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Research by Coco Kanters ‘revalues’ money

Money, cultural anthropologist Coco Kanters concludes in her dissertation, is not an intangible or acultural phenomenon. It is a ‘product’ that arises from specific values and can be used for certain goals.

Kanters illustrates this with her research into – in her own words – ‘money makers’ in north-west Europe. These are institutions that create alternative currencies at the local level such as a city. ‘These alternative currencies always have a specific goal, for instance to support local businesses,’ Kanters explains. ‘In that case local organisations and businesses are encouraged to join a network, and within that network people use the alternative currency to pay for goods or services.’ 

‘Money makers’ want to offer an alternative to today’s global economy

Promote good citizenship

Other goals of a currency can be to encourage people to use sustainable goods and services, or to promote ‘good citizenship’.  For instance, by going for a walk with older people from the same area. Payment with the alternative currency in the same way as we are used to: with an app. Some alternative currencies also have paper banknotes. The payments are tracked with the Cyclos banking software. One well-known example of an alternative currency is the Bristol Pound /Bristol Pay, and there are examples of this kind of local currency in the Netherlands too, such as the Utrecht Euro (in Dutch).

Bristol Pound notes

Money flows

Money makers hope to achieve several goals. First: to create closer communities, with citizens who look after one another. Second: to prevent, as is the case with the conventional economy, money from flowing to places that attract money, such as financial centres or tax havens. And the ultimate goal is to present an alternative to the current global economy.

Small-scale barter economies

‘Money makers aren’t intent on creating small-scale barter economies,’ says De Kanters. ‘We’re talking about professional businesses that are active in various different countries.’ For her research Kanters spent two years following the operations of three money makers from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom:  STRO (the Social Trade Organisation), Qoin and the Bristol Pound. She also participated in the use and promotion of alternative currencies, acting as a ‘currency consultant’ (which involved trying to interest municipalities in alternative currencies) and helping develop the Utrecht Euro.

Experimenting with money

Kanters researched the way in which these alternative currency systems are connected to businesses, civil society and financial regulations. It became clear that an abstract thing like money does not lead its own life but is controlled by different actors in society. ‘Many people ask if the alternative currencies achieve their goals,’ says Kanters. ‘But my research isn’t an evaluation. What I can say is that the money makers think they’re successful. Their ultimate goal is to turn the economy upside down. They haven’t achieved that, but they see each new experiment with money as a step closer to that goal.’

After her PhD Kanters will continue to conduct research into economic anthropology. In the near future she wants to focus on philanthropists and what motivates them to invest in large sustainable projects.

Text: Jan Joost Aten

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