For the final installment of this series, we’ve asked Alexandra Lippman, Whitney Trettien, and Jane Guyer, contributors Paid: Tales of Checks Dongles, and Other Money Stuff, to respond to the book as a whole. Lippman’s section includes a link to the playlist she created for the book.

 

Alexandra Lippman on the Art of Money

Money is the most commonly circulating art form. At the same time, payment objects are unstable and excessive, frequently transforming their status from money to trash to art (and back again). Argentinian artist, Máximo González—who I write about—weaves out-of-print Mexican pesos and discarded scraps of currency into fabrics like The World’s Garbage (2012) and creates collages from out-of-circulation currency into Landscapes with Landfill (2003, 2005) transforming the trash of cash into art (potentially convertible to cash).

Through our repeated handling, however, the art of money stuff becomes unremarkable. U.S. dollars—through their uniform color and dimensions—appear particularly adept at fading into the background. By curating payment objects in Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, Bill Maurer and Lana Swartz take these things out of circulation. Each of the chapters sets a particular type of “money stuff” aside and asks the reader to take a moment with it. The chapters reveal the personal stories, history, memories, and beauty bundled up in diverse objects of payment. We, the readers, must pause to consider the complex ways in which we keep track, tally, make jokes, create art, and remember through objects of payment.

Money stuff also inspires art. While Square may have killed the signature—how can we take our finger-painted “signatures” seriously? —it also gave birth to electronic signature art. When asked for their e-signature, artists, as Bill Maurer relays, instead draw scenes such as “the sun setting a house on fire and people running away and one guy on fire.” Not only are these “signatures” accepted by merchants, but also collected in ‘zines devoted to this new art form. More than 250 years prior, Benjamin Franklin pressed foliage—raspberry leaves, fern fronds—into the printing press to prevent the counterfeiting of bills. Printing from nature—as beautiful and seemingly whimsical as it is hard to replicate——Whitney Trettien suggests, “authenticated the strange materiality of money” (2017:163).

Inspired by Maurer’s and Swartz’ remarkable work editing Paid as if curating an imaginary exhibition of money stuff, I ask what the possibilities for curation are within scholarship. To mark the publication of Paid, I have experimented as a collaborative scholar-selector by curating an unofficial soundtrack to the book. I asked chapter writers to send their favorite songs about money to mix with my own. The playlist [https://open.spotify.com/user/pirateanthropologies/playlist/4CMRVXtYOqMTHy3TJuSzh2] explores some of the ways in which payment is represented and debated in different genres, time periods, and places. From Horace Andy’s dubby repetition of “Money, money, money is the root of all evil,” to Wu-Tang Clan’s “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” money stuff inspires music. Not only that, but money—as the sampled clink of coins or whir of bills being counted—becomes music.

Money—or often the idea of if—is also sonified. On YouTube, a two-hour-long track of water bubbling, rain, and whirring, “Sleep Programming for Prosperity-‘Millionaire Mindset’ -Attract Abundance & Wealth While You Sleep!” boasts 2 million hits. Hundreds of other (very popular) tracks promise to attract money to the listener through subliminal binaural beats, hypnosis, or spoken affirmations in various languages. In a very different vein, artist and writer, Jace Clayton, is planning a project to sonify the data of financial markets. Gbadu And The Moirai Index, which will take place on Wall Street, by using an algorithm to translate the financial market’s movements into a musical piece for four voices. Each singer plays a mythological character — the Moirai are Greek goddesses of fate and Gbadu is a Dahomey fate deity, and the performance will reflect on the history and architecture of Lower Manhattan.

 

Whitney Trettien on Print and Money

I’m a book historian, which tends to raise eyebrows when I say it; but it simply means I study the history of print and other text technologies. I’m particularly interested in the ways people have used reading and writing technologies to create communities.

As part of this research, I think a lot about words like “publication,” “circulation,” and “value.” Publishing simply means to make something public; but who gets to make information public any given time fascinates me. For instance, one of my primary research projects right now addresses a set of cut-and-paste biblical concordances — essentially radically “remixed” collages made from fragments of printed bibles and engravings. They were produced by a group of women at the religious household at Little Gidding in the 1630s and 1640s, a time when women had limited access to traditional print publication. How does one get around the injunctions for Renaissance women to remain chaste, silent, and obedient? If you’re at Little Gidding, you “print” with scissors and paste. This clever book-hack (literally!) has the added bonus of making their concordances into boutique, speciality objects, available only to powerful patrons. Et voila: ideological restrictions have become a strength. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

