Professor Maurer is currently conducting research in four main areas: the anthropology and history of money; the payments industry; cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, particularly as they relate to the history of law and accounting; and contemporary issues facing cooperative finance, including discrimination and bias in the use of artificial intelligence for credit scoring. He continues to keep his toes in the waters of the two other areas to which he has contributed: the offshore financial services industry and Islamic banking and finance.
In 2019 he served as the series editor for A Cultural History of Money, a six-volume edited collection consisting of thematically organized chapters by an interdisciplinary, global group of scholars. The series covers the cultural history of money from its origins in the ancient Near East through the rise of state-issued currencies and the development of electronic tokens of value and the infrastructures that sustain them. His recent publications on money further refined his own approach to the phenomenon—situating it in terms of small-p politics, not strictly a chartalist perspective (which analyses money as a creature of the state), but one informed by a broader understanding of the political as the authoritative allocation of values (after political scientist David Easton) or the authorization of rights and remedies associated with claims on others (after anthropologist Jane Collier). This perspective is taken up in a major review and reconsideration of the old “ethnology” of money artifacts.
Despite mainstream social scientific dismissal of the physical materiality of money—given that modern, western money’s main feature seems to be its abstract or notional quality, and its ability to reduce diverse values to one scale of monetary value—his work has sought to excavate the importance of money’s diverse stuffs. Even the stuff of digital money, which depends on cable networks, servers, file formats derived from punch cards, and point of sale terminals. Maurer telescopes from ancient to contemporary and high-tech examples, and also recover the hidden histories of legacy systems like the Automated Clearing House (ACH), responsible for all direct deposit and direct bill pay today, and the backbone of most innovations in payments technology. His recent work also explores the interface between modern money and race, as well as the concept of the white annuity—the continuing financial return on whiteness.
Some of his work on the payments industry appears with the “Future of Money Research Collaborative“. His research on blockchain has included UC Irvine undergraduates in computer science, who have helped build a database of cryptocurrency offerings as well as conduct projects on so-called smart contracts that use blockchain to attempt to automate legal reasoning. Maurer situates blockchain both in the context of the history of accounting technologies, and in terms of changes in legal consciousness that align law with “code” in the computational sense. His work reflects on the implications for the future of legal rights-claims and redress for both human and computational agents. To that end, he is launching new projects, in collaboration with Daivi Rodima-Taylor and others, on AI and in infrastructure, narrative, and imagined technosocial futures.
Professor Maurer’s research in the anthropology of finance and money grew from his work on the offshore financial services sector of the Caribbean, specifically the British Virgin Islands (BVI), one of the world’s leading centers for offshore incorporation and today “home” to around one million companies. With the establishment of the Eastern Caribbean Commercial Court in 2009, the BVI has become a jurisdiction where commercial cases can be heard according to the priciples of equity, historically associated with Chancery, much like in the Delaware’s Court of Chancery. Maurer has written on the historical trajectories of chancery and equity, their fusion with and separation from the common law in different phases and moments, their (re)instantiation in a British dependent territory, and the complex legacies in equity of slavery, money and property in the offshore. He published on Chinese entrepreneurs using BVI shell companies, and how Chinese corporate structures in the BVI render moot multilateral efforts to crack down on tax haven abuses.
Since 2007, Professor Maurer has been engaged in a series of collaborations with professionals in industry and design who are working on the development of new digital and mobile phone-enabled money transfer and savings systems. To this end, he co-organized an Everyday Digital Money conference, Sept. 18-19, 2008 which brought together scholars, industry professionals, nonprofit and philanthropic agency representatives and activists to discuss digital and alternative currency systems, the confluence between complementary currencies and emerging digital and mobile moneys, and the always-ambiguous potential of such moneys for political empowerment and economic transformation. In a related vein, Professor Maurer served as Special Advisor to the Royal College of Art’s Future of Money project.
Maurer founded the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion in 2008. The Institute’s original mission was to support original research on cultures of money around the world and continues to serve as a clearing house for research on the emerging mobile money phenomenon, as well as an ethnographic archive of people’s everyday social, ritual and religious practices around money. All of the projects funded by the Institute were original research on monetary pragmatics and repertoires around the world, from Nigeria to the Altay Province of Russia to Indonesia and Mexico, and nearly all were conducted by scholars from the countries where they are conducting their research. The Institute built a network and a community of inquiry into people’s everyday innovation at the confluence of money and mobile technology.
Between 2009 and 2013, Maurer’s research was supported by the National Science Foundation for a project titled, “Mobile Money, Mobile Regulation: What the ‘Savings Challenge’ Means for Mobile Communications and Banking.” (See Project Outcomes Report). In this project, Professor Maurer explored the shifting regulatory debate over mobile money services. This project relied on interviews with regulatory and industry participants; archival data collection and analysis; and ethnography in industry and regulatory sites to understand the debates and knowledge transfers around emerging regulations for mobile money.
With Paul Dourish (UC Irvine, Informatics) and Scott Mainwaring (Intel), Maurer founded and co-directed the Intel Science and Technology Center in Social Computing, devoted to using the tools of social science and humanistic inquiry to understand our digital lives. The ISTC-Social wound down in 2014-15 after a successful 3 years, having supported over 40 faculty and graduate students on 5 campuses (UC Irvine, NYU, Cornell, Indiana University and Georgia Tech). Among other products, it resulted in Maurer’s co-edited book (with Tom Boellstorff), Data, Now Bigger and Better!
In June, 2018, with Prof. Mona Lynch (Criminology, Law and Society, UC Irvine) Maurer led an NSF-funded summer institute in Technology, Law and Society, designed to train sociolegal scholars in how to approach new computational systems impacting law, legal processes and legal practice. Read more here.