The Double Meaning of Money

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How does monetization affect interpersonal relationships? Drawing on social phenomenology, I argue that an answer must account for money’s symbolic dualism: On the one hand, as Zelizer has shown, money is differentially earmarked according to the interpersonal relationships it flows through. On the other hand, in everyday life, people tend to associate money with cold impersonality. Money’s dual association with both the interpersonal and the impersonal imbues the relationships it flows through with a sense of risk, which I call “the risk of lost meanings.” Analyzing the implications of this sense of risk, I argue that it turns trust into a relational preoccupation and constrains intersubjective experience. The risk of lost meanings may motivate risk-avoidance strategies, but these strategies are largely counterproductive. Shedding new light on a long-standing debate in the sociology of money, I discuss the implications of this argument for analyses of monetary developments and local currencies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-97
Number of pages16
JournalSociological Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© American Sociological Association 2022.


  • interpersonal relationships
  • money
  • social phenomenology


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