The Social Meaning of Money


"A dollar is a dollar is a dollar - or so most of us believe. Indeed, it is part of the ideology of our time that money is a single, impersonal instrument that impoverishes social life by reducing social relations to cold, hard cash. Arguing against this conventional wisdom, Viviana A. Zelizer shows how people have invented their own forms of currency, earmarking money in ways that baffle market theorists, incorporating funds into webs of friendship and family relations and otherwise varying the process by which spending and saving takes place. The Social Meaning of Money shows that people everywhere are constantly creating different kinds of money-gift certificates, Christmas savings accounts, food stamps, and other kinds of vouchers. "People segregate, differentiate, label, decorate, and particularize money to meet their complex social needs," the author writes. Zelizer, a distinguished social scientist and prizewinning author, offers the first full treatment in nearly a century of what money does for us - and to us. Drawing on materials as varied as court cases, books on etiquette, immigrant guides, vaudeville scripts, instruction manuals for charity workers, and household budget studies, The Social Meaning of Money explores in fascinating detail why dollars spent on gifts, household necessities, charity, and welfare are not the same, and what this means for business, for public policy, and for all of us. Focusing on changes in the public and private uses of money in the United States between the 1870s and the 1930s, the book concentrates on domestic transactions, gifts, and welfare payments. This intriguing analysis of how spending and saving take place in each of these arenas is not only a brilliant treatment of what money means in everyday life but also a challenging new exploration of large-scale economic issues." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1994


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