Morphing Physical Space with Social Ties
- visualizing the social institution of hxaro

How can we access the special meaning of social ties among a set of actors for whom the locations of their residence are known ?

The visualizations below try to answer the theoretical question, how the reciprocal gift exchange (hxaro) among the !Kung gives rise to a social institution and what it looks like. Information about exchanges which are used as a basic information are understood as a mean to establish long-term relationships of social and economic support in a hunter and gatherer society lacking central authorites and life insurance.

The visualizations are achieved in two steps: first different sets of locations have been specified as constraints, which reflect the camp affiliations of the !kung and their spatial distances to each other. A permutation procedure has worked on each of the circles minimize the overall length of exchange ties in the first image: the result is a visualization where actors which are mainly oriented to their own camp move to the periphery of the total system, while actors with strong affiliations to other camps are take positions which are oriented towards the center of all camps into the direction of their main affiliations.

The resulting visualization can be read as an attempt to characterize the social institution of Hxaro exchange: the empty core of the first vizualisation is now crowded with actors of different original camp affiliations (symbolized by their color): especially some of the blue spheres have moved into the core region (try for example to locate sphere number 520 which has even invaded the homogeneous green region). The actors in the center are the heart of the exchange system, the interconnecting pattern of reciprocal exchange obligations.

The morphing process itself depends on the decision to which degree we allow the locations of the spatial configuration to enter into the new solution. If you are interested to see how the new solution gradually emerges you can look at a series of frames taken from an animation of the gravity procedure.

If you are curious to get to know how this all helps to understand import questions have a look at: The Core of Hxaro.
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Lothar Krempel, MPI für Gesellschaftsforschung, Lothringerstr.78, 5000 Köln, Germany
email: krempel@mpi-fg-koeln.mpg.de