Anthropology of Money

The Anthropology of Money in Southern California is an exhibition of the uses of money and money-like objects in the cultural, religious or ritual practices of various communities of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. It was created from original research conducted by the students in an undergraduate class at the University of California at Irvine, on the anthropology of money (Anthropology 125S) in the Fall of 2004 and the Winter of 2006 and 2008. For about four weeks out of a ten week quarter, in addition to conducting their regular assignments for this class, students worked in small groups to collect data on monetary uses of non-monetary objects and the non-monetary uses of legal tender. They employed participant-observation, interviews, archival and web-based research. The goals of the project were: (1) to introduce students to ethnographic research methods and to give them the opportunity to conduct independent, original research on a little-studied phenomenon; (2) to illuminate and document the diverse practices involving money and money-like objects in which many Southern Californians participate; (3) to contribute to research in the humanities and social sciences on the social meanings and uses of money.

Since the first exhibit was launched, I have fielded many inquiries from journalists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, scholars and others seeking information and advice on alternative uses and forms of money in the United States and elsewhere. Thus, I have decided to maintain this site as best I can so that the students’ original research can continue to intrigue and inspire others to take another look at the coins and cash that change hands every day.

During the course of these projects, my own research on alternative currencies and the anthropology of finance has been supported by two grants from the National Science Foundation (SES 9818258 and SES 0516861) as well as grants from the Russell Sage Foundation. Those grants did not directly support this project, but the synergy between the grant-funded research and this exhibit should be obvious. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors (including the students) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, or the University of California, Irvine.

— Bill Maurer, Professor of Anthropology, UC Irvine


Radio Interviews/Podcasts on this project and on the anthropology of money:

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