Moral Economy as Emotional Interaction: Food Sharing and Reciprocity in Highland Ethiopia

by Keiichiro Matsumura

Abstract

In peasant studies, many anthropologists have taken the view that the peasant economy has some salient cultural traits distinct from the rational choice of neoclassical economics. This view has been criticized by political economists as ignoring the process and mechanism of peasants’ economic behavior. This paper examines cases of food sharing in highland Ethiopia, in order to reveal that the sharing process among peasants is greatly influenced by their affective motivations. People in highland Ethiopia share their food crops with various persons ranging from close relatives to unknown beggars, who rarely give anything in return. While tendencies in sharing activity are analyzed in terms of the social relationship between donor and recipient, the act of food sharing itself is seen to be motivated mainly by mixed feelings of fear, awe, and anxiety. In beggar-donor interactions, beggars appear to elicit sympathy through affective approaches in order to extract the food crop. I will reconsider the issue of reciprocity, exploring the possible function of these affective approaches in emotional interaction as a form of agency towards the achievement of the distribution of wealth. This is an aspect, which has been described merely as ‘moral’ or ‘ethic’ by moral economists and reduced, in turn, by political economists, solely to ‘calculative rationality’.

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Keiichiro Matsumura Ph.D., is a research associate of Cultural Anthropology at Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University. His research interests have focused on resource distribution and land tenure practice of coffee growing farmers, Southwestern Ethiopia.