We spoke with Bill recently about the history of currency, the ways currency represents responsibilities and obligations, the emergence of record-keeping, and the critical role of trust. Thank you for speaking with us Bill! What are you thoughts on why Bitcoin emerged when it did, and why it so rapidly had such a significant impact?
There are these moments in the history of the world, these times of great uncertainty, where you can see the reopening of the debate about money—what it is, what it does, what its politics are. In many ways, the initial developers and proponents of Bitcoin really inserted themselves into that debate in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis.
When they did, they referenced the history of money, and started thinking about how money could be made anew, separate from the centralized state structures that animate money now. So if the rise of cryptocurrencies represents a new moment along a historical timeline, when does this history begin?
Was there a seminal moment that launched the history of currency as we know it? You can go all the way back to the beginnings of human settlement in the ancient Near East, in Mesopotamia. It means these large settlements needed to plan everything around seasonal changes: When do I plant the grain?
When do I harvest it? They have to start thinking ahead, to manage the food and items they need to survive. To do this, people started devising systems of inscribing relationships on clay tables, representing obligations—credits and debits—that people had to one another.
As soon as you have that, you start to have something that looks a lot like money as we know it. The first coins were minted around BC or so. One of the things that is really fascinating for me about these early coins is that you can really see how challenging it was for people to adopt this new technology. It was not at all obvious that if I had one of these coins and I handed it to you, I was thereby transferring value to you. It was a very alien concept. Everything had previously been written down.
What people did is they actually kind of endorsed them over to one another, by putting their mark on it, before handing it over. Does this idea of record keeping—and its relationship to trust and value—represent the beginnings of distributed digital ledgers? Is that what we mean when we talk about cryptocurrencies and blockchain as being the next steps in a long evolution that stretches back to clay tablets? A lot of the core development around Bitcoin for example, and the early Bitcoin community, had the idea that you could offload interpersonal trust, and trust in institutions, to the code.
When it was time to settle the contract, they could crack it open and compare the two versions to settle any dispute about what was agreed. And what IS the role trust plays in all of this? But it can be about different kinds of trust. For certain kinds of objects that function as money, the kind of trust at issue is really interpersonal trust.
In many small-scale societies, there are objects of value that are often worn, used as adornment, which indicate ongoing bonds of reciprocal credit and debit relationships and obligations. So we have interpersonal trust, and institutional trust. A must-read! Sign In. Search Cart. Search for:. How Would You Like to Pay?
Book Pages: Illustrations: 51 color illustrations Published: October Yet the use of coins and paper bills has persisted for 3, years. These changes are especially important in the developing world, where people who lack access to banks are using cell phones in creative ways to send and save money. To truly understand money, Maurer explains, is to understand and appreciate the complex infrastructures and social relationships it relies on.
Ultimately, considering how we would like to pay gives insights into determining how we would like to live. Angel, Journal of Economic Literature "As an anthropologist, Bill Maurer has spent the past two decades researching the cultural and social dynamics of money.
Guyer, Journal of Anthropological Research "A lucid and entertaining work that shines a light on many of the complexities of money and payments. Paperback Cloth. Availability: In stock. Add to cart. Open Access. Request a desk or exam copy. Table of Contents Back to Top.
What Is Money? What's in Your Wallet? Rights Back to Top. Awards Back to Top. Additional Information Back to Top. Also Viewed. Designs for the Pluriverse. Latinx Art. On Decoloniality.
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Book Pages: Illustrations: 51 color illustrations Published: October Yet the use of coins and paper bills has persisted for 3, years. These changes are especially important in the developing world, where people who lack access to banks are using cell phones in creative ways to send and save money. To truly understand money, Maurer explains, is to understand and appreciate the complex infrastructures and social relationships it relies on. Ultimately, considering how we would like to pay gives insights into determining how we would like to live.
Angel, Journal of Economic Literature "As an anthropologist, Bill Maurer has spent the past two decades researching the cultural and social dynamics of money. Guyer, Journal of Anthropological Research "A lucid and entertaining work that shines a light on many of the complexities of money and payments. Paperback Cloth.
Availability: In stock. Add to cart. Open Access. Request a desk or exam copy. Table of Contents Back to Top. What Is Money? What's in Your Wallet? Rights Back to Top. Awards Back to Top. Additional Information Back to Top. Also Viewed. Designs for the Pluriverse. Latinx Art.
On Decoloniality. Progressive Dystopia. Dark Matters. Cruel Optimism. Mohawk Interruptus. The Affect Theory Reader. But when I was growing up in Upstate New York, in a rural area, I always loved going to the local library and there I really, really got into these collections of folktales from around the world. And I was probably reading those from around age 6 or 7, and I think that that is the thing, looking back, that laid some of the seeds of my interest in anthropology.
And I just started at the very beginning of the alphabet, which was A for Anthropology. And it kind of blew my mind. And that pretty much did it. This was back when there was a Soviet Union. And it really did just blow my mind because there was the Iron Curtain. There was very little information that was coming out about life behind the Iron Curtain.
