Students can use the systems of exchange framework to understand the social relations underlying economic arrangements in contemporary society. Below are two classroom activities that use the systems of exchange typology to help students understand how different exchange relationships are formed and contested over time. The first is a series of classroom debates which encourage students to consider controversial issues from the perspective of different exchange logics. The second is a homework assignment that asks students to examine an economic issue of their choosing and write a blog post in the style of the posts featured on this site.
At the bottom of the page, we’ve included an economic sociology course syllabus by Dina Biscotti that incorporates both of these assignments for your reference.
If you choose to use these resources in your classroom, we would like to hear about your experiences or suggestions for improvement. Additionally, if you develop another classroom activity using the systems of exchange typology, we would be happy to feature it on this page.
Systems of Exchange Debates
A series of five debates provides students with the opportunity to explore alternative viewpoints about economic exchange. Each debate is comprised of two teams of debaters as well as a panel of judges. At the beginning of the term, students sign up to participate as a debater or judge for one of the debates. (Alternatively, instructors can require students to participate once as a debater and once as a judge.)
The student debaters use course readings and outside resources to argue that the following goods and services should be organized according to one of the systems of exchange: blood, health care services, clean air, credit card accounts, and drinking water. Given the dominance of the price system in contemporary society, one group will argue that price logics should govern the exchange of the topic at hand. The other group will argue that logics other than price (e.g. moral, communal, or associative) should govern the exchange. The panel of judges will evaluate the debate teams based on their understanding of the systems of exchange they were assigned to advocate as well as the strength of their arguments. Each judge prepares a 3-page (double-spaced) decision statement based on these criteria.
Instructors should emphasize that debaters may be assigned to argue a position with which they disagree. Additionally, judges are expected to evaluate the debates based on the strength of the arguments rather than their own personal values. This activity is designed to encourage students to explore alternative viewpoints and practice applying course concepts to real-world situations.
Below, we’ve posted a sample handout describing the assignment and format of the debate, as well as a list of readings and resources to help students learn more about the debate topics.
Students will select media content about a contemporary issue of their choosing, and they will analyze it using the systems of exchange typology and other course concepts. Blog posts should be around 600 words and written for an educated, public audience. Rather than offering a full overview of the systems of exchange typology, students should select one component of the theory that advances our understanding of the case they have chosen. For example, students can use case studies to explain the difference between instrumental and substantive rationality, or the real-world tensions between moral and communal logics.
Students are encouraged to skim the case studies on this site for reference.
We would be happy to feature strong blog posts and case studies on our website. Contact us to submit exemplary student work.
Photo from UC Irvine.