The Grammar of Money – May 2016


This is the abstract of my May 2016 MIF conference contribution (Lyon, FR).
The full document can be downloaded here.

Since the financial crisis in 2008, complementary and community currencies have received unprecedented attention by the media, grassroots change agents and policy makers. However, money itself remains as elusive a phenomenon as water must be to fish. Economic and business disciplines commonly only describe the use and functionality of money rather than its nature. However, the emergence of complementary and community currencies challenge this narrow understanding practically, by introducing monetary features completely at odds with conventional money, and conceptually as even legal and regulatory frameworks fail to grasp these innovations.

As this misalignment poses a risk to monetary innovators, particularly those at the grassroots level who are unlikely to be able to afford legal confrontations, our understanding of money is required to be challenged and broadened to allow for a systemically sustainable financial system. This is no easy task as the definitions of money even in law and regulations are far from clear and explicit.

To contribute to this effort, this research builds on an understanding of money as a social institution as a third way between the metalist (money as a commodity) and chartalist (money as state decree) ontologies of money. Routed in the theoretical frameworks of constructivism, critical realism and new institutionalism, a critical discourse analytical (CDA) approach to the study of money will be adopted, carefully recognizing the interests in maintaining the current status quo and the objectives of currency practitioners to change it. The “grammar of institutions,” a methodology developed by Crawford and Ostrom in 1995, will be applied to parse both the discourse of financial regulators, including publications to general audiences and specialist secondary legal texts on the one hand, and the discourse of complementary currency practitioners on the other hand. With this analytical tool a formalised and normalised data set is expected that would allow for the comparison between the otherwise fuzzy expressions about the nature of money in both discourses. Ultimately, the hope is to derive policy recommendations and advocacy strategies towards a more equitable and diverse monetary system designed for sustainability and community resilience.

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