Paid favours (United Kingdom)

From Global Informality Project
Jump to: navigation, search
Paid favours
Location: United Kingdom
United Kingdom map.png
Author: Colin C. Williams
Affiliation: Sheffield University Management School


Original text by Colin C. Williams

The term ‘paid favours’ refers to acts of one-to-one material help within wider kinship, friendship and neighbourly networks that are reimbursed with money. For example, a friend offers you a lift in their car, so you give them ‘money for the petrol.’ As a general rule, the sum paid bears little relation to the market price: the closer the relationship between you and your friend, indeed, the less likely is it that the fee will conform. So far, this practice has been discussed mostly in relation to the UK and other western economies (Williams 2009[1]).


The provision of one-to-one material help within wider kinship, friendship and neighbourly networks has been recognised as an important coping practice ever since the seminal studies by Stack (1974[2]) and Young and Wilmott (1975[3]). Indeed, the idea that social relationships form a community resource has become popularised in recent decades by the burgeoning social capital literature (Coleman 1988[4]; Gittell and Vidal 1998[5]; Putnam 2000[6]). Unlike the earlier focus on the benefits derived from close ties between people who already know each other (‘bonding’ social capital), the later literature, following Granovetter (1973[7]), has highlighted how the ‘strength of weak ties’ between people who do not know one other very well (‘bridging’ social capital’) is just as useful as a community resource (Gittell and Vidal 1998[8]; Putnam 2000[9]).


The traditional assumption has been that, when help is provided on a one-to-one basis within the extended family or social and neighbourhood networks, such help is provided on an unpaid basis (Komter 1996[10]; Pahl 1984[11]; Leonard 1994[12]; Renooy 1990[13]). Indeed, the recurring narrative is that making monetary payments would shift such community exchange from the non-market sphere of reciprocity into the market realm. This is premised on the notion that monetary transactions are always market-like and profit-motivated. Such a reading of monetised exchange not only prevails across a range of economic perspectives from the neo-classical to the Marxian (Ciscel and Heath 2001[14]; Harvey 1989; [15];Sayer 1997[16]), but is reinforced by a ‘formalist’ anthropological tradition that views exchange mechanisms in advanced western societies as less ‘embedded’ than those in pre-industrial societies. Viewed through this lens, the idea is that there has been a separation of the ‘economy’ from ‘culture,’ resulting in exchanges in western societies being ‘thinner,’ less loaded with social meaning and less symbolic than traditional exchanges (Mauss 1966[17]).


Over the past few decades, however, this conventional ‘thin’ reading of monetary exchange as always conducted under market-like relations for the motive of profit has been subjected to critical scrutiny by an array of analysts (Carrier 1997[18]; Carruthers and Babb 2000[19]; Crewe 2000[20]; Crewe and Gregson 1998[21]; Gibson-Graham 2006[22]; Kovel 2002[23]; Lee 2000[24]; Williams 2005[25]; Zelizer 1994[26]). As a result, the formalist anthropology approach and economistic discourses that adopt a ‘thin’ understanding of monetary exchange have begun to be challenged from a ‘substantivist’ anthropological position and institutional economics approach that adopts a ‘thicker’ understanding of monetary exchange in which transactions are viewed in terms of social norms and values, and as being socially, culturally and geographically embedded (Bourdieu 2001[27]; Comelieau 2002[28]; Davis 1992[29]; Slater and Tonkiss 2001[30]; Zelizer 1994[31]).


Studies providing ‘thicker’ descriptions of the relations and motives involved in monetary exchange have focused upon what Leyshon et al. (2003) term ‘alternative economic spaces,’ investigating car-boot sales (Crewe and Gregson 1998[32]), nearly-new sales and classified advertisements (Clarke 1998[33], 2000[34]), second-hand and informal retail channels (Williams and Paddock 2003[35]), inflation-free local currency schemes such as Local Exchange and Trading Schemes (Lee 1996[36]; Williams 1996[37]; Williams et al. 2001[38]), sweat-equity currencies such as time dollars (Cahn 2000[39]; Michel and Hudon 2015[40]; Seyfang and Smith 2002[41]) and small horticultural nurseries (Lee 2000[42]).


Studies conducted in various UK localities have begun to unravel the relations and motives involved in one-to-one material help within wider kinship, friendship and neighbourly networks where payment was involved (White 2009[43], 2011[44]; Williams 2009[45]; Williams and Windebank 2000[46]). Although conventional ‘thin’ readings of monetary exchange view the introduction of money into transactions between kin, friends and neighbours as shifting such exchanges from the non-market sphere into the market realm—on the grounds that monetary transactions are always market-like and profit-motivated—this is not the case. Williams (2009[47]) finds that in just 5 percent of cases did the recipient paying wider kin, neighbours or friends assert that their primary motive was to save money, and that in only 7 percent of cases did those recompensed with money for supplying material help to wider kin, friends and acquaintances assert that they undertook the task primarily to make money. If they were not engaged in such paid exchanges primarily for monetary gain, why was money changing hands?


