the future, so that reciprocity does not necessarily have to be an immediate condition.

Reciprocity as a value

Reciprocity in itself can be understood as a social value, that is, as a desirable feature of our interpersonal relationships. This usually means that We must be generous, affectionate or whatever with those who in turn are with us, which often implies maintaining some gratitude towards the rest of society.

It is normal that reciprocity is understood as a measure of equity (that is, fairness in dealing) and cooperation (that is, mutual help), although in a strict sense it only raises giving of what we receive.

Reciprocity in anthropology

reciprocity anthropology economy
Reciprocity occurs in informal economies that do without money.

In the language of cultural anthropology, the word reciprocity acquires very specific meanings, linked to the functioning of informal economies, those that do without money. In this sense, reciprocity It consists of the exchange of favors or goods without the mediation of profit or enrichment.

This type of arrangement is present in all cultures to some extent, and according to anthropologists, three different types of reciprocity could be distinguished:

  • Positive, when the exchange is carried out without the need to receive compensation immediately, and it may even never be received, but the promise is enough. This obligation to correspond is infinite and lasting.
  • Balanced, when the immediate remuneration is based on some system of equivalences that guarantees to receive the same thing that is given. In them, a defined period of time is established for remuneration, and social and / or economic interests have a greater place in this.
  • Negative, when the exchange attempts to obtain material benefits at the expense of the other, as in theft, bargaining or fraud. In general, it occurs between people of distant social relationship, none of whom acts altruistically, but seeks to maximize their own benefit.

The principle of reciprocity

In the field of international relations, it is known as the principle of reciprocity to a fundamental standard of treatment between different States, according to which each one undertakes to give the citizens of the other residing in its territory a treatment similar to that received by its citizens in the territory of another.

In other words, Each State offers the other the same guarantees and the same treatment that it receives from it.: economically (for example, eliminating or placing tariffs), legally (for example, establishing extradition agreements) or social (for example, releasing or imposing visas and travel restrictions).

Thus, at least in theory, agreements between States should be reciprocal at all times, to ensure that there are no injustices.