Expending Multiplicity: Money in Cuban Ifa Cults
Holbraad, Martin, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
A central contribution of the anthropological literature on money has been to refute the assumption that money is best understood as what Anthony Giddens has called a 'disembedding mechanism' (1991: 18). While from Aristotle onwards social theorists have tended to portray money as a catalyst that abstracts economic transactions from other orders of social relations, anthropologists have for a number of years been pointing to contexts and senses in which the opposite may be the case. Far from necessarily aiding an ineluctable differentiation of economic activities from moral, religious, aesthetic, or political ones (the process of 'disembedment', deemed famously by Polanyi as integral to the development of modern market economies--Polanyi 1957, cf. Carrier 1998), it is evident that money often features in ethnographic contexts where these domains are fused. The supposition that money needs to be associated with developed market economies had begun to be unsettled with classic debates about whether certain tribal groups did or did not 'have' money (Bohannan & Bohannan 1968; Counts & Counts 1970; Dalton 1967; Douglas 1967; Einzig 1948; Firth 1929; Malinowski 1921; cf. Godelier 1977; Hodges 1988: 96-124). Similarly, early studies of the effects of colonial currencies in tribal contexts suggested that while Western currencies did have 'corrosive' effects--insofar as, in Mary Douglas's words, they 'seeped into' orders of exchange that were previously kept separate--some of the more socially significant or prestigious fields of exchange remained immune to monetization (Douglas 1963: 61-4, see also Barth 1967; Bohannan 1959; Firth 1959: 146-54). Warnings against seeing money as an obvious agent of 'disembedment' took a more radical turn in the 1980s. Partly as a reaction to Marxist-inspired arguments on the role of money in processes of 'commoditization' (particularly Kopytoff 1986; Taussig 1980), a number of critical studies exemplified the ways in which money may actually serve to bind economic concerns to the social (moral, political, religious, etc.) fabric in which they are embedded (Hart 1986; Parry & Bloch 1989; Strathern 1988: 76-86; Zelizer 1989). Most influentially, Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry mobilized diverse ethnographic evidence in their introduction to an edited volume on Money and the morality of exchange to show that, far from dissipating social relations, money often plays a key role in their long-term reproduction (Bloch & Parry 1989). Indeed, if the notion of an increasingly commoditized world has gained ground since the 1980s--spurred by a flurry of research on topics such as 'globalization', 'modernity', and the anthropology of 'the state' (Akin & Robbins 1999; Comaroff & Comaroff 1999; Foster 2002; Geschiere 1992; Radin 1996; Verdery 1995; cf. Englund & Leach 2000)--assent to Bloch and Parry's message that the category of 'money' needs thoroughly to be 'relativized' has also been abundant (Humphrey 1995; Leach in press; P.J. Stewart & Strathern 2002; Weiss 1996), not least with regard to money in modern Western economies (Helgason & Palsson 1997; Knorr Cetina & Preda 2000; Zelizer 1997; for a stimulating synthesis, see Hart in press).
While very much in sympathy with attempts to disengage discussions of money from assumptions about abstraction and commoditization, the present article is also motivated by one of the main shortcomings of the trend. (1) For what is remarkable about this literature is its insistence on what one may call 'qualitative' aspects of money--the sensual qualities of precious metals or crispy banknotes, the fact that money might be cooked or drunk or purified, as well as gifted or bartered, that portions of it may be 'earmarked', and so on. It is as if the move away from abstraction must a fortiori carry with it a suspicion of quantity. The underlying syllogism seems to be this: if disembedment involves the increasing abstraction …
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Publication information: Article title: Expending Multiplicity: Money in Cuban Ifa Cults. Contributors: Holbraad, Martin - Author. Journal title: Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Volume: 11. Issue: 2 Publication date: June 2005. Page number: 231+. © 1999 Royal Anthropological Institute. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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