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Accepted Paper:

A just price for solidarity? Compensating kin through white plates  
Kenneth Sillander (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

Based on long-term fieldwork, this paper explores the practice of compensating kin through white plates among the Bentian of Indonesia to reflect on its implications for theorizing the just price and struggles of value.

Paper long abstract:

Giving away white porcelain plates is a distinctive custom and salient ceremonial preoccupation of the Bentian, a group of shifting cultivators of Indonesian Borneo. Large numbers of store-bought plates are frequently handed out as rewards or reimbursement on a variety of public occasions. Of little economic value, the plates primarily represent symbolic compensation for valued assistance by kin and neighbors. They are viewed as epitomes of "good form" and a moral economy based on ideals like respect, reciprocity, and solidarity, which ideally guide kinship and close relations, and is defined in opposition to the market economy and associated principles of calculation, profit, and selfishness. However, like money, which they in many ways resemble, the plates set a standard for compensating services, specifying a fair, commensurate price for inalienable assistance, and in their own way advance the "quantification of social life" (Marx), publicly spotlighting concerns of recompensation and expenditure, and promoting, like "tournaments of value," a hierarchy of moral virtue. This paper unpacks the complex case of setting a just price for moral virtue in plates. Straddling different "registers of valuation," drawing on notions of both ethical and economic value, the distribution of plates complicates the relationship between the just price and the good life. Interestingly, while economic value, following in the trail of monetarization and invasive corporate natural resource exploitation, colonizes ever more private zones of the Bentian's informal "everyday redistributive economy," the public distribution of white plates, associated with commensality, persists as an exemplar of moral values.

Panel P117
Just prices: moral economic legacies and new struggles over value
  Session 1