Retrocasting:Speculating about the origins of money

Deville, Joe (2017) Retrocasting:Speculating about the origins of money. In: Speculative Research. CRESC Culture, Economy and the Social . Routledge, pp. 98-110. ISBN 9781138688360

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How did money emerge? This simple question is one that has aroused intense debate amongst a group of researchers interested in the role that money plays in contemporary socio-economic life. The problem for these researchers, however, is that the answer is lost in the mists of deep human time. No one really knows. This has not, however, impeded attempts to answer the question. It’s just that these answers have, inevitably, had to engage in a considerable amount of speculation. This is speculation not in relation to uncertain futures, but uncertain pasts—not forecasting but ‘retrocasting’. The chapter has two parts. First it analyses the way that the speculative work is done within three specific speculative interventions in the economic and sociology of money. The first comes from mainstream economics, in which it is usually argued that money would have emerged ‘spontaneously’ as a natural progression from barter. The second is associated with ‘credit theory’, a particular branch of monetary theory, which argues that money could not have existed without first what must have been important is so called ‘money of account’ – a calculative framework for the comparison of value. The hunt then turns to what these pre-monetary frameworks might have been. And the third is from a strand of heterodox economics, which invokes an imagined encounter between two parties, each ‘foreign’ to each other, which would have necessitated a third, mutually intelligible entity. This will remain likely remain an ultimately intractable problem. Nonetheless, in the second part, I add to the mix some further speculative propositions of my own– and sketch some alternative ways in which we might imagine the origins of money, by attending to the processual materiality of the transactional object itself and, specifically, the ‘lure’ of money. To do so, the chapter draws on and reinterprets Marilyn Strathern’s account of a ‘first contact’ encounter between Australian explorers and the Hageners of the Wahgi Valley of Papua New Guinea in 1933. In and around this episode, we see the radical reconstitution of monies, subjects, objects, and the attendant ethico-political socio-economic landscape in ways that cross-cut but also shed new light on some of the themes raised by the previous three speculative interventions. This case is also contrasted to a number of contemporary and uncertain monetary becomings, ranging from BitCoin to the Euro. The paper concludes with some reflections on what we can learn from these different types of speculative intervention about the possibilities for speculative research within the social sciences more broadly.

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31 May 2017 07:58
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21 Nov 2022 16:17