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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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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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‘Love Merchandized’

Money in Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Manfred Pfister

Although analysing Shakespeare’s sonnets in the context of ‘Shakespeare and money’ is not an obvious choice, I believe that Karl Marx’s ‘The Power of Money’ in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts are as relevant to the sonnets as they are to plays such as Timon of Athens. My reading of them will foreground their dialogue with terms and developments in early modern banking and focus on metaphors of economic transaction that run through the whole cycle; indeed, a third of them figure love, its wealth and truth, use and abuse, in terms of investment in order to project an alternative economy beyond the self-alienating world of banking/financial gain. This imbrication of the erotic with the economic comprises also the writing of love sonnets, a competitive game-like economic transaction. Soneteering is a way of ‘merchandizing love’ that inevitably casts a capitalist shadow across the supposedly most sincere expression of love.

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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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“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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Remembering the Leu

Encounters with Money and Memory in Post-communist, Accession-era Romania

Alyssa Grossman

This article approaches money as the object of a particular type of remembrance work occurring in present-day, post-communist Bucharest. Since the 1989 revolution, the Romanian leu has changed numerous times in appearance and value. Piecing together observations from over a decade of fieldwork in Bucharest, I evaluate everyday behaviours and conversations surrounding these changes, and examine how the leu has been implicated in subjective, highly charged encounters closely bound to the workings of memory. The leu's fluctuating terminology, along with its material and imagerial variations over time have triggered poignant associations and recollections that often remain unspoken, embedded in unseen realms of the mind. By emphasising the leu's role as an everyday artefact and its connections to processes of 'communicative' memory, I point to the present-day climate in Bucharest as one where perceptions of the leu's multiple forms and manifestations reveal strong ambivalences towards current accession-era values, as well as deep uncertainties about Romania's 'European' future.

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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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Injury and Measurement

Jacob Grimm on Blood Money and Concrete Quantification

Anna Echterhölter

The article takes a close look at Jacob Grimm’s astonishing account of measurement in his lesser-known studies on the history of law. Grimm gives a thorough description of concrete quantification of property and the measurement of economic value in a European rural setting. Both techniques are considered a necessary ‘infrastructure’ for any use of money, yet his exposition is curiously devoid of numbers. Instead, ‘poetic’ and procedural scripts of measurement take center stage. However, these qualitative procedures are not contrasted to quantitative ones in any expectable way. In Grimm’s polemic, precise quantification emerges as a shorthand for administrative regimes that circumvent and prohibit negotiation, appearing to be less rational and more socially binding.