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The Social Life of Money

The Social Life of Money

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    The Social Life of Money
    Book Description:

    Questions about the nature of money have gained a new urgency in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Even as many people have less of it, there are more forms and systems of money, from local currencies and social lending to mobile money and Bitcoin. Yet our understanding of what money is-and what it might be-hasn't kept pace. InThe Social Life of Money, Nigel Dodd, one of today's leading sociologists of money, reformulates the theory of the subject for a postcrisis world in which new kinds of money are proliferating.

    What counts as legitimate action by central banks that issue currency and set policy? What underpins the right of nongovernmental actors to create new currencies? And how might new forms of money surpass or subvert government-sanctioned currencies? To answer such questions,The Social Life of Moneytakes a fresh and wide-ranging look at modern theories of money.

    One of the book's central concerns is how money can be wrested from the domination and mismanagement of banks and governments and restored to its fundamental position as the "claim upon society" described by Georg Simmel. But rather than advancing yet another critique of the state-based monetary system,The Social Life of Moneydraws out the utopian aspects of money and the ways in which its transformation could in turn transform society, politics, and economics. The book also identifies the contributions of thinkers who have not previously been thought of as monetary theorists-including Nietzsche, Benjamin, Bataille, Deleuze and Guattari, Baudrillard, Derrida, and Hardt and Negri. The result provides new ways of thinking about money that seek not only to understand it but to change it.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5204-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-V)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VI-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. 1-14)

    They have been freezing money in Greece. Between 2010 and 2012, approximately €72 billion was withdrawn from bank accounts and hidden in iceboxes, vacuum cleaners, bags of flour, pet food containers, mattresses, and under floors. The exodus of cash from bank to home, financial network to private sphere, prompted a significant rise in violent house burglary. While wealthier Greeks were investing heavily in London real estate, others were hoarding cash in more mundane domestic spaces because of what might happen to their bank accounts should Greece leave the Eurozone and launch its own independent currency. Fearful that their savings would...

  5. 1 ORIGINS
    (pp. 15-48)

    Books on money, almost as a chorus, invariably begin with a discussion of its most simple, elementary forms, much as Durkheim began his investigation of religion. But whereas Durkheim suggested that “like any human institution, religion begins nowhere” (Durkheim 2001: 9), monetary scholars usually take the more bullish view that money must have startedsomewhere. They simply cannot agree on exactly where. Given the myriad forms that money has taken through history, and still takes today, one could be excused for thinking that there is no compelling reason to strive for a singular account of where it began. But many...

  6. 2 CAPITAL
    (pp. 49-88)

    At the Stop the War demonstration in Manchester, United Kingdom, on September 20, 2008, an elderly woman carried a homemade placard consisting of four sheets of printer paper taped onto cardboard. In block capitals drawn in black felt tip pen were the words, “If Karl Marx was alive he would say ‘I told you so.’ ”² Five days earlier, financial services firm Lehman Brothers had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a case that remains the biggest in U.S. history. The firm held more than $600 billion in assets. TheFinancial Timesheadline warned of a “Day of Reckoning...

  7. 3 DEBT
    (pp. 89-134)

    The moral economy of debt embraces everything from friendship, through neighborliness, to revenge. Debt is part of the very business of everyday life (Nietzsche 1996b: 45), like a balance sheet that enters into every human relationship and interaction. Historically, notions of debt have played an important role in many of society’s religious, ethical, and moral belief systems and are crucial to their systems of justice and law. More recently, however, debt has come to be viewed more narrowly as a financial relationship. In such terms, excessive debt is often regarded as symptomatic of a damaged life, as a form of...

  8. 4 GUILT
    (pp. 135-162)

    InDaybreak(originally published in 1881), Nietzsche said that our sentiments toward money were taking the place of our religious feelings: “What one formerly did ‘for the sake of God’ one now does for the sake of money, that is to say, for the sake of that which now gives the highest feeling of power and good conscience” (Nietzsche 1997a: 123). Though his proclamations of the death of God have been widely discussed, few have dwelled on Nietzsche’s remarks about their implications for money, particularly in the wake of a crisis—our own—that is closely associated with debt and...

  9. 5 WASTE
    (pp. 163-210)

    Having looked at money’s relationship tocapitalin Chapter 2, its configuration as a form ofdebtin Chapter 3, and its underlying structures ofguiltin Chapter 4, we now turn to a fourth conceptual framework for exploring the theory of money, namely, notions that connect it towaste. This conception of money emerges with particular clarity when it is viewed through the perspective ofgeneral economy. The central thinker here is Georges Bataille, who although he remains largely a peripheral figure in anthropology and sociology, is best known for his theory ofexpenditureand theaccursed share. Bataille’s...

    (pp. 211-268)

    Marx once said that money “wears different national uniforms” (Marx 2009: 139). The belief that money naturally divides itself into national units reinforces the argument thatstatesare best equipped to look after money: to manage its production, regulate its supply, and guarantee its value. Indeed, many of the theories of money discussed so far in this book approach the subject almost unthinkingly as a territorially bounded entity, understood from the standpoint of asocietyornation-state—which, mistakenly, are often run together. But the interconnections among money, nation-state, and society are far from natural. Until the nineteenth century, a...

  11. 7 CULTURE
    (pp. 269-312)

    Schumpeter’s insistence that culture is “not what concerns monetary science” typifies a way of approaching money in classical social and economic thought that has never really gone away—even though it has been persuasively challenged by scholars in sociology and anthropology. Revealingly perhaps, though many of the discussions so far in this book have touched upon the question of money’s relationship with culture, none has focused on it explicitly and directly. As Schumpeter implies, that relationship is important because it deepens our understanding of how money is used in different social contexts. Culture is important to understanding the ways in...

  12. 8 UTOPIA
    (pp. 313-384)

    Frederick Jameson described the proposal to abolish money—and, alongside it, private property—as “the grandest of all the ruptures effectuated by the Utopian Imagination” (Jameson 2007: 229). Thomas More in 1516 instigated the rupture he had in mind. For More, the end of money would mean the end of “all those types of criminal behaviour which daily punishments are powerless to check: fraud, theft, burglary, brawls, riots, disputes, rebellion, murder, treason, and black magic” (More 2004: 111–12). Money’s abolition would resolve problems such as “fear, tension, anxiety, over-work, and sleepless nights,” and even poverty itself “would promptly disappear...

    (pp. 385-394)

    On May 24, 2010, an American lawyer known online as Beowulf posted a comment on a discussion thread suggesting that the U.S. Treasury could, if it wanted, mint twelve $1 trillion platinum coins and deposit them at the Federal Reserve in order to “pay off the national debt by lunch.”² It was able to do this, he claimed, because of a legal anomaly that gives the Secretary of the Treasury power to fix the denomination on a platinum coin at any level he chooses.³ Less than three years later, Beowulf’s idea of the $1 trillion platinum coin took on emblematic...

    (pp. 395-420)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 421-444)