The phenomenon of complementary currencies has experienced in recent years a significant evolution both in terms of the sheer number of initiatives and in terms of their ability to attract the attention of academia, politics and media. The spread of these experiments and the increasing involvement of public institutions have led to a growing demand for evaluation procedures specifically targeted at CCs, both as economic experiments and as public policy initiatives. The task of evaluation confronts the peculiar multidimensional character of complementary currencies. One of the traits that is commonly recognized as a characteristic of CCs is indeed the presence, alongside more strictly economic dimensions, of multiple social dimensions and aims. Some evaluation models therefore attempt to measure—through the identification of multiple variables, and of corresponding indicators—the impacts of complementary currencies in terms of a wide range of expected social or economic objectives. This paper intends to question the sufficiency of similar approaches. We will argue that those approaches risk to overshadow a peculiar form of sociality which may emerge particularly in certain types of complementary currency experiments. The paper highlights the significance of this sociality and the relevance of its analysis for the advancement of evaluation practices in the field of monetary innovation.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Despite their variety, the currencies that can be described as complementary should not be confused with virtual currencies (like bitcoin), since the former, unlike the latter, do not aim to compete with the official currency, or to replace it, if not partially and for specific purposes and in designated areas. It is appropriate, to that effect, to maintain the distinction between complementary currency and alternative currency. Digital coins fall mostly in the second category; not surprisingly, they are often designated by the term “alt-coins”.
This is the perspective of several projects funded by the European Commission, including D-cent (https://dcentproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/D3.4-Field-research-currency_FINAL-v2.pdf last accessed 26 May 2017) and Digipay4Growth (http://www.digipay4growth.eu last accessed 26 May 2017).
See, just to mention one of the main strands of thought dealing with the issues, the analyses on the enacting of the social (Law and Urry 2004).
On liquidity and clearing as alternative principles for reforming the monetary and financial system, see Amato and Fantacci (2014b).
Within economic theory, the question of the nature of money was shelved with the spread of the gold standard, when the issue appeared to be effectively solved with the identification between money and metal. The flame of the debate was rekindled, not surprisingly, in the period between the wars, when the suspension of convertibility reopened the scientific interrogation on the (social) nature of money (Simiand 1934).
An ideal type of currency scheme is proposed by the research group on Complementary Currency Systems at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam (Boonstra et al. 2013), which identifies currencies with social objectives (e.g. Time Banks), currencies with economic objectives (LETS—Barter networks—C39—Regional currencies) and digital money systems.
http://communitycurrenciesinaction.eu (last accessed 26 May 2017).
As Dodd (2014 p. 289) observes, Zelizer’s “relational” approach to money—which “involves designating which kinds of economic and monetary transactions are appropriate for different forms of relation”—allows to focus on some characteristics of economic transactions that the approach based on embeddedness tends to overlook.
For a possible classification of CCs based on issuing procedures and other structural features, see Fare and Ould Ahmed (2014).
An example may be provided by bitcoin, even if, as we observed above, it does not fall under a strict definition of complementary currencies. Bitcoins obey predetermined and rigid rules, embedded in an algorithm. However, like official money, they are meant to be treated as an asset, and are even more liable of being hoarded, and withdrawn from circulation (Amato and Fantacci 2016).
For an analysis of mutual credit systems from a macroeconomic perspective, see Stodder (2009).
Unlike time banks, which are based on moral principles of equality and community, these experiences do not assume a measure of value based on labor, on the assumption that all hours of work are equal; nor do these experiences introduce ways of pricing goods and services that transcend normal market prices as in the case of certain LETS or SEL.
Hence the reservations expressed by Ingham on the possibility for complementary currencies to develop from limited-purpose means of exchange circulating within extemporaneous exchange networks into proper means of payments that can be lawfully used to discharge debts within social relations extending over space and time (Ingham 2004, p. 187).
Although, according to Sartori and Dini (2016), the central clearing company may also play a role that is similar to the state’s in other ways.
Once the legal liability question has been put to rest, by ensuring that the operations of the circuit are allowed by the state and the fiscal authority.
