It’s all giving and taking: money and its (societal) values in the course of time

Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group
Julia Erdelmann, Newnham College
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Tuesday, November 7, 2017 - 13:10 to 14:00

Money is clearly one of the most powerful social linkages between individuals, groups, and nation states that exist. Its power of abstraction generates equivalences where none existed, forms the basis of economic calculations and has the metaphysical quality of generating offspring (interest). Sociological enquiry into its emergence and institutional underpinnings brings to the fore its importance for the development of societies. This seminar will shed light on the historic development of monetary values and the effects an apparently abstract economic measurement has on shaping societies and the contracts formed between its members.

Starting with the gift economy – a society functioning entirely without any monetary values – sources of historic anthropology and heterodox economics can help us identify and understand the social construction of money and monetary systems, which will be contrasted with the myth of the barter economy put forward by neoclassical economists. This will lead us to appreciate the primary function of money as money of account, as credit systems predate coins, and its linkage to debt and accounting systems. The organising impact accounting in monetary terms had on common economic undertakings as the nation state formed, and thus the role it played in the formation of what Weber termed “rational industrial capitalism”, will allow a critical view on money’s organisational powers in modern-day capitalist societies.

What does Weber mean exactly when referring to money’s “rational” character and which societal implications come from Marx’ observation regarding the fetishism of commodities in a profit-driven economy? In the light of newly emerging currencies, such as bitcoins and other crypto currencies, can sociological enquiry into monetary systems provide an outlook on how social contracts might change in the future?

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