cover image The Social Meaning of Money

The Social Meaning of Money

Vivana A. Zelizer, Viviana A. Zelizer. Basic Books, $24 (286pp) ISBN 978-0-465-07891-2

From Karl Marx to Robert Bellah, money has been conceived of as a homogeneous, impersonal instrument that replaces personal associations with purely calculative ties. But the focus of such thinkers on money as a market medium is too narrow, declares Zelizer, chair of sociology at Princeton, who defines money as a social medium shaped by networks of personal relations. Concentrating on domestic transactions, bestowals of gifts and charitable donations in the U.S. between 1870 and 1930, this rigorous study argues that families, individuals, businesses and governments reshaped money into a personalized vehicle by earmaking specific funds and by inventing currencies ranging from housekeeping allowances, ``pin money'' and gift certificates to tips, bonuses, Christmas club savings accounts and food stamps. Zelizer draws on court cases, immigrants' memoirs, etiquette books, novels, plays, vaudevilles, women's magazines, advertisements and popular household manuals to capture the ``social hues'' of money and the meanings we invest in our hard-earned cash. (June)