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Varieties of Reciprocity: Interpersonal Reciprocity, Rawlsian Reciprocity, Exchange Reciprocity, and Doulia

Interpersonal Reciprocity

The kind of reciprocity intimated by these practices is a familiar one in non-Anglo-American contexts. I think it is also familiar to people from nonaffluent socioeconomic contexts. In fact, it may be foreign only to the social milieu shaped by affluence and white racial privilege.14

Nonetheless, because there may be features of the value of reciprocity in relationships that are unique to the societies Anderson describes, I propose a new term, “interpersonal reciprocity,” to designate a virtue that is necessary for liberal societies seeking to be antiracist and antisexist. Interpersonal reciprocity' is relationally specific and bound to a particular other.15 The impulse toward reciprocity is motivated by a kind of regard for the other. This animating regard is contrasted, therefore, with the desire to get something from the other person. Nor is it akin to gratefulness. Instead, it is a form of recognition of the other as a particular and concrete other person, and it arises from real interactions with them.

In addition to this particular form of bounded responsibility, which is a value that requires the cultivation of a virtue to be employed in the appropriate contexts, interpersonal reciprocity should also serve as a structuring principle that becomes a social norm.16 As a social norm, interpersonal reciprocity has a generalized nature because it is a value a person brings into their interactions with others. The value must be taught and, as it is taught, it becomes instantiated as a virtue in real people in communities. What interpersonal reciprocity is not, though, is an impartial and a broadly based disposition to care for everyone.

When a person develops an understanding of the value of interpersonal reciprocity, that person develops a disposition to contribute as a response to receiving generosity and care from others. The person with interpersonal reciprocity thinks, “How can I return the care that was shown to me?” As discussed previously, practices that cultivate interpersonal reciprocity counteract the processes by which some people’s subjectivities become deeply affected by privilege and entitlement. In our current sexist/racist world, people who are privileged by these dimensions experience a world that is oriented to their needs as a social world toward which they owe no debts of gratitude. Practices that cultivate interpersonal reciprocity simultaneously cultivate what I call other-directedness, which I have defined as “an attitudinal, motivational, and perceptual orientation toward the needs and perspective of another person” (Bhandary 2020, 77). It is a disposition to be oriented toward the needs of others through observation, attention, and activity.

Moreover, interpersonal reciprocity is better than a generally aimed account of kindness, for it requires something of the person with whom one interacts and thereby prevents exploitation within instances of particular relationships. When taught the value of interpersonal reciprocity, the person seeks to return care to the people who have cared for them or to care for people in their community who occupy the relevant position. For instance, a child who is taught the importance of community, with a strong community of elders, should take on that role as they get older, as well. A student in a discipline like philosophy who receives strong mentorship should not simply continue to absorb the mentorship from others but should identify what it is to be a strong mentor at their stage in life. Nonetheless, interpersonal reciprocity is not a universal and impartial responsibility, like the value of being caring and kind toward all other people.

In the next sections, I explain how Rawlsian reciprocity operates at a different level, thereby expanding on my discussion of the Rawlsian background for the theory of liberal dependency care. I then further clarify the nature of interpersonal reciprocity by contrasting it with exchange reciprocity. Finally, I differentiate interpersonal reciprocity from Kittay’s foundational thinking about reciprocity and dependency care.

Rawlsian Reciprocity

For Rawls, the idea of reciprocity is simply the idea of hypothetical acceptability, which requires that parties in the original position give reasons that are acceptable to others (Rawls 2001, 6-7). It is not reciprocity indexed to particular individuals. Therefore, it is a concept for evaluating the fairness of a system of social cooperation as a whole, but it does not stipulate precisely how the benefits and burdens should be distributed within a practice. Rather than requiring that each practice be fair when evaluated on its own, a person’s role in the distribution of benefits and burdens should be acceptable to deliberators in the original position when evaluated as part of the overall scheme. Correspondingly, Rawls’s account of reciprocity is not a guide to individual behavior within real- life situations and social practices.

The theory of liberal dependency care, with its adapted Rawlsian device for hypothetical acceptability, retains the Rawlsian idea that reciprocity applies to the overarching scheme, where doing so requires a method of abstraction (Bhandary 2020, 58). In contrast, interpersonal reciprocity plays a different role, which is that it applies to real people in the real world, and it is a virtue. This virtue is therefore a part of the theory of liberal dependency care’s nonideal theory, whereas my neo-Rawlsian account of reciprocity has the abstract nature of ideal theory, and is what I call “nonideological ideal theory” (Bhandary 2017, 5) - ideal theory that seeks to undo sexist and racist ideologies.

 
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