The Sanctity of Money

Friday, June 24, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
183 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Lindsay DePalma, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, CA
Over the last few decades, economic sociologists have expanded beyond firms and markets, and beyond circumscribed concerns with ‘peripheral’ economic activity and economists’ neglect of social context. Instead, scholars are moving towards what Zelizer (2011) calls a “real social conception of economic activity” which asserts that pure economic activity is virtually nonexistent. Proponents of this agenda want to eliminate the distinction between real market activity, and other trivial economies and non-market behavior. This paper joins the impetus to dissolve dualistic conceptions that render misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete descriptions of economic phenomena. I argue that economic sociologists’ use of Durkheim’s sacred and profane categories, with implicit placement of money in the category of the profane, obscures the sacred characteristics of money and reifies the notion that money is set apart from higher values in our social lives.  Using Durkheim’s (1995) definition of a sacred object as an object that is salient, morally ambiguous, contagious, and dictates behavior, I will demonstrate that money can also be sacred. The point of this paper is not to argue that money should be re-categorized as sacred, but to highlight the limitations of the profane/sacred binary as part of economic sociology’s larger agenda to disrupt the dichotomy between market and non-market phenomenon. Recognizing money as sacred is important for analyzing money’s moral and emotional power, as well as its duality and ambiguity in the lives of individuals. This paper ends with a discussion of the potentially harmful results of leaving the sanctity of money unexamined.