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The Social Meaning of Money: "Special Monies"

Classic interpretations of the development of the modern world portray money as a key instrument in the rationalization of social life. Money is reductively defined as the ultimate objectifier, homogenizing all qualitative distrinctions into an abstract quantity. This paper shows the limits of such a purely utilitarian conception of "market money." A model of "special monies" is proposed to examine the extraeconomic, social basis of modern money. The article argues that, while money does indeed transform items, values, and sentiments into numerical cash equivalents, money itself is shaped in the process. Culture and social structure mark the quality of money by institutionalizing controls, restrictions, and districtions in the sources, uses, modes of allocation, and even the quantity of money. The changing social meaning and structure of domestic money, specifically married women's money in the United States, 1870-1930, are examined as an empirical case study of a special money.