As in the case of Chiemgauer, in the historical examples of stamped money inspired by Silvio Gesell and in the tax anticipation scrips described by Irving Fisher (see Fantacci 2013). Forms of demurrage are practicable also in mutual credit systems, as shown by the design of Keynes’s International Clearing Union, where positive balances were subject to the payment of charges, equal and symmetric to those imposed on negative balances.
In fact, the roots of this argument can be traced even further back to Aristotle (Amato 2015).
Cambridge, King’s College Modern Archives, Keynes Papers, TM/2/286- 30.
As argued by Lucarelli and Gobbi (2016, p. 1401) specifically with reference to local clearing systems: “Alternative monetary and financial institutions can be conceived to ensure that money is systematically spent and debts are systematically paid. The clearing principle has to do both with the establishment of a measure for exchanges and for the payment of debts that is not itself an object of exchange and with re-establishing a balanced relationship between debtor and creditor”.
In analogy with Simmel’s argument on money as a “claim upon society” (Simmel 2004, p. 177), we might say that a positive balance in a mutual credit system is a claim of the account holder upon the circuit, whereas a negative balance is a symmetrically opposite claim of the circuit on the holder. This symmetric relationship is another hint of the distinctive sociality of mutual credit systems.
Without indefinitely postponing the moment of payment, as in the capitalist system described by Bloch (1954).
On the role of such organization in overcoming the limits of voluntarism in the management of CCs, see Sartori and Dini (2016, p. 294).
The social dynamics of mutual credit circuits (with their distinctive localness, based on exchange and credit) thus represent an analytical field that is different from (but on many points consonant and complementary to) the one concerning the social and relational dynamics in localized production systems, subject of very wide analysis. Monetary innovation at the local level in particular highlights the emergence of both instrumental and expressive networks which, as pointed out by Ramella (2005) are one of the main phenomena in the dynamics of technological innovation at the local level.
If, following Zelizer’s argument, circuits of commerce cannot be reduced to networks or communities, then, we might add, the functioning of CCs cannot be adequately captured in terms of the sum of networking and communitarian dynamics.
For a discussion of important aspects of the processes of learning in theory based evaluation, see Van Der Knaap (2004).
If the aim is to measure the relationship between these processes of learning and the performance of CC systems, it is possible to envisage two different approaches: on one side, by translating them in terms of variables that may be assessed even through quantitative methods; on the other side, by considering them unobservable variables that may be inferred through mathematical models based on other, observable and strictly economic variables. To what extent these avenues of research may be viable and helpful remains open to investigation.
Amato, M.: L’énigme de la monnaie. Edition du Cerf, Paris (2015)
Amato, M., Fantacci, L.: The End of Finance. Polity, Cambridge (2012)
Amato, M., Fantacci, L.: Saving the Market from Capitalism. Polity, Cambridge (2014a)
Amato, M., Fantacci, L.: Back to which Bretton Woods? Liquidity and clearing as alternative principles for reforming international money. Camb. J. Econ. 38(6), 1431–1452 (2014b)
Amato, M., Fantacci, L.: Per un pugno di bitcoin. Rischi e opportunità delle monete virtuali, Egea, Milano (2016)
Blanc, J. (ed.): Les monnaies parallèles. Unité et diversité du fait monétaire. L’Harmattan (Economiques), Paris (2000)
Blanc, J.: Exclusion et liens financiers: Monnaies sociales, Rapport 2005-2006. Économica, Paris (2006)
Blanc, J.: Classifying “CCs”: Community, complementary and local currencies’ types and generations. In: International Journal of Community Currency Research 15, Special Issue, 11–16 (2011)
