School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

Special Invited Lecture | Asif Agha (UPenn)

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10 May 2018

Time: 4:30 - 6:00pm
Venue: ArtsOne Lecture Theatre

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Pecuniary media and money conduct from Cowries to Bitcoin 

What role do forms of money play in social life? What kinds of sociocultural variation do they exhibit? What variety of things do people do with varieties of money? How are activities involving money differentiated into registers of money-conduct in specific times and places? How are specific forms of money-conduct recognized and differentiated from other cultural routines by those who encounter them? It has long been understood that money is intimately linked to varied forms of discursive semiosis (whether oral, written, numerical, algorithmic, customary, or law-based; whether manifest as fiscal policy, computer code, or common sense) through which distinct forms of money are created and endowed with distinct use characteristics; that specific forms of money are readily linked to (or appropriated by) group-specific interests or ideologies; and that differences in types of money-conduct readily differentiate social roles and relationships among persons and groups in social history. Yet the role of discursive semiosis in the existence and use of money is not well understood, a lacuna that links most descriptions of “money” to voicing structures (or discursive positionalities) that are not grasped for what they are by those who offer such descriptions (e.g., “speaking like the State” without knowing it). The paper clarifies the role of discursive semiosis in the social life of money. It shows that such clarification is a prerequisite on ethnographic answers to the questions listed at the beginning of this abstract. It presents a comparative framework for reasoning about forms of money in forms of life.

Speaker bio

Asif Agha is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, having previously taught at the University of Chicago, Vassar College and UCLA. His research interests include linguistic and cultural anthropology, semiotics, registers of language, speech style, mediatization in complex societies, and language and cognition. Agha has published extensively on these topics, including his 2007 book Language and Social Relations (Cambridge University Press).