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Juggling Currencies in Transborder Contexts  

Magdalena Villarreal and Joshua Greene

Financial practices only partially entail money. People and institutions weave their economic lives intermixing pecuniary but also social, cultural, geographic, moral, and emotional elements. These elements are often knitted together in ways that appear erratic or that only conform to established models in a single dimension, which leaves the analyst ill-informed concerning the workings of finance in everyday life. Fortunately, conceptual tools to go beyond narrow economic perspectives and explore the interaction of the multiple dimensions involved are on the rise. In this effort, it is critical to explore such dimensions in motion. People act in certain social milieus, push distinct fundamentals, exclude others, do their best to meet specific goals, and prioritize or overlook certain issues. Such actions are framed in what we can call economic exchange “languages” wherein assessments of equivalence are interpreted according to conventional significations. This brings up the notion of currencies, not only those represented in dollars, pesos, or euros, but currencies portraying values in social, symbolic, and cultural terms that embody economic transactions. Currencies flow within specific circuits involving different means of equivalence that entail diverse normative and moral frameworks. Multiple currencies coexist and interplay in everyday life, and people and institutions are obliged to juggle in order to make do. The allusion to juggling of currencies implies that there are a number of different economic and livelihood circuits that people operate in simultaneously. Some of these circuits involve religion, gender, identity, family, and markets, which operate with distinct criteria. Others involve hard cash or perhaps social and symbolic assets. It is the act of keeping these multiple circuits in motion at the same time that is the juggling of currencies. Juggling currencies is a key to success, however success may be depicted. Placing the lens on borderlines and transborder crossings is revealing, particularly when the aim is to explore monetary practices and economic lives. It is here that discontinuities, conflicts, and dilemmas become evident. People who are obliged to operate in two or more officially sanctioned monetary currencies, for example, need to be deeply knowledgeable about different normative frameworks and schemes of value equivalences wherein diverse social categories, expectations, and moralities are mobilized. Juggling is the name of the game.

Article

Dollarization and Crisis in Argentina  

Mariano D. Perelman

Since the early 21st century the US dollar has been a public issue in Argentina, where the dollarization of sectors of the economy has been an ongoing process for some time. Indeed, circulation of the dollar has grown to the point that it is considered the best way to build savings and has a significant influence on daily economic life. Since 1980, the process of dollarization and outbreak of economic crises have been intertwined. This period can be divided into different crises: 1989 was a crisis of hyperinflation, 2001 was a major debt crisis, and the 2011–2015 crisis grew out of a struggle between the middle classes and the government in response to a ban on buying and accumulating dollars in large quantities. This latest round of crisis continues. Money is a universal measurement of value, encompassing values beyond the purely economic. In Argentina, the US dollar both activates crisis and is activated by crisis. Quotidian rituals have developed and standardized in conjunction with the popularization of the dollar, making it a central object of everyday life in Argentina. Indeed, the dollar provides an excellent starting place for a decently thorough history of contemporary Argentina. By focusing on the relationships and practices that have developed around the dollar, one can begin to understand how flesh and blood people have worked to build dignified lives and ways of living in relationship to one another. The dollar, both as a form of currency and in its demonetarized form, articulates a series of imaginaries about what a life worth living is. The dollar has catalyzed national models and projects. The dollar is a part of the daily experience of large portions of the population. And, when uncertainty grows, the dollar stabilizes.

Article

Central African Copper  

Nicolas Nikis

Copper, considered a “red gold,” had a major place in the political economy of Central Africa over the past two millennia. Copper was a rare resource. Its ore was only accessible in a few scattered locations in Central Africa, especially the Copperbelt in southeast Central Africa and the Niari basin in the south of Republic of Congo. Until the massive imports of European alloys beginning in the 16th century, only unalloyed and leaded copper objects were produced and used in Central Africa. The first instance of copper smelting in the region is dated around the 5th century ad, much later than for iron, and it has been mainly used over time as a means of exchange, for jewelry, and as material for artworks and decoration of objects. Different techniques have been used over time and space to produce the metal and manufacture the objects, some of them closely related to iron metallurgy. Smelting took place close to the deposits, and diverse processes relating to sociohistorical factors have been identified. Ingots, produced on the smelting sites, were one of the preferred forms for exchange, acquiring in some cases symbolic and/or monetary value. Manufacturing objects could take place far from the smelting place. Because copper and brass can easily be recycled, metal regularly changed shape to fit local needs and tastes. From the late 1st millennium ad, copper has been exchanged over increasingly long distances in regional networks and, eventually, traded to the Indian and Atlantic Ocean coasts. Rising polities, such as the Kongo Kingdom in the 15th century, would have benefited from access to this resource. More broadly, copper was regularly associated with the expression of power and wealth but was also accessible to a large number of people. In addition to the economic value of copper, metalworking and the figure of the smith were closely associated with power. Copper’s physical properties such as color and brightness were also important in its choice as a material for artworks as a way to support and enhance the role of the object.