Bloch, M.: Esquisse d’une histoire monétaire de l’Europe. Cahiers des Annales, N° 9. A. Colin, Paris (1954)
Boonstra, L., Klamer, A., Karioti, E., Do Carmo, J.A., Geenen, S.: Complementary Currencies Systems. Social and Economic Effects of Complementary Currencies. Erasmus University, Rotterdam (2013)
Dini, P., Motta W., Sartori, L.: Self-funded social impact investment: an interdisciplinary analysis of the Sardex mutual credit system, Conference paper, Original citation: Originally presented at Dini, Paolo, Motta, Wallis and Sartori, Laura (2016) Self-funded social impact investment: an interdisciplinary analysis of the Sardex mutual credit system. In: ISIRC: 8th International Social Innovation Research Conference, 05–07 Sep 2016, Glasgow, UK. This version available at: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/67622/. (2016). Accessed 26 May 2017
Dodd, N.: The Social Life of Money. Princeton University Press, Princeton (2014)
Doria, L.: Calculating the Human. Universal Calculability in the Age of Quality Assurance. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke (2013)
Doria, L., Fantacci, L.: Le monete complementari in Italia: situazione e prospettive. Inchiesta 190 (2015)
Evans, M.S.: Zelizer’s theory of money and the case of local currencies. Environ. Plan. A 41(5), 1026–1041 (2009)
Fantacci, L.: J. M. Keynes: escaping the liquidity trap, ISE WP 2 (2005)
Fantacci, L.: Reforming money to exit the crisis: examples of non-capitalist monetary systems in theory and practice. In: Pixley, J., Harcourt, J. (eds.) Financial crises and the nature of capitalist money: Mutual developments from the work of Geoffrey Ingham, pp. 124–147. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke (2013)
Fare M., Ould Ahmed, P.: Complementary currency systems questioning social and economic changes < ird-01088492 > (2014)
Greco, T.: Taking moneyless exchange to scale: measuring and maintaining the health of a credit clearing system. Int. J. Commun. Curr. Res. 17, 19–25 (2013)
Guyer, J.: Marginal Gains: Monetary Transactions in Atlantic Africa. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (2004)
Hart, K., Ortiz, H.: The anthropology of money and finance: between ethnography and world history. Ann. Rev. Anthropol. 43, 465–482 (2014)
Ingham, G.: The Nature of Money. Polity Press, Cambridge (2004)
Keynes, J.M.: Tract on Monetary Reform. Macmillan, London (1923)
Keynes, J. M.: Proposals for an International Clearing Union, 18 November 1941, in Collected Writings, Vol. XXV. Activities 1941–1946. Shaping the post-war world: the Clearing Union, Macmillan, London (1941)
Lave, J., Wenger, E.: Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1991)
Law, J., Urry, J.: Enacting the Social. Econ. Soc. 33(3), 390–410 (2004)
Littera, G., Sartori, L., Dini, P., Antoniadis, P.: From an idea to a scalable working model: merging economic benefits with social values in Sardex. In: Inaugural WINIR Conference, 11–14 September 2014, Greenwich, London, UK, http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/59406/ (2014). Accessed 26 May 2017
Lucarelli, S., Gobbi, L.: Local clearing unions as stabilizers of local economic systems: a stock flow consistent perspective. Camb. J. Econ. 40(5), 1397–1420 (2016)
Maurer, B.: Mutual Life, Limited: Islamic Banking, Alternative Currencies, Lateral Reason. Princeton University Press, Princeton (2005)
Moyer, L.: An impact assessment model for web-based time banks—a thought-experiment in the operationalization of social capital. Cons. J. Sustain. Dev. 14(2), 106–125 (2015)
Nakazato, H., Hiramoto, T.: An empirical study of the social effects of community currencies. Int. J. Commun. Curr. Res. 16(D), 124–135 (2012)
North, P.: Explorations in heterotopia: LETS and the micropolitics of money and livelihood. Environ. Plan. D Soc. Space 17(1), 69–86 (1999)
North, P.: Scaling alternative economic practices? Some lessons from alternative currencies. Trans. Inst. Br. Geogr. 30(2), 221–233 (2005)
North, P.: Alternative Currency Movements as a Challenge to Globalisation? A Case Study of Manchester’s Local Currency Networks, Ashgate Publishing Limited and Ashgate Publishing Company (Economic Geography Series), Aldershot. UK & Burlington, Vermont (2006)