I didn’t think of my work as having much to do with the history of money or finance until working with the editors of Paid and reading the other contributions. Across our various fields, we share an interest in circulation as a social process, and value as contingent on some sense of a public. We also share an interest in the objectness, the brute materiality, of cultural transactions. In my own short chapter, I drew on book historians’ research on nature printing in the eighteenth century to show how trust in colonial currency was tethered to innovations in printing technology — innovations that were not themselves the natural outcome of the history of printing but which in fact happened in tandem with social and financial pressures. I’m thrilled to see this work alongside chapters on dongles and Bitcoin. In this fabulous tangle of interdisciplinary interests lies the future of the humanities, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

 

Jane Guyer on Trust and Money

Materiality is the central, and inspirational, theme across all these contributions. It provoked me to search into the rich details to explore the socio-spiritual properties imbued into these materials. Not unlike the classic “spirit in the gift”, its hau, the trust in monetary transactions, which lives in these objects, seems to have a life of its own. In God We Trust was first stamped into the American currency, a coin, in 1864, and onto every paper bill after 1956. Does this convey to the users that what we do with cash/money is under the oversight of God? “Trust” also pervades the financial vocabulary: as trust funds and trustworthy partners, whose qualities can also be nuanced from the Old Norse term for confidence, traust, into the Latin-origin fidelity, from fides, for faith. There has been a continual nuancing of these terms and their referents, and here we have material forms that are infused with their qualities. Does a “token of value”, as Maurer and Swartz put it in their Introduction, have a “life” of its own, and, if so, what is understood by this “life”, especially – perhaps now – when “part of their job is to be invisible”? Maurer suggests that signatures evoke “wonder”. Hau, trust, what words now circulate for the inner qualities of money materials? The papers about the past – Graeber, Trettien and others –  and about elsewhere – Urton, Hart and others – invoke, or imply, older, and non-European, terms. The articles about new technologies bring us into a new linguistic world: “ether” (O’Dwyer), the transfer of “trust” to “trust in yourself’ through the cryptocurrencies (Brunton). By ending with a current experience with silver (Brunton), which can take us back to the past, this collection prompts the reader to return to every paper, bringing close attention to the infusion of immaterial qualities into the Money Stuff of the title. The whole book deserves reading with close attention, inviting each reader to enter their own unfolding monetary experiences and perceptions into the collective conversation.

 

In our first post in this series, we argued that even if cash is disappearing (which it may not be, at least not completely, and at least not any time soon!), it’s important to analyze the stuff of money, its material infrastructures and entailments. In this post, we look at one example. In keeping with our museum catalog concept, we’ve selected an example that is particularly difficult to curate.

The Automated Clearing House (ACH) is the electronic backbone of the payments system in the United States. It is the network that clears and settles transactions between member banks whenever an employer directly deposits a paycheck into an employee’s account, whenever a mortgage payment or utility bill is automatically deducted, or whenever you use PayPal linked to your bank account to make a payment. It is one of the core systems of the payments industry, the vast, vital yet little understood network of government, corporate and nonprofit entities that helps the money move in physical and digital space. In fact, over the past couple of years there’s been a revolution in how the ACH operates, so that payments can move faster, approaching real time settlement. It’s a big deal but something you probably don’t think about every day, if ever.

You can’t “see” the ACH. There are servers and cables and electronic files and file transfer protocols; there are rulebooks and codes. Codes like:

R14 Representative payee deceased or unable to continue in that capacity The representative payee authorized to accept entries on behalf of a beneficiary is either deceased or unable to continue in that capacity

 

Imagine you are a museum curator from the future. You have been tasked with creating a gallery about this thing called “money” that people used to use to keep track of debts and to pay taxes to support the common welfare through the institutions of the state. You look into the history records and find that this ACH thing was really, really important: accounting for over 80% of the electronic value transferred in the United States in 2016 (Federal Reserve Payments Study 2016).

Now how are you going to curate that?

The Atlanta Federal Reserve has tried to imagine how our future curator would capture the ACH. Off to the side of its main money gallery is its slightly tongue in cheek “Museum From the Future of Money”—you are greeted by a large flat screen on which appears a woman in full body unitard who intones the story of how people in the distant past of the 20th and 21st centuries paid for goods and services using different tools and techniques. Slightly tongue in cheek side. Objects are reverently displayed on black velvet under glass—a coin, a paper check, a credit card… and a laser printed piece of paper illustrating an actual ACH transfer.

