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What Is Money?

A Definition Beyond Materiality and Quantity

Emanuel Seitz

This article seeks a definition of money by bringing the approaches of Spengler, Plato, Aristotle, and Keynes into dialogue. All four promote alternative views of the ontology of money as anchored either in supra-individual thought or in actual behavior, scrutinizing its relationship with mathematics. This discussion leads to an understanding of money as originating in human action and as a numerical tool that can only be understood from its ends in use. The essence of money is therefore ethical. The article concludes with a novel combination of Aristotle’s and Keynes’s ideas: the crucial element of money is learning good money practices in order to form society. This can be achieved by harmonizing money’s material part as mere actuality with money’s mathematical part as potentiality.

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“Money Is Life”

Quantity, Social Freedom, and Combinatory Practices in Western Kenya

Mario Schmidt

This article focuses on how money’s quantity is enacted as multiple in Kaleko, a small market center in Western Kenya. Residents of Kaleko conceptualize money’s quantity as abstracting, concretizing, and recursive. Theorizing this ethnographic data allows us to understand money as a sign that stands against itself. The abstracting and concretizing properties of money’s quantity symbolize what it means to be coerced to do something, while its recursive property symbolizes what it means to act freely. The article scrutinizes how money’s recursive quantity thereby relates to one peculiar trait of free social encounters in Kaleko: it suspends the distinction between part and whole with the help of ‘combinatory practices’.

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Biography and Shakespeare’s Money

Portraits of an Economic Persona

Paola Pugliatti

Robert Bearman’s book Shakespeare’s Money (2016) can be considered the first economic biography of William Shakespeare; but it is also the latest specimen of an innovative trend in Shakespeare biography which has come to the fore over the last ten years or so. While the vein of cradle-to-grave biographies seems to be exhausted, new attention is being devoted to parts of Shakespeare’s life, with an attitude that has been seen as ‘microhistorical’ or ‘disintegrationist’. The article will discuss this new kind of sensitivity to biography in general and Shakespeare biography in particular. It starts out by addressing certain developments in the theory and practice of life writing during the second half of the twentieth century, which are today becoming ever more substantial; it then examines the progress of Shakespeare biographies and, in particular, how the issue of money has been tackled since Nicolas Rowe first dealt with it.

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‘Money on the Street’ as a Hoard

How Informal Moneylenders Remain Unbanked

Martin Fotta

The resilience of the communal life of Calon Gypsies of Bahia, whose primary occupation is moneylending, lies in their treatment of money that individual men have in circulation as composing ‘inalienable personal hoards’. Calon ‘money on the street’ is viewed as a set of all the money a Calon man can hope to receive at various points from his existing loans. As a singularized totality, this whole is considered by other Calon as potentially knowable, encompassed by Calon morality and thus subject to people’s claims and evaluations. The dynamic relation between these two specific sums—the temporary whole that constitutes a man’s reputation and any expenditure indexically related to it—turns expenditures into events through which Calon manhood is forged and sovereignty from calculatory reason is declared.

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Money and the Morality of Commensuration

Currencies of Poverty in Post-Soviet Cuba

Martin Holbraad

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.

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Richard H. Robbins

Interrelationships among money, debt, and economic growth create a financial system that provides a steady stream of income to banks and private investors— the proverbial 1 percent. However, because economists obscure these interrelationships, threats to the maintenance of the monetary streams of the elite are underreported. Consequently, increasing shares of national incomes must be appropriated to maintain those streams. This article reexamines the nature of and relationships among money, debt, and economic growth to understand austerity programs and why rates of economic growth must decline and how governments and elites adjust to this reality. It then suggests alternative ways of addressing the creation of money and the problems arising from the division of society into net debtors and net creditors.

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Peter Oakley

This article explores the extent to which gold jewelry, an object type conventionally looked on as a means of display, should also be seen as a type of money. Drawing on historical evidence and ethnographic research, the analysis considers the ways in which two examples—the Renaissance money chain and the modern jewelry collection— exhibit characteristics fundamental to money: liquidity, partibility, and recursive divisibility. As a result, this study proposes that gold jewelry can best be described as a type of para-money. The article concludes that due to its ambiguous state, gold jewelry is able to act as a mediator in social situations where exchanges of money proper are considered unacceptable, and that this is an important yet underacknowledged aspect of its social identity.

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The Devil’s Money

A Multi-level Approach to Acceleration and Turbulence in Oil-Producing Southern Chad

Andrea Behrends and Remadji Hoinathy

This article analyzes the effects of a World Bank–promoted oil revenue distribution model in Chad. The authors engage the classic anthropological concerns of kinship and land tenure to examine how oil money has affected the southern Chadian oil zone. In determining whether oil money differs from money originating in other industries, two examples are used: the effects of salaries from pipeline construction on marriage payments and the effects of compensation payments on land ownership and kinship. With regard to these effects, the authors argue that oil generates a uniquely disruptive form of local inflation. They conclude that despite the World Bank’s measures to ensure that its oil model is transparent and socially just, these disruptions inhere in the model itself.

