Vires in Numeris: Taking Simmel to MtGox
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The lecture explores Simmel’s description of money as a “claim upon society” and specifically questions its relevance in an era when the notion of “society” is being contested across different areas of sociology. Money has assumed a wide range of new forms whose connections with “society” are increasingly difficult to discern. First, Simmel’s statement is examined in conjunction with the approach he takes to “society” and “the social”: from society as the nation-state through to more abstract ideas (the “perfect society”) and the “vitalist” conceptions of the social that feature in his later works. An attempt is then made to apply the varying conceptions of the relationship between money and “the social” by asking how Simmel’s work helps us to understand the increasingly complex world of disintermediated money, e.g., social credit, complementary currencies, and the new forms of digital money. The most intriguing and problematic of these is Bitcoin, whose designers claim to have dispensed with the very feature of money which figures at the heart of Simmel’s own conception, namely, its reliance on mutual trust. The question is posed whether the apparent success of Bitcoin now means that Simmel’s original description of money needs reconfiguration in light of money’s increasing dependence on machines.
Nigel Dodd is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics, where he teaches classical and contemporary social thought. His new book, The Social Life of Money, will be published by Princeton University Press this autumn. He is now writing a book which explores the work of Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault on their conceptions of time and historiography.