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Money and its publics: Public involvement in American monetary policy from 1690 to 1936

 State University of New York at Binghamton ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2015. 3728140.

Abstract (summary)

In this study, I show that today’s absence of popular involvement in the social production of money in the United States is a contingent outcome of historical processes. I reconstruct patterns of politicization and depoliticization from the late 17th century to the Great Depression based on an analysis of widely read periodicals and monographs, legislative and town records, speeches, radio broadcasts, and historically changing types of money. I show that popular involvement in money creation was transformed several times in this period, from the sustained electoral involvement in the colonial era to de-democratization and privatization after the adoption of the Constitution of 1787, and renewed politicization in the context of Civil War greenbacks that did not end until the New Deal.

On a theoretical level, I depart from the idea that money can be understood as a material-textual relation between those authorized to make it, and those in need of it. The pay tokens that embody this relation can either reveal their institutional embeddedness, or hide it from view, thereby encouraging or discouraging public understanding. But pay tokens function in historically changing political, institutional, and discursive contexts: Monetary institutions can be transparent and open to outside pressure, or opaque and bureaucratized. Monetary discourses can be mystifying or empowering. Monetary publics, finally, can be active or passive relative to the institutions authorized to create money. This analysis enables me to challenge the common sociological assumption that the depoliticization of money is a historical norm not in need of explanation. In addition, I reframe the problem of reification in relation to democratization, and show that democratic involvement can have de-reifying effects.

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Money and its publics: Public involvement in American monetary policy from 1690 to 1936
Feinig, Jakob
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