This object would normally be a piece of sensitive garbage headed for the shredder. Lost to history forever.

What does its curation inspire?

Fieldwork story: We are at a bar in Las Vegas during Money2020, an annual payments industry conference. We are with a new friend, drinking and debriefing on the day’s presentations of the latest in fintech, developed by financial and payment technology startups as well as the dominant players (Visa, PayPal, but also FirstData, Fiserv and other not-so-household names that operate behind almost all electronic payments). There had been a lot of griping on the day’s panels about the US Federal Reserve’s slowness in embracing fintech, and about the ACH’s slowness in advancing “faster” payments—as close to real-time settlement as possible.

We were getting a little drunk. We asked our new friend:

“The ACH is a) good; b) bad; c) awesome!”

Without missing a beat, she replied: “AWESOME!!”

Why is the ACH so awesome? As we said, it’s the backbone of payments in the US. Almost all new payment systems use it in one way or another. Federally mandated and majority owned by the Fed, it is managed by a consortium of banks and governed by a not for profit association, NACHA (formerly, the National ACH Association).

Is it a public good? It certainly behaves like one. Is it a utility? Hard to say. It’s ubiquitous in the US payments landscape even if it is hidden from view. It’s awesome!

One of our hopes in assembling Paid is to shed light on payment infrastructures, their weirdness, their politics, their awesomeness, in all senses of the word.

 

At SocFinance we have invited Bill Maurer and Lana Swartz, the authors of Paid, a fascinating book on money published recently, to write a few posts with us. This is the first of three series.

The Coming Cashlessness?

On 16 November 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the surprise announcement that all 500 and 1000 rupee notes were being demonetized—they would become worthless paper within 30 days and people had a short window of 50 days (it was later shortened) to exchange their existing notes for new ones. The initially stated purpose was to stifle “black money,” corruption and tax evasion. Over the ensuing weeks, however, Modi spoke more and more of ushering in a digital economy, and digital payment platforms saw a brief uptick in demand for point-of-sale devices.

Modi’s move is one example of a growing anti-cash consensus, based on the idea that cash is linked to crime, terrorist financing, money laundering and the like. The Better Than Cash Alliance is a consortium of governments, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and corporations all united in the goal of moving the world away from physical cash and coin and toward digital payments. Sweden, ever the vanguard of modernism, is, we’re told, well on its way to a cashless society.

EMBED VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl3lxc2lXYM

CAPTION: The Better Than Cash Alliance argues that by moving away from cash, we can offer greater financial inclusion to millions.

Is Cash Still King?

Of course, many readers of this blog already live in a near-cashless state. Our paychecks are automatically deposited; we use credit and debit cards at brick and mortar stores; we shop online with PayPal or send money to friends using Venmo. When we need cash, we have to go to an ATM and get it. Cash is not just there waiting for us to use it the way it might have been when our mothers or grandmothers went to the bank every month to take out a huge wad of bills that they stored in envelopes in the kitchen cabinet next to the flour jar.

But is cash actually going away? Maybe, but probably not completely, and certainly not anytime soon. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Cash Product Office, cash continues to be the most frequently used payment instrument for American consumers. This is true across a variety of contexts, but especially small value payments.

Consider another 20th century digitization dream: “the paperless office.” Many of us work in “paper light” offices, but rare is a workplace with no printers, no filing cabinets, no signs reminding us that the communal fridge will be cleaned out on Friday. A character in Jim Butcher’s 2010 novel Changes compared the paperless office to Bigfoot, “Someone says he knows someone who saw him, but you don’t ever actually see him yourself.”  Cash, like many paper technologies, will likely linger.

And yet we are seeing an explosion of innovation in the money technology of everyday life. Since 2012, according to the Fed, cash’s share of transactions in 2015 dropped from 40% to 32%. According to that same Fed data, preference for cash as a primary form of payment is declining across all age groups. In our research and from our students, we are always hearing about the fascinating—sometimes terrifying ways—that person-to-person payment apps like Venmo are shaping friendships and romances. Cashless need not be total to have an impact on our everyday lives.

Cash and Stuff

With all this talk of cashlessness, we’re often asked about the “dematerialization” of money. What will it be like when all transactions are “frictionless”?

But where others may see dematerialization, we see all sorts of new stuff. The world of digital payments depends on vast and variegated infrastructures, many interacting agencies and entities, and material stuff in the form of cables, wires, microchips, servers, air conditioners, boxes of all shapes and sizes full of circuitry, magnets, camera lenses, light-emitting crystals and plasmas, glass, metal and precious elements.

What are the cultural meanings and politics of these new technologies? How do they map onto existing social problems and opportunities? How do they create news ones?

Witness, for example, this image that circulated on Twitter the aftermath of Modi’s demonetization. Of course, a mobile money system would be happy to see paper bills pulled out of circulation. Does it matter that a private company was now doing the work that cash—a public infrastructure produced by the government—has long performed?

In Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, we asked scholars across fields, journalists, practitioners, and other folks interested in the future (and past!) of money to consider the meaning and politics of money stuff. Each chapter is robustly illustrated, like a museum catalog—indeed, the impetus was to imagine a catalog for an exhibition that never took place. We imagined a book about objects that, in their time, might have been considered trivial or trash, things that, once their network had died or their internal gizmos had worn out or their empire collapsed, would have gone to the dust heap of history. Not like the traditional objects of numismatics—gold and silver coins, hoarded, collected, and counterfeited for millennia. But physical things like the magnetic stripe credit card; digital things like the cryptocurrency Dogecoin; ephemeral things like the signature. The e-waste of money. Thinking about money stuff also opened the door to objects you might actually find in a museum, because money stuff is so often about record keeping and accounting. So, you will find point-of-sale devices alongside Inkan khipu, throw-away receipts next to Ben Franklin’s banknotes. This collision of objects creates a wonder cabinet: rather than sparking insight into Creation, we hope it sparks conversations about value, transactions, and transience—even the transience of the dream of a cashless society.

 

 

In the wake of the global financial crisis, the various political responses it has triggered, and the emergence of new forms of fiscal and monetary policy, the need for a more sophisticated encounter between economic theory and the social sciences has become pressing. The growth of new forms of money and finance is increasingly recognised as one of the defining developments of our time, and it is beginning to yield innovative research across the humanities and social sciences.

Following on from the success of our inaugural conference last year, this two-day event aims to foster the further development of dialogue between the diverse camps that make up the new field of ‘finance and society’ studies. In particular, it seeks to identify new synergies between heterodox political economy and various sociological, historical, and philosophical perspectives on the intersections of finance and society.

Confirmed keynotes

  • Melinda Cooper (University of Sydney), ‘Anti-austerity on the far right’
  • Joseph Vogl (Humboldt University of Berlin), ‘The ascendancy of finance’

Submissions are invited in two formats

  • Papers; abstract of up to 300 words
  • Panels; panel proposal plus paper abstracts

Please submit abstracts and proposals by 1 August 2017 to Martijn Konings and Amin Samman at the following address: intersectionsfinancesociety@gmail.com

Finance and Society are encouraging paper submissions from conference participants. If you would like to discuss this further then please contact one of the journal editors. The full programme for last year’s event is available from the 2016 conference website.

From Christian Borch:

Special Issue of Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory 

Guest Editors:

Lisa Adkins (University of Newcastle, Australia)

Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen (University of Tampere, Finland)

Liu Xin (University of Tampere, Finland)

Submission deadline: September 30, 2017

Publication of the special issue in Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory: 2018/2019 

Background and key themes

One feature of the contemporary present is persistent instability and indeterminacy in regard to price and pricing. While classical social theorists and especially Marx recognized that the problem of price is fundamental to capitalism, this problem is mutating in the context of a proliferation of pricing technologies. These include, but are by no means limited to, the operations of apparently localized devices such as surge pricing and the ostensibly abstract techniques of financial instruments designed to continuously contest price. Such technologies have not only made the contestability of price explicit, but also raise the question of how exactly price and pricing should be understood. Should price be understood as an algorithm, a sensation, an index, a measure, a risk position, a mode of valuation, a benchmark, a function of money, a market device, or a socio-technological engagement with the future?

While mutations to price and pricing have certainly not gone unnoticed in economic sociology, critical finance studies, and in certain branches of pragmatic sociology, these mutations raise the question of what is at stake for social theory in the question and problem of price. What might an interrogation of price entail for social theory? Would this include the changing relations between measure and value? The retreat of the state from price setting? Shifting relations between the future and the present? An intensification of capital accumulation? A rewriting of value? Transformations to money? A thoroughgoing entanglement of price and pricing in the co-ordination and making of social worlds? 