North, P.: Money and Liberation: The Micropolitics of the Alternative Currency Movement. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis (2007)
Pacione, M.: Local exchange trading systems as a response to the globalisation of capitalism. Urban Stud. 34(8), 1179–1199 (1997)
Place, C., Bindewald, L.: Validating and improving the impact of complementary currency systems through impact assessment frameworks. Int. J. Commun. Curr. Res. 19(Summer), 152–164 (2015)
Ramella, F.: Reti sociali e performance economiche nelle imprese ICT. Stato e mercato 25(3), 355–390 (2005)
Regeer, B.J., de Wildt-Liesveld, R., van Mierlo, B., Bunders, J.F.G.: Exploring ways to reconcile accountability and learning in the evaluation of niche experiments. Evaluation 22(1), 6–28 (2016)
Richey, S.: Manufacturing trust: community currencies and the creation of social capital. Polit. Behav. 29(1), 69–88 (2007)
Sale, J.E.M., Lohfeld, L.H., Brazil, K.: Revisiting the quantitative-qualitative debate: implications for mixed-methods research. Qual. Quan. 36(1), 43–53 (2002)
Sartori, L., Dini, P.: From complementary currency to institution: a micro-macro study of the Sardex mutual credit system. Stato e mercato 36(2), 273–304 (2016)
Seyfang, G.: Examining local currency systems: a social audit approach. Int. J. Commun. Curr. Res. 1, 1–29 (1997)
Seyfang, G.: Community currencies: small change for a green economy. Environ. Plan. A 33(6), 975–996 (2001)
Seyfang, G.: Tackling social exclusion with community currencies: learning from LETS to time Banks. Int. J. Commun. Curr. Res. 6, 1–11 (2002)
Seyfang, G.: Time banks: rewarding community self-help in the inner city? Commun. Dev. J. 39(1), 62–71 (2004)
Seyfang, G., Longhurst, N.: Grassroots innovation for sustainability: a niche analysis of community currencies 3S Working Paper 2012-10 Science, Society and Sustainability (3S) Research Group School of Environmental Sciences University of East Anglia (2012)
Simiand, F.: La monnaie, réalité sociale. Les Annales Sociologiques D(1) (1934)
Simmel, G.: The Philosophy of Money, 3rd edn. Routledge, London (2004)
Smith, A.: An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Glasgow edition of the works and correspondence of Adam Smith. Clarendon Press, Oxford (1979 )
Stodder, J.: Complementary credit networks and macroeconomic stability: Switzerland’s Wirtschaftsring. J. Econ. Beh. Organ. 72, 79–95 (2009)
Tibbett, R.: Alternative currencies: a challenge to globalisation? N. Polit. Econ. 2(1), 127–135 (1997)
Thorne, L.: Local exchange trading systems in the UK: a case of re-embedding? Environ. Plan. A 28(8), 1361–1376 (1996)
UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Handbook on Planning, Monitoring and Evaluating for Development Results http://web.undp.org/evaluation/handbook/index.html (2009). Accessed 26 May 2017
Van Der Knaap, P.: Theory-based evaluation and learning: possibilities and challenges. Evaluation 10(1), 16–34 (2004)
Van Der Meer, F.-B., Edelenbos, J.: Evaluation in multi-actor policy processes, accountability, learning and co-operation. Evaluation 12(2), 201–218 (2006)
Wenger, E.: Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press, New York (1998)
Williams, C.C.: Local currencies and community development: an evaluation of green dollar exchanges in New Zealand. Commun. Dev. J. 31(4), 319–329 (1996)
Zelizer, V.A.: The Social Meaning of Money. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1997)
Zelizer, V.A.: The proliferation of social currencies. In: Callon, M. (ed.) The Laws of the Markets, pp. 58–68. Blackwell, Oxford (1998)
Zelizer, V.A.: Economic lives. How Culture Shapes the Economy. Princeton University Press, Princeton (2011)
About this article
Cite this article
Doria, L., Fantacci, L. Evaluating complementary currencies: from the assessment of multiple social qualities to the discovery of a unique monetary sociality. Qual Quant 52, 1291–1314 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-017-0520-9
- Complementary currencies
- Clearing systems
- Monetary theory
- Social meaning of money