Forgive the typos!
Tag: economic anthropology
Twenty years after The Social Meaning of Money, a series of articles discussing its legacy.
When Mr. Thang approached me for money the first time, he did so cautiously, explaining that he needed a hundred dollars to purchase material for school uniforms and pay tuition for his two daughters in high school. At the end of his story, he punctuated his story with a “what do you think of that,” as if he did not quite believe it himself. The image of his school-age daughters caught me off-guard. I quickly convinced myself that I was learning something from him and could — perhaps should — pay him for our conversations as I had paid others for more formal language instruction. So I became complicit in the economy of intimacy in which stories could be exchanged for cash, but without ever outright acknowledging what we each thought the money represented.
Allison Truitt, “Hot Loans and Cold Cash in Saigon,” in Money: Ethnographic Encounters, ed. Stefan Senders and Allison Truit (Berg: 2007), p.60.
Since the seventeenth century — to put it briefly — the discourses of natural rights and moral philosophy have provided some of the building blocks for an all-purpose definition of homo economicus. These discourses connect assumptions about the state of the world with presuppositions about human nature, and they have led to a long-lasting, radical change in the moral household and in the economy of human interrelations. This means, first, that modern homo economicus appears on the scene not merely as a rational subject but also as a passionate one, whereby these passions are regulated via a mechanism of interests. Second, he acts as a blind subject with limited knowledge. It is precisely through this blindness that he produces — unintentionally and unconsciously — harmonious social relations. For this reason, he follows a specific path in life. Homo economicus acquires wisdom through his ignorance and gets ahead in life thanks to his limited awareness and narrow horizons. Incidentally, a similar contradiction can be found in the plot structure of the German Bildungsroman: Wilhelm Meister, too, arrives at his rightful place in life precisely through his limited knowledge and the unintended consequences of his actions, as if steered there by an invisible, “higher hand” […] Third, homo economicus is an enemy of the state in a special sense. As far as he is concerned, the implementation of a good system — involving laws, institutions, administration, and so on — conflicts with the good implementation of systematicity itself. […] And fourth, this hostility to government interference does not detract, as might be expected, from homo economicus developing into an eminently governable character type.
Joseph Vogl, The Specter of Capitalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), p. 27.
[…] For instance, did the social workers’ bestowal of money involve the right to tell families how to spend? Or did charitable income, once it entered the households of the poor, become their property?
The poor, too, had their own systems for earmarking household monies, not just for good times, but for a whole range of expenses; rent money was not the same as food money, and insurance was kept apart from a church donation. Even personal monies were differentiated; a son’s personal-spending allowance was treated quite differently from his sister’s, or from their father’s saloon money or his carfare. When poor families could afford it, they often set money aside for fraternal organizations or other mutual-aid societies, or, in the case of immigrants, earmarked certain monies to be sent to their families abroad. […]
From Viviana Zelizer, The Social Meaning of Money (BasicBooks: 1994), p.171.
A discussion of Konings’ The Emotional Logic of Capitalism, Crosthwaite’s Speculative Investments, Konings’ The Emotional Logic of Capitalism, Yuran’s What Money Wants, and Hill and Montag’s The Other Adam Smith.
In many ways the contemporary financial economy does look like a machine. Think, for example, of its Bloomberg terminals, its automated trading systems, and its algorithm wars. But if global finance is a machine, then there is something irrational, something supernatural—even magical—about the way it operates. It’s not just the periodic bouts of mania, panic, and crisis; nor is it the apparently endless drive to accumulate, to conjure more and more wealth out of a void. It’s that in these and other processes, a range of psychic investments are at work—curious attachments that bind us to money, to projected futures, to imaginary orders, and ultimately, to the modes of power upon which capitalism depends. The magical parts make and move the mechanical whole. This, at least, is the controversial idea developed in a string of new books to which this forum is dedicated.
‘Money’s Other Worlds’ by Amin Samman, at the Stanford University Press blog.
The Royal Anthropological Institute has partnered with Brett Scott’s London School of Financial Arts to host a series of workshops for budding ethnographers keen to map out and explore the cultures of high finance.
Brett Scott’s introduction to finance, written from the perspective of an activist, industry insider & anthropologist. The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance.