The Meanings of Money: A Sociological Perspective

Bruce G Carruthers 1 , 1
  • 1 Northwestern University,

Money undergirds market exchange, but the social significance of money goes well beyond the obvious importance of its highly uneven distribution in modern market economies. In addition, modern money imposes an ostensibly precise and unidimensional valuation on social products, processes and relations that often conflicts with other modes of social valuation. In this regard, monetarization is a particular instance of quantification. Money’s status as an official economic metric is the result of a long, contingent, and uneven historical process. Given alternative forms of valuation, people manage and constrain the commensurability of money through a variety of individual, institutional and organizational practices (often akin to "earmarking"). The social reception of money is active, not passive. A variety of examples are discussed to illustrate and develop these points.

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Theoretical Inquiries in Law (TIL) is devoted to the application to legal thought of insights developed by diverse disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, economics, history and psychology. The range of legal issues dealt with by the journal is virtually unlimited, subject only to the journal’s commitment to cross-disciplinary fertilization of ideas.