« modernist economics | Main | Ideas interview »

April 24, 2006


John C

Got me thinking about some ethnographic research i carried out for my PhD in social anthropology. Although the main focus was on the organisational culture of a psychiatric hospital, the research took me to a number of Nigerian naming ceremonies or weddings in London.

At these events there was a ritual called 'showering' where the parents of the baby or married couple would be given money or gift vouchers while dancing on the dance floor. Showering would be carried out in a number of ways, from the subtle handing over of a card with money in it, to a pompous show of wealth, such as throwing money onto the couple of, once, handing over a set of keys for a Merc. Therefore, showering has certain characteristics of a potlatch - a show of wealth from the givers point of view.

However, the interesting point was the focus on the currency used. Instead of UK pounds, US dollars were used. In the corner of the hall would be a man who would change your £10 into 1 dollar notes. This would provide the giver with a nice wod of dosh to shower the couple at different periods. The dollar also represented prosperity - a desire to have an almost natural disposition to the US.

£10 then did take on a different meaning than just being £10. By changing it into US dollars provided the giver with a short lived superior status and a pschological break from the mundane. The dollar represented a dream while the pound represented their low status as migrants in London.

Worth also checking out Parry and Bloch's book 'The Morality of Money'

Will Davies

Thanks John, and thanks for the reference.

Your point about dollars is interesting. New York has always struck me as a very cash-oriented culture (as opposed to just being capitalist, which of course it is also). Dollar bills are designed around the function of liquidity - change is nearly always given in ones, mainly to give you the option to tip the cashier.

The comments to this entry are closed.