Hoarding and Saving
Hoarding and Saving
- Gustav PeeblesGustav PeeblesThe New School
The negative connotations of “hoards” has blinded us to their actual ubiquity, bringing to the fore only the most egregious exemplars, such as dusty piles of gold or junk. Whether valued or valueless, hoards are often seen as harboring dark forces of anti-sociality and death. But anthropology has far too much data on the power of anti-sociality and death in society to cast a simplistic gaze upon hoarding. Instead, hoarding needs to be more carefully defined by investigating its dialectical relationship to saving. The two are inextricably linked in an ongoing effort to reproduce and grow the social world via the world of things.
If hoards are frequently deemed “dead,” savings are frequently seen as “living.” Each needs the other in order to survive, suggesting that the cycle of birth, death, decay, and rebirth that is known from the natural world may also be operative in the economic world. Surveying hoarding and saving from this angle amounts to a call to study the metaphysics of the economy as much as its physics. While material and monetary flows move in quantifiable and empirical ways, they carry with them a host of unquantifiable attachments and tethers that continually braid and unbraid the social worlds of which they form an integral part. Understanding the dialectic between hoarding and saving illuminates the threads and boundaries of this social fabric.
In actuality, hoards are everywhere and may well be a human “universal”; that is, upon closer inspection, it is likely that all societies have methods for storing away unused and dead things for future use, so that they can one day be reactivated and thereby sustain a social world. Savings, however, are activated live things, consumed in the present, so that they may grow the future today. In this sense, hoarding and saving must be seen as two distinct methods of future orientation. Each carries the capacity to exist on a spectrum of perceived irrationality to rationality, even though popular perceptions often envision hoarding as a distinctly irrational stance toward the imagined future.
Succinctly, saving is a process of projecting outward, away from a given self. The given self is casting its future out beyond the limits of the self and asking an outside Other to subsume the saving into its own growth process. Hoarding, by contrast, is a process of projecting inward, magnetically pulling the world of things back toward the given self and away from the risky terrain beyond. Hoarding, then, is a form of retention, a gathering in of things that are not allowed to be shared beyond the given self. Both practices are tied to questions about spatial and temporal boundaries, commoditization, social hierarchy, and a host of related topics that we often struggle to carefully define. Hoarding and saving, in short, help humans navigate the world and chart the future by forming people’s ever-shifting relationship to, and with, the world of things.
The disciplines of economics and psychology have both dramatically ramped up their interests in hoards in recent decades, but they have yet to develop a shared discourse. Instead, they have bifurcated into two, highly telling foci of research. Economists are largely interested in the seemingly irrational hoarding of treasure by corporate bodies, whereas psychologists are largely interested in the seemingly irrational hoarding of trash by individual bodies. Insights from anthropological research brings treasure and trash into a unified totality as part of a general human phenomenon of building vivacious social worlds through the vivacious world of things.
- Sociocultural Anthropology