Money as a Form of Social Interaction
A recent New York Times blog (see below) asks the question: What is money? Money is a promise, a secular faith in the intangible as the article articulates. But money is also inherently about social interaction as Georg Simmel reminds us. Everything that can be purchased through the medium of money, the blind faith in its value is at its core a window into social relations.
Money is always on some end of an exchange yet money is only the means through which we exchange. In fact, it is what and how we exchange that is important,where power is actually embedded. The symbolic value that is placed on people, labor, processes, and goods is translated through money but is constructed through social determinations of desire, need, and enjoyment.
As Simmel notes, the act of an exchange transcends the act of giving and receiving for revealed in that moment are the global, national, collective, and individual subjective experiences of value. Exchange, through the medium of money, is the economic realization of a society’s values and desires, power relations and status. Understanding money in this way opens up the possibility of critiquing processes and uneven levels of exchange seen in transnational flows of capital and neoliberal policies. As a form of social interaction, exchange in the form of money offers a window into both the reality of inequalities and a society’s conception of the good life.
Simmel in Blackwell Reference to Major Sociological Theorists
Correct. The ability of prices to aggregate huge amounts of data is truly a thing of wonder. When buying a chocolate bar it is possible to think that the fact that someone, sometime in the near past, many 1000s of miles away who may have skipped a gym session and thus not drank a hot chocolate afterwards is indirectly affecting the price of my chocolate bar.
It is easy to regard money uncritically, but thinking about it as Simmel does reveals so much about inequality in the world. Reading your post I am sorry that I had to take Simmel out of my Theory syllabus this year. Thanks for brining Simmel to this conversation.