Money and the Morality of Commensuration

Currencies of Poverty in Post-Soviet Cuba

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  • 1 University College London m.holbraad@ucl.ac.uk
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Abstract

Based on ethnographic research in Havana over the past two decades, this article examines how Cubans’ experience of poverty, or ‘need’, is linked to the increasing dollarization of the Cuban economy. Dollars, I argue, are not just the emblem of a new moral disorder, but also its main catalyst, inasmuch as they expand the realm of ‘need’, as defined by a socialist paradigm of consumption rooted in the era before the introduction of the dollar, by stripping it of its (socialist) moral essence through acts of quantitative commensuration. This account of Cubans’ experience of poverty since the end of the Soviet era, I suggest, provides more general insights about the power of the money form itself as a catalyst of moral transformation.

Contributor Notes

Martin Holbraad teaches social anthropology at University College London. He is the author of Truth in Motion: The Recursive Anthropology of Cuban Divination (2012), co-author of The Ontological Turn: An Anthropological Exposition (2017), and co-editor of Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethno-graphically (2007) and of Framing Cosmologies: The Anthropology of Worlds (2014). His research interests include Afro-Cuban religions, revolutionary politics, and, more broadly, the relationship between cosmology, politics, and other forms of social invention. At present, he is directing a five-year research project on the anthropology of revolutionary politics.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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