The mutual exchange of gifts, or what anthropologists call reciprocity, is a core social institution that binds diverse individuals into cohesive groups capable of collective action. In this chapter, we use a model of specialization and reciprocal exchange to study how social actors with diverse capabilities, but the same goals, might collectively achieve win-wins. By win-win we mean situations in which the goals of multiple stakeholders are simultaneously achieved. Our study is an outgrowth of previous work that seeks to understand the role of social and ecological diversity in the rapid development and decline of the Mesoamerican northern frontier (Figure 2.1) (Anderies et al. 2008; Freeman et al. 2014). In the context of this case study, we investigate how the interaction of reciprocity, social diversity, and the productivity of resources generate tradeoffs. Our study of tradeoffs contributes to understanding how diversity affects the ability of actors in social-ecological systems (SES) to cooperate and meet the challenges of sustainable development. A challenge of sustainable development is to craft policies, at appropriate levels of governance, “that protect human well-being and ecosystems simultaneously in ways that are socially inclusive and equitable” (Bokova 2013:4). This statement embodies the laudable win-win paradigm (Gibson 2006). The realization of win-wins, however, is not only difficult, but, perhaps, unlikely because the dynamics of SES generate tradeoffs (Anderies et al. 2013; Janssen et al. 2007; McShane et al. 2011; Sen 1992). As Hahn et al. (2010) chide us, “we cannot have our cake and eat it too.” But it is one thing to recognize that tradeoffs make win-wins difficult to achieve and quite another to understand the interaction of factors in SES that generate tradeoffs and the kinds of tradeoffs that may preclude win-wins. Previous work tells us that two factors in SES contribute to tradeoffs that make the development of win-win situations difficult. First, SES are composed of individuals with diverse goals. The potentially negative effect of diverse goals is straightforward to imagine. The now infamous golf outings of Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Barack Obama produced little in the way of agreement on taxes or budget priorities, largely because both individuals represented competing interest groups with different goals for the allocation of capital.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Give and Take of Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationArchaeological and Anthropological Perspectives on Tradeoffs
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781139939720
ISBN (Print)9781107078338
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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