Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mutual Life, Limited

Mutual Life, Limited: Islamic Banking, Alternative Currencies, Lateral Reason

Bill Maurer
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mutual Life, Limited
    Book Description:

    Why are people continually surprised to discover that money is "just" meaning?Mutual Life, Limitedspends time among those who, in acknowledging the fictions of finance, are making money anew. It documents ongoing efforts to remake money and finance by Islamic bankers who seek to avoid interest and local currency proponents who would stand outside of national economies. It asks how alternative moneys both escape and reenact dominant forms of money and finance, and reflects critically on their broader implications for scholarship.

    Based on fieldwork among participants in a local currency system in Ithaca, New York, and among Islamic banking practitioners in the United States, Indonesia, and elsewhere, this book exploits the convergence between the reflexivity of monetary alternatives and social inquiry by questioning the equivalence between money and ethnography. Can money ever be adequate to the value backing it? Can social description ever be adequate to messy and contingent realities?

    Bill Maurer's ethnographic discovery is that ethnography as such--the holistic description of a way of life--cannot be sustained when faced with a set of practices that anticipates and incorporates it in advance. His fluently written book represents an unprecedented critique of social scientific approaches to money through an ethnographic description of specific monetary alternatives, while also speaking broadly to the very problem of anthropological knowledge in the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4071-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. A Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xxi-xxi)
  7. INTRODUCTION Lateral Reasons for a Post-reflexive Anthropology
    (pp. 1-23)

    On July 11, 1998, before I had imagined this book, at a time when the research that would comprise it was only beginning to take form, I found myself walking in on a screening of the Frank Capra film,It’s a Wonderful Life.¹ Prodded by a colleague, I arrived, slightly late, at a conference about Islamic banking. I do not remember what I expected, but I certainly did not expect what I saw.

    The founder of a southern California Islamic investment firm was standing next to a television in front of an audience of about three hundred in a large...

  8. CHAPTER 1 In the Matter of Islamic Banking and Local Currencies
    (pp. 24-54)

    One of the most difficult aspects of this book’s project is specifying its subject of study. First, the material is hopelessly intertwined with “other” material; the work of delineation and separation is confounded by the material’s own work of networking, hybridization, and interconnection. Second, the very idea of the materiality of data, of those notes in bottles of which Geertz wrote, is undercut by the analytical work of the material itself: currency forms that put into question the relationship of adequation between word and thing presupposed by modern moneys and philosophies. People’s creation, discussion and use of these currency forms...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Of Law and Belief
    (pp. 55-76)

    People in Ithaca generally speak of HOURS with approval. “I am definitely pro-HOURS,” one woman told me. And yet, in searching for a definition of what it meant to be pro-HOURS, I almost always received responses in the negative: “It means to be anti-government,” or “it means you’re against the IRS [Internal Revenue Service].” Rarely did people invoke discourses of community or locality in discussing their faith in HOURS, except indirectly, in statements like “It keeps the money from going to Syracuse,” the nearest urban center. And being pro-HOURS sometimes went along with a deep skepticism of the money. “They...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Of Monetary Alternatives and the Limits of Values Past
    (pp. 77-99)

    What do you do when your natives have not only read Richard Posner’s (1977) book,The Economic Analysis of Law, but believe to have discovered heretofore hidden passages in their most sacred texts that seem to anticipate it?² Up to this point, this book has been preoccupied with the flows of knowledge between its objects and its analytical tools, flows that precede the writing. This chapter sidesteps the obvious questions these flows suggest: questions of redefinition, recombination, or appropriation. Instead, it turns back to the problem of the alternative discussed in the introduction and chapter 1. Islamic banking and Ithaca...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Innumerate Equivalencies: Making Change with Alternative Currencies
    (pp. 100-121)

    Everywhere there are indications that money, once supposedly welded to its value as a natural characteristic of its very substance, is increasingly abstract, detached from any grounding materiality, operating in the realm of pure sign. From reflection on the democratic possibilities of the revelation that money is “only” information (Hart 2001) to appreciation of the logics of circulation warranting the abstractions of contemporary finance (Lee and LiPuma 2002), analysts of contemporary monetary formations wonder what happens to the age old question of how a material object can ever be adequate to abstract value when the object itself literally no longer...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Wiseman’s and Fool’s Gold
    (pp. 122-135)

    The practice of chrysography, writing with gold on paper, emerged among scribes of the Abrahamic faiths around the same time that metal coinage was invented, and ended in the twelfth or thirteenth centuries A.D. with the introduction of paper currencies that were exchangeable for gold (Shell 1982:186). Chrysography posed a particular theological problem, for it ran the risk of commensurating the “monetary value of the written letter” with the spiritual value of the Word of God. The “medium of linguistic exchange”—written words—were penned in the “substance of monetary exchange” (p. 192). Clerics feared that the golden representation of...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Mutual Life, Limited: Insurance, Moral Value, and Bureaucratic Form
    (pp. 136-153)

    In the wake of the U.S. stock market crash of 1929, economist Frank Knight’sRisk, Uncertainty, and Profit(1933) spelled out a distinction between objectifiable risk and subjective uncertainty that was to remain intrinsic to twentieth-century market logic and gain a foothold in the new techniques of governance based on actuarial practices. Such techniques of governance emerged from the social statistics of the nineteenth century, and are generally held to decompose the subjects of liberal democracy into disaggregated individual biologies and histories, only to reaggregate them again into populations and risk profiles (Simon 1988; Hacking 1990; Foucault 1991; O’Malley 2000;...

  14. CONCLUSION Restaging Abstraction and Adequation
    (pp. 154-168)

    To the Islamic banking professional who contrasted “Mickey Mouse Islamic banking” with that “which calls things by their names,” I ask: what does it mean to call things by their names? How can we understand the momentary invocation of the name—or the line on a page tracing a projected profit, as in Rudi’s drawings of the yield of hiskoperasi; or the inscription of a local landscape on the Ithaca HOUR; or the oscillation of the “I” that sometimes distinguishes Islamic banking from conventional banking as an utter difference in kind and other times merely demarcates a niche product,...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 169-184)
  16. References Cited
    (pp. 185-204)
  17. Index
    (pp. 205-217)