customs

The Anthropology of Money in Southern California

This is from 2004, but worth revisiting. I wish more exhibitions were recorded.

The following passages are copied from the website:

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. 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.

…Some of these practices gain their force from an imagined “Chinese culture,” described to students in various terms by Chinese and non-Chinese alike. The pervasiveness of “Chineseness” is perhaps best illustrated by the Honduran woman one of the research terms interviewed about Feng Shui. There are also traces in the research represented here of Middle Eastern, South and Central Asian cultural and political histories that transcend religious and ethnic divides, or that intertwine those divides to the point where they almost disappear. Students were surprized – and frustrated, at times – by the fuzzy and often flat-out contradictory lineages their interviewees recounted for these money objects, their “cultures,” and their associated uses and beliefs.

…Some of these practices have rarely been documented. Even the most ubiquitous – ghost money, or hell money – has received only cursory scholarly attention. This may be because many of these practices are assumed to be “women’s work” or “women’s knowledge,” and/or activities involving the sustainance of family and kinship across the generations and back into the time of the ancestors. Or it may be because, like legal tender itself, they are so ubiquitous that they seem to go without saying.

… The student researchers on this project discovered more than the earmarking of money for special purposes, or the inherent tension between gift and commodity that becomes so difficult to sustain when faced with cultural economies of money and money-like objects. They also discovered that money is a complicated tangle, ultimately representationally inadequate to the notions of value, community and sociality it is purported to index. And that inadequacy opens money up to reveal its deep sociality, its metaphysical meanings side by side with its earthly pragmatics.

 

Money-lei

Money lei with intricately folded bills (original source: http://leisofhawaii.com/money.htm )

“…this project presented one of the greatest challenges of my college studies to date.”   – Dave Eggers, Anthro 1255, Fall 2004

“It  not only takes skill, communication, and good research techniques, but the ability to look at a project that lies in fragments, see the whole it can become, and turn it into that very thing.”   – Alexandria Ostowari, Anthro 1255, Fall 2004