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date: 06 April 2020

Juggling Currencies in Transborder Contexts

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.

Financial practices only partially entail money. People and institutions weave their economic lives intermixing pecuniary, social, cultural, geographic, moral, and emotional elements. These elements are often woven 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 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 particular 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 particular exchange “languages,” wherein measures of equivalence are interpreted according to set significations. This brings up the notion of currencies, not only those represented in dollars, pesos, or euros, but also those portraying values in social, symbolic, and/or cultural terms. Currencies flow within specific circuits, involving different means of equivalence that create 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. Some of these circuits involve religion, gender, identity, family, and markets, all of which operate with distinct criteria. Others involve hard cash, or perhaps social and symbolic assets. The act of keeping these multiple circuits in motion at the same time is the juggling of currencies. Juggling currencies is key to success, however that success might be depicted.

Placing the lens on borderlines and trans-border 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 officially sanctioned monetary currencies, for example, need to be au fait with different normative frameworks and schemes of value equivalences wherein diverse social categories, expectations, and moralities are mobilized. Juggling is the name of the game.