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Haggling in India

Haggling in India

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Trust and Distrust: Sociocultural Perspectives 
, pages 131–152Copyright © 2007 by Information Age Publishing All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
Buying Souvenirs in Ladakh, North India
Alex Gillespie
 While I was on fieldwork in Ladakh, north India, in September 2001, many shopkeepers ceased to accept 500 Rupee notes due to an influx of forger-ies. Five hundred Rupee notes, worth about six pounds sterling, are issuedby moneychangers and are thus the tourists’ staple. Like other tourists, I worried if I had a stash of worthless forgeries. Newspapers and magazinespublished color spreads on how to distinguish real from fake banknotes.The main difference, we were told, was in the quality of a thin metal stripthat ran down the note to the right of Mahatma Gandhi’s portrait. Thestrip was meant to be reflective silver, while on the fakes it was dull. Wetourists examined our notes, but were unable to determine, to our own oranyone else’s satisfaction, whether we had authentic banknotes. With timethe fear passed, and soon the shopkeepers, hoteliers, and restauranteurs were once again accepting our banknotes. What is it that gives money value? In a sense it is the metal strip, the tex-ture of the rice paper, the fine resolution of the printing, and the water-mark. But these details are secondary, for they serve only to guaranteesomething beyond the banknote itself, namely that the state bank authenti-cates the banknote as legal tender. Does this mean that a banknote that isnot legal tender will not work? Of course not, a forged banknote, so long asit is well forged, is just as effective as a ”real” banknote. I do not know
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 whether in Ladakh merchants either stopped accepting “real” money orbegan accepting “forged” money. The difference between a banknote that  works and a banknote that does not work is not in either the qualities of the banknote itself, nor in the fact that it is guaranteed by a state bank, but resides primarily in the attitude of the community toward that banknote— will the
person accept the banknote? The reaction of the community toward a banknote is not self-evident; it must be taken on trust, and thistrust is only justified once the banknote is passed on. Thus, the whole insti-tution of money depends on trusting in the other.In this chapter I develop and explore a Meadian conception of value,namely that the value of money and also of goods depends largely on theattitude of the other. This is done through an analysis of tourists buying sou- venirs in Ladakh from shopkeepers whom they do not trust. Specifically, Iexamine the representations that tourists have developed in order to masterthis problematic interaction, and argue that central to these representationsis the problem of determining who to trust, and who not to trust.
Simmel (1900/1978) begins
The Philosophy of Money 
by looking at thenature of value. Value, he argues, does not arise through either utility ordesire. Nonhuman animals may desire food, or use twigs to make a nest,but these things, Simmel states, do not have value for the animals con-cerned. He also disagrees with the economists who define the value of money in terms of the value of the material that comprises it, the cost of its production, or its rarity. For Simmel, to understand the value of money,one has to look beyond money itself and toward the matrix of socialexchange relations in which money is embedded. Value, for Simmel,arises through exchangeability, and money is used to measure thisexchangeability. However, the exchangeability of money can never becompletely guaranteed. One can never be sure beforehand that the next person one meets will accept the exchangeability of a certain money. Thisis why, Simmel (p. 179) asserts, money requires an “element of social-psy-chological quasi religious faith.”The history of money, as presented by Simmel (1900/1978), is a move-ment toward the increasing abstraction of money away from being a com-modity toward becoming a pure measure of credit, a “token.” That is tosay, money, as it becomes over the historical timeframe more abstract,decreasingly guarantees its own value, for example by being gold, andincreasingly has its value guaranteed by a third party, like a state bank or acommunity.
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In the Other We Trust133
 When barter is replaced by money transactions a third factor is introducedbetween the two parties: the community as a whole, which provides a real value corresponding to money. (p. 177)
To the extent that the value of money derives from the mediation of theexchange relation by the community, money has token value. AlthoughSimmel stresses that money can never become a pure token, becausemoney always needs some material manifestation, it is the token aspect of money that is key to understanding money. Simmel’s contribution in pre-senting this theory is to radically separate the logic of money from the logicof commodities (Ingham, 2004). Money, for Simmel, does not work due tothe value of the money itself, but according to what the money symbolizesfor the community (i.e., the “token” value).The year after Simmel published his book, G. H. Mead (1901) reviewedit. While enthusiastic about the project, Mead states that the work is “weari-some” and “discouragingly massive”—which may say as much about Mead’sGerman as about Simmel’s book. Mead is enthusiastic about the project because he sees money as mediating “the relation of the individual to thecommunity” (1901, p. 619). However, Mead is unable to add anything toSimmel’s analysis as he was still struggling to establish his own uniquesocial psychological standpoint (Gillespie, 2004).Over two decades later, Mead, in his lecture on sympathy (lecture 39,1934; see also 1925, pp. 267–268), returns to the question of value, and isable to significantly advance the theory. In this lecture, Mead briefly stateshis theory that the human mind is comprised of self, taking the attitude of the other toward self within a social act. In this way self becomes other toself in the act of mediating self’s own actions from the standpoint of other(i.e., self becomes self-aware) by reacting to self in the attitude of the other(for more details, see Farr, 1996). Mead then applies this theory to theexchange relation.In an exchange, Mead states, “the individual is taking the attitude of theother in so far as he is offering something to the other” (1934, p. 300). Inorder to offer something, self must be sympathetic to, or participate in, theother’s desire for the object and the other’s attitude of receiving the object.The social act of offering something contains both the attitudes of givingand receiving, and Mead’s argument is that self can only make an offer tothe extent that self also participates in the attitude of receiving—otherwise,self does not know what he or she is doing. Specifically, Mead (p. 301)argues, the object “becomes valuable from the point of view of the otherindividual.” The remarkable thing about exchanging goods is that “eachperson is bringing to the market the things which he is not going to use”(p. 301). Exchanging goods is a symbolic, and uniquely human, activity.One brings to the market what one thinks someone else may use.
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