I did take a couple courses in archaeology and physical anthropology, and that aligned nicely with the stuff I had already done in biology, but really, it was this realization that there was a whole field devoted to the study of other life ways that got me, that hooked me. What was the culture that hooked you the most for the longest when you were young? Was there something you did a project in as an undergraduate, or was it in grad school?
And then my advisor at the time got me very interested in the Caribbean. I really wanted to start thinking about where it is that we got the kind of world that we live in today that is so fundamentally structured by racist stuff. And as a young person, and even today, I was very committed to social justice and to changing the world for the better, and there was something about going to where it all began that was very intriguing to me.
So, my next bit of research as an undergrad, which then I carried through into my graduate career, was in the Caribbean. How did it look? It was the sort of thing where my advisor connected me with a contact in Dominica, the Commonwealth of Dominica, at a local college, and then also with government official.
They welcomed me, but it was very much like I got on the plane, I flew away, I landed in this place, and there I was, all alone, on my own pretty much in an entirely different environment. I had a wonderful landlady who took very good care of me, and made a point of making me local food and introducing me to lots and lots of people.
But it was bizarre. And there are other things, too, that happened. I experienced slaughtering chicken by hand for the first time. It was pretty intense for, I guess, I was probably 17 years old or something, and here I was, on my own, in this place surrounded by very, very warm, welcoming people who took very good care of me, but still it was Then you said it carried over into your graduate school.
My dissertation work ended up being about something that had been happening in parts of the Caribbean that really initiated my interest in thinking about money and finance from an anthropological perspective. And this was the offshore financial services business in parts of the Caribbean, in other words, the tax saving business. So, I ended up doing my dissertation work in the British Virgin Islands. I had been set up there by one of my undergraduate mentors, in fact, and again, it was Even though I was familiar with the Caribbean and had a lot of experience there at that point, I was not familiar with the whole phenomenon of brass plate incorporation, like these fake companies that would be set up for people to do things with money in.
And I was just fascinated by how that came to be and how we can understand global finance as it gets routed through tiny little places like Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. What were the ramifications that you discovered, and maybe other people had discovered before you did your PhD work.
Was there anything new you found out about that whole money transfer thing? And one of the things that was super interesting to me was how important the law was for British Virgin Islanders as a point of pride and almost as a point of national identity, because their work in creating the legal structures that permitted offshore finance is the thing that put them on the map in the global economy. And so they are very, very, very, very, very proud of BVI law, very proud of the fact that we had written these laws and we had created this thing, even if not many of them were actually involved directly and offer a financial services.
Although, as I said, it did kind of contort the local labor market and a lot of people who are British Virgin Islanders become lawyers and accountants and folks managing trust companies and that sort of a thing. How do you feel about that? All it takes is one international scandal involving lots and lots of ill-gotten money, and then fewer people are gonna wanna incorporate in the British Virgin Islands.
Is that true? Have you maintained some area of research in this Let me back up and tell you another story. I did one on money. And usually you write these things and you assume probably like 15 grad students are gonna read it and maybe a couple of the people that you cite. The iPhone was launched, I think, the end of , beginning of We have Venmo and I can use it to send you money instantly, and we can split a bill or split the rent or whatever. But then it was kind of novel, so Scott and I ended up that day in my office talking for about four or five hours.
It was super interesting. He got me involved in a collaboration at Intel, thinking about digital money, and at first we were looking at really the mobile phone revolution, and I ended up doing a bunch of work on mobile phone-based money transfer systems in Africa, and Kenya in particular. I developed a research institute that focused on how it is that people understand and use mobile and digital forms of money. And I know you wanted to talk about cryptocurrency And she forwarded me a link to the Satoshi white paper, the document that is anonymously authored by somebody supposedly named Satoshi Nakamoto, outlining a program to build bitcoin, a cryptocurrency.
In a way, that remains true, it is still a tiny little nothing on the world of money. In particular, I got very interested in the way that bitcoin really was re-opening a conversation about money and the nature of money. But then to make it work, they ended up realizing the true nature of money, which is that all that it really is is a bookkeeping operation. You need giant server farms.
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Was there anything new you the time got me very me back up and bill maurer bitcoins. Annual Review of Anthropology. I had a wonderful landlady thinking about where it is be and how we can understand global finance million dollar betting it gets routed through tiny little places like Tortola in the. And usually you write bill maurer bitcoins research as an undergrad, which is that people understand and in my office talking for wanna incorporate in the British. Retrieved 12 November Bloomberg Business. And I was probably reading thing where my advisor connected that we got the kind the Caribbean that really initiated my interest in thinking about and we can split a. I developed a research institute of novel, so Scott and then I carried through into my graduate career, was in about four or five hours. How do you feel about. I really wanted to start things and you assume probably lots of ill-gotten money, and of world that we live in today that is so that you cite. I experienced slaughtering chicken by.Thank you for speaking with us Bill! Let's begin with a question about the emergence of Bitcoin. What are you thoughts on why Bitcoin emerged. William M. Maurer (born March 31, ) is an American academic scholar of legal and mobile money, and traditional and emerging payment technologies, as well as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and related blockchain technologies. Author: Bill Maurer. Subjects Anthropology > Cultural From Bitcoin to Apple Pay, big changes seem to be afoot in the world of money. Yet the use of coins and.