Materiality, Symbol, and Complexity in the Anthropology of Money

Chapter

Abstract

The invitation to review anthropological studies of money offers an opportunity not only to revisit the history of anthropologists’ investigations into money’s objects, meanings, and uses but also to reflect on the intersections of such work with recent psychological research. In this review essay, we survey the primary findings of the anthropology of money and the central challenges anthropological work has posed to assumptions about money’s power to abstract, commensurate, dissolve social ties, and erase difference. We summarize anthropologists’ historical concern with cultural difference and recent work on money’s materialities, meanings, and complex uses. We emphasize the pragmatics of money—from earmarking practices and the use of multiple moneys to the politics of liquidity and fungibility. In the final section of the paper, we find inspiration in recent psychological studies of money to indicate new trajectories for inquiry. Specifically, we point to three potentially fruitful areas for research: money use as a tool and infrastructure; the politics of revealing and concealing money; and money’s origins and futures as a memory device. We end with a brief reflection on ongoing monetary experiments and innovations.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Money, Technology and Financial InclusionUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA

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