When asked why they offer or accept payment to or from wider kin, friends or acquaintances, most assert that it is a ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ thing to do. In other words, there is a self-evident culture of paying for favours. The only time payment does not occur is in situations when it is unacceptable, inappropriate or impossible. It is unacceptable , for example, in situations where the favour is too small to warrant a payment (when a screwdriver is loaned), inappropriate when the social relations mitigate against payment (such as when the recipient cannot afford to pay and has no choice but to offer a favour in return) and impossible in situations where the supplier would not accept a payment because they wanted to receive in return a specific favour that only the customer could provide (for example, babysitting). In all other circumstances, monetary payment was the norm in community exchange.


The first common reason for giving or receiving payment is to prevent relations turning sour if a favour is not reciprocated. This use of money to avoid the need for reciprocity is particularly prevalent among elderly people, single-parent families and multiple-earner households, that is, those who perceive themselves as potentially unable or incapable of repaying a favour. By paying, they see themselves as offsetting the need to reciprocate while still maintaining and/or consolidating their social support networks. Suppliers similarly often prefer to be paid, once again to avoid a souring of their relations with the recipient if the favour is not returned. Consequently, money is acting not only as a substitute for trust, but also a lubricant to facilitate community exchange.


The second reason for paying for favours relates to a ‘redistribution’ motive. Often the primary reason why somebody asks for a favour is because they want to be able to give money to the person doing the work. Such ‘redistributive’ rationales usually apply more when kin conduct the work. Paying is in these circumstances a means of giving the supplier some much needed spending money, such as when they are unemployed. Asking for favours and paying for them is thus a way of giving money, especially to kin, in a way that avoids all connotations of charity, even if this is the objective. As Kempson (1996[48]Komter, A. 1996. [49]) has revealed, most people avoid accepting charity at all costs. This is well understood. As a result, someone wishing to give money to another asks for a favour from them and then gives the person money in return for ‘helping them out.’


This redistributive motive is similarly present when examining the motives of those supplying favours to wider kin, friends and neighbours for money. Often they do the work because they recognise that the recipient would not be able to do it. This applies not only when skilled craftsmen supply favours to wider kin, friends and neighbours but also when the unemployed, early retired and so on use their free time to help out others suffering from time-famine.


Generally, the fee paid for favours is not the market price. Indeed, the closer the social relations between customer and supplier, the likelier is it that the fee will diverge from the market price. By the same token, the greater the social distance between customer and supplier, the closer is the fee likely to move toward the market norm. The fee is also more likely to diverge from the market price when redistribution is the primary rationale of the recipient. When the motive of the supplier and customer is to prevent relations from turning sour if a favour is not repaid, the fee is often little more than a token-gesture.


Paid favours, in consequence, are not market-like exchanges motivated by monetary gain, and the social relations involved are akin more to unpaid mutual aid than to market-like relations. By the same token, the motivation behind paid favours is grounded not in desire for profit so much as in unpaid mutual aid. Whether these paid favours prevail in other societies beyond the UK has been seldom if ever investigated.