This special issue invites contributions on the theme of price to address these and related questions. It seeks contributions which move away from the narrow concerns of an economics focused on price as information and from a sociology focused on the meaning of price to deliver state-of-the-art engagements with the problem and question of price. These engagements might take the form of considerations of what socio-theoretical resources are best equipped to come to terms with the problem and question of price including the resources of an actor-network-theory-inflected economic sociology, critical and social finance studies, pragmatic social theory and new media theory. These engagements can be set in specific case studies and draw on a range of materials but submissions should aim to advance social theory. The overall aim of the special issue is to prompt new socio-theoretical understandings of price and pricing. 

Submissions

See instructions for authors on the journal homepage for details about style and form. All submissions should be made through the journal’s manuscript submission site.

For further information about this Special Issue, please contact one of the Guest Editors:  Lisa Adkins(lisa.adkins@newcastle.edu.au), Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen(Turo-Kimmo.Lehtonen@staff.uta.fi), and Liu Xin(Xin.Liu@staff.uta.fi).

 

By Ursula Dalinghaus

From the centers of banking and finance to the payment peripheries in the global south, one finds an increasing push toward digital money futures – a future without cash and a future where the means of payment are digitized and privatized, globally. Some see this as a more inclusive future, especially advocates and practitioners of financial inclusion efforts to include the poor within formal banking systems. Others are more upfront about the profit-making value of what one might call “digital payment enclosures,” where one now has to “pay” to pay and where money is no longer a public good that all can access equally. The recent demonetization move in India is therefore highly relevant to broad debates occurring globally on the future of money and state-issued currency, what forms state-issued legal tender should take, and to what (and whose) ends.

Cash is a crucial technology of everyday financial life across the globe and a “public good.” A change in money, even “if only” to cancel or replace particular denomination banknotes, therefore entails different stakes for individuals, segments of a society, as well as national and transnational communities. Such infrastructurally and politically complex operations, including but not limited to the initial rollout phase, can disrupt or unsettle a whole array of social practices and overlapping monetary ecologies with implications for relationships, social hierarchies, and the daily and informal ways of making do. But so often, how these major monetary changes are experienced and negotiated on the ground, especially by those with little power and influence, is rarely documented in detail and indeed largely silenced. Diverse actors, intermediaries, and institutions “for and against” such policy moves fill the space of analytical possibility, reiterating the desired and “inevitable” outcomes. But the details of such monetary and technological shifts matter greatly to those of us engaged in the social studies of finance and who are working to historicize, track, and critically engage processes of marketization and financialization across time and space.

In order to document and develop an on-the-ground understanding of unfolding events around demonetization in India, The Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) organized a special blog series on the demonetization move with perspectives from IMTFI Research Fellows. Series contributors assess the impact of demonetization from the ground up and create that essential space for the stories and insights of people negotiating these monumental shifts that will inform our analyses of this major policy event, now and for years to come.

IMTFI’s Special Perspectives Series on Demonetization in India can be accessed through this curated blog post (here), which provides an overview and links to each post in the series. The series aims to foster an open dialogue on issues around money, technology and financial inclusion for the world’s poor. To learn more about the Institute for Money, Technology, & Financial Inclusion, or to access our growing archive of research and publications on the intersections of mobile money technology and monetary practices, see here.

From Stefan Ouma

We live in financialized times. The wellbeing of states, companies and households as well as politics are increasingly shaped by financial markets. The financial economization of almost everything not only manifests itself in the increasing dominance of the financial sector over other domains of the economy, but also in the progressive incorporation of ever new frontier regions into global financial circuits. In mainstream economics, as well as in much of the media, financial markets are usually framed as anonymous entities whose workings are based on certain inner laws. This representation of financial markets has been further accentuated since the global financial crisis, and we have been frequently told that ‘the markets’ are nervous, or even lose trust in whole states.

In the 2016-17 lecture series on Frontier Regions of Global Finance hosted by the Department of Human Geography at Goethe University Frankfurt, leading scholars of money and finance such as David Bassens (University of Brussels), Karen P. Lai (University of Singapore), Sarah Bracking (Universities of Manchester/Kwa Zulu-Natal), Brett Christophers (University of Uppsala) and Paul Langley (University of Durham) transcend popular and scholarly abstractions of financial markets and illuminate the practical, materially entangled operations of financial global finance from different theoretical perspectives. They shed light on the manifold frontier regions which are being incorporated as new fields of accumulation or sites of financial economization into global circuits of finance. 

 To access recordings of the talks, connect here

Please follow the link „Videoaufzeichnung“ appearing under each talk.

For further information, please contact Stefan Ouma, ouma@geo.uni-frankfurt.de