Serial Reciprocity: A Preliminary Statement

Sociological Theory 26 (2):130 - 151 (2008)
Abstract
Serial reciprocity exists when people reciprocate for what they have received--for example, from a parent, a friend, a mentor, a stranger, a previous generation--by providing something to a third party, regardless of whether a return is also given to, or makes its way back to, the original giver. To understand serial reciprocity as reciprocity, this article delineates the general features of the serial type of reciprocity and outlines two general situations in which serial reciprocity provides a viable option--the only or the most appropriate option--for reciprocal return. It also argues for a more fundamental rethinking of reciprocity in general. A more cognitive and cultural perspective on reciprocity is proposed that focuses on the meaning of exchanges and treats reciprocity as a socially constructed element of a culturally available repertoire. This can better account for the existing serial type of reciprocity. The article concludes with suggestions for empirical research.
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