Notes

  1. Williams, C. 2009. ‘Repaying favours: unravelling the nature of community exchange in an English locality,’ Community Development Journal 44(4): 488-99
  2. Stack, R. 1974. All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community. New York: Harper & Row
  3. Young, M. and Wilmott, P. 1975. The Symmetrical Family: A Study of Work and Leisure in the London Region. Harmondsworth: Penguin
  4. Coleman, J. 1988. ‘Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital,’ American Journal of Sociology 94: Supplement: S95–S120
  5. Gittell, R. and Vidal, A. 1998. Community Organizing: Building Social Capital as a Development Strategy. London: Sage
  6. Putnam, R. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster
  7. Granovetter, M. 1973. ‘The Strength of Weak Ties,’ American Journal of Sociology78(6): 1360–80
  8. Gittell, R. and Vidal, A. 1998. Community Organizing: Building Social Capital as a Development Strategy. London: Sage
  9. Putnam, R. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster
  10. Kempson, E. 1996. Life on a Low Income. York: York Publishing Services
  11. Pahl, R. 1984. Divisions of Labour. Oxford: Basil Blackwell
  12. Leonard, M. 1994. Informal Economic Activity in Belfast. Aldershot: Avebury
  13. Renooy, P. 1990. The Informal Economy: Meaning, Measurement and Social Significance. Amsterdam: Netherlands Geographical Studies No 115
  14. Ciscel, D. and Heath, J. 2001. ‘To Market, to Market: Imperial Capitalism’s Destruction of Social Capital and the Family,’ Review of Radical Political Economics 33(4): 401–14
  15. Harvey, D. 1989. The Condition of Post-Modernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell
  16. Sayer, A. 1997. ‘TheDdialectic of Culture and Economy,’ in R. Lee and J. Wills (eds), Geographies of Economies. London: Arnold, 101-24
  17. Mauss, M. 1966. The Gift. London: Cohen & West
  18. Carrier, J. (ed.) 1997. Meanings of the Market: The Free Market in Western Culture. Oxford: Berg
  19. Carruthers, B. and Babb, S. 2000. Economy/Society: Markets, Meanings and Social Structure.Thousand Oaks: Pine Oaks
  20. Crewe, L. 2000. ‘Geographies of Retailing and Consumption,’ Progress in Human Geography 24(2): 275–90
  21. Crewe, L. and Gregson, N. 1998. ‘Tales of the Unexpected: Exploring Car Boot Sales as Marginal Spaces of Contemporary Consumption,’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 23(1): 39–54
  22. Gibson-Graham, J. 2006. A Post-Capitalist Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
  23. Kovel, J. 2002. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? London: Zed
  24. Lee, R. 2000. ‘Shelter from the storm? Geographies of regard in the worlds of horticultural consumption and production,’ Geoforum 31(2): 137–57
  25. Williams, C. 2005. A Commodified World? Mapping the Limits of Capitalism. London: Zed
  26. Zelizer, V. 1994. The Social Meaning of Money. New York: Basic Books
  27. Bourdieu, P. 2001. ‘The Forms of Capital,’ in N. Woolsey Biggart (ed.), Readings in Economic Sociology . Oxford: Blackwell: 142-65
  28. Comelieau, C. 2002. The Impasse of Modernity. London: Zed
  29. Davis, J. 1992. Exchange. Milton Keynes: Open University Press
  30. Slater, D. and Tonkiss, F. 2001. Market Society: Markets and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity
  31. Zelizer, V. 1994. The Social Meaning of Money. New York: Basic Books
  32. Crewe, L. and Gregson, N. 1998. ‘Tales of the Unexpected: Exploring Car Boot Sales as Marginal Spaces of Contemporary Consumption,’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 23(1): 39–54
  33. Clarke, A. 1998. ‘Window Shopping at Home: Classified Catalogues and New Consumer Skills,’ in D. Miller (ed.), Material Cultures. London: UCL Press: 27-49
  34. Clarke, A. 2000. ‘”Mother Swapping”: The Trafficking of Nearly New Children’s Wear,’ in P. Jackson (ed.), Commercial Cultures: Economies, Practices, Spaces. Oxford: Berg: 97-112
  35. Williams, C. and Paddock, C. 2003. ‘Reconciling economic and cultural explanations for participation in alternative consumption spaces,’ Geografiska Annaler B 84(3): 137–48
  36. Lee, R. 1996. ‘Moral Money? LETS and the Social Construction of Local Economic Geographies in Southeast England,’ Environment and Planning A 28(8): 1377–94
  37. Williams, C. 1996. ‘Local Currencies and Community Development: An Evaluation of Green Dollar Exchanges in New Zealand,’ Community Development Journal 31(4): 319–29
  38. Williams, C., Aldridge, T., Lee, R., Leyshon, A., Thrift, N. and Tooke, J. 2001. Bridges into Work? An Evaluation of Local Exchange and Trading Schemes. Bristol: Policy Press
  39. Cahn, E. 2000. No More Throw-away People: The Co-Production Imperative.Washington DC: Essential Books
  40. Michel, A. and Hudon, M. 2015. ‘Community currencies and sustainable development: A systematic review,’ Ecological Economics 116: 160-171
  41. Seyfang, G. and Smith, K. 2002. The Time of Our Lives: Using Time Banking for Neighbourhood Renewal and Community Capacity Building. London: New Economics Foundation
  42. Lee, R. 2000. ‘Shelter from the storm? Geographies of regard in the worlds of horticultural consumption and production,’ Geoforum 31(2): 137–57
  43. White, R. 2009. ‘Explaining Why the Non‐Commodified Sphere of Mutual Aid is so Pervasive in the Advanced Economies: Some Case Study Evidence from an English City,’ International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 29(9/10): 457–72
  44. White, R. 2011. ‘Re‐visiting the barriers to participation in mutual aid,’ International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 31(7/8): 392-410
  45. Williams, C. 2009. ‘Repaying favours: unravelling the nature of community exchange in an English locality,’ Community Development Journal 44(4): 488-99
  46. Williams, C. and Windebank, J. 2000. ‘Helping each other out? community exchange in deprived neighbourhoods,’ Community Development Journal 35(2): 146–56
  47. Williams, C. 2009. ‘Repaying favours: unravelling the nature of community exchange in an English locality,’ Community Development Journal 44(4): 488-99
  48. Kempson, E. 1996. Life on a Low Income. York: York Publishing Services
  49. ‘Reciprocity as a Principle of Exclusion: Gift Giving in the Netherlands,’ Sociology 30(2): 299–316