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Changing Colors of Money

Tips, Commissions, and Ritual in Christian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Jackie Feldman

The movement of money in Christian pilgrimage is a profound mirror of cultural classifications. By examining tips, commissions, and souvenir purchases in Holy Land pilgrimages, I show how the transfer of monies activates a series of multiple, complex relationships between Jewish guides, Palestinian drivers, and Christian pilgrims. I identify the 'colors'—or moral values—of salaries, tips, and commissions that change hands as 'white', 'black', or 'gray' monies and correlate these colors with particular discourses and degrees of transparency. I then illustrate how prayer, rituals, and the citation of scripture may 'bleach' these monies, transforming tips into 'love offerings' and souvenir purchases into aids to spiritual development or charity to local communities, while fostering relationships and conveying messages across religious and cultural lines. Far from being a universal 'acid' that taints human relationships, pilgrimage monies demonstrate how, through the exchange of goods, people are able to create and maintain spiritual values.

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'It's Raining Money'

Anthropology, Film and Resource Extraction in Papua New Guinea

Emma Gilberthorpe

This article looks at the impact of money 'raining' on the indigenous hosts of a non-renewable resource extraction project in Papua New Guinea and the use of film media to record and disseminate the views of those caught up in it. 'Resource development', the gloss under which industries operate, is an ambiguous term as the cash (royalties) and services (roads, health centres, schools) accompanying resource extraction are only maintained during the life of a project. The anthropological use of film in extractive industry contexts is, I argue, an ideal methodological tool for documenting indigenous concerns, views and ambitions for a postindustry environment. Based on an ethnographic film made with the Fasu, hosts to a multinational oil extraction project in the fringe highlands, this article aims to highlight how film documentation can not only reveal the broader implications of a cash economy, but also be used by anthropologists to influence participatory research and bottom-up development. This article looks at the impact of money 'raining' on the indigenous hosts of a non-renewable resource extraction project in Papua New Guinea and the use of film media to record and disseminate the views of those caught up in it. 'Resource development', the gloss under which industries operate, is an ambiguous term as the cash (royalties) and services (roads, health centres, schools) accompanying resource extraction are only maintained during the life of a project. The anthropological use of film in extractive industry contexts is, I argue, an ideal methodological tool for documenting indigenous concerns, views and ambitions for a postindustry environment. Based on an ethnographic film made with the Fasu, hosts to a multinational oil extraction project in the fringe highlands, this article aims to highlight how film documentation can not only reveal the broader implications of a cash economy, but also be used by anthropologists to influence participatory research and bottom-up development. This article looks at the impact of money 'raining' on the indigenous hosts of a non-renewable resource extraction project in Papua New Guinea and the use of film media to record and disseminate the views of those caught up in it. 'Resource development', the gloss under which industries operate, is an ambiguous term as the cash (royalties) and services (roads, health centres, schools) accompanying resource extraction are only maintained during the life of a project. The anthropological use of film in extractive industry contexts is, I argue, an ideal methodological tool for documenting indigenous concerns, views and ambitions for a postindustry environment. Based on an ethnographic film made with the Fasu, hosts to a multinational oil extraction project in the fringe highlands, this article aims to highlight how film documentation can not only reveal the broader implications of a cash economy, but also be used by anthropologists to influence participatory research and bottom-up development. This article looks at the impact of money 'raining' on the indigenous hosts of a non-renewable resource extraction project in Papua New Guinea and the use of film media to record and disseminate the views of those caught up in it. 'Resource development', the gloss under which industries operate, is an ambiguous term as the cash (royalties) and services (roads, health centres, schools) accompanying resource extraction are only maintained during the life of a project. The anthropological use of film in extractive industry contexts is, I argue, an ideal methodological tool for documenting indigenous concerns, views and ambitions for a postindustry environment. Based on an ethnographic film made with the Fasu, hosts to a multinational oil extraction project in the fringe highlands, this article aims to highlight how film documentation can not only reveal the broader implications of a cash economy, but also be used by anthropologists to influence participatory research and bottom-up development. This article looks at the impact of money 'raining' on the indigenous hosts of a non-renewable resource extraction project in Papua New Guinea and the use of film media to record and disseminate the views of those caught up in it. 'Resource development', the gloss under which industries operate, is an ambiguous term as the cash (royalties) and services (roads, health centres, schools) accompanying resource extraction are only maintained during the life of a project. The anthropological use of film in extractive industry contexts is, I argue, an ideal methodological tool for documenting indigenous concerns, views and ambitions for a postindustry environment. Based on an ethnographic film made with the Fasu, hosts to a multinational oil extraction project in the fringe highlands, this article aims to highlight how film documentation can not only reveal the broader implications of a cash economy, but also be used by anthropologists to influence participatory research and bottom-up development. This article looks at the impact of money 'raining' on the indigenous hosts of a non-renewable resource extraction project in Papua New Guinea and the use of film media to record and disseminate the views of those caught up in it. 'Resource development', the gloss under which industries operate, is an ambiguous term as the cash (royalties) and services (roads, health centres, schools) accompanying resource extraction are only maintained during the life of a project. The anthropological use of film in extractive industry contexts is, I argue, an ideal methodological tool for documenting indigenous concerns, views and ambitions for a postindustry environment. Based on an ethnographic film made with the Fasu, hosts to a multinational oil extraction project in the fringe highlands, this article aims to highlight how film documentation can not only reveal the broader implications of a cash economy, but also be used by anthropologists to influence participatory research and bottom-up development.