Embedded work

Peter Levin’s blog is a great read. Peter is saying some really interesting things about embeddedness and neo-institutionalism that are sparking some thoughts about my own dissertation. The creation and use of alternative currency might be understood in a way that’s amenable to Peter’s critique of embeddedness:

The upshot would be that economic markets as we currently know them (buyer meets seller, price is the outcome of aggregated preferences, order is maintained by individuals maximizing utility under constraints) are outcomes rather than givens. Just as the ‘genius artist’ appears as an individual entrepreneur but is sustained by a constellation of conventions, other actors, institutions—an Art World, if you like—so too markets are the outcome of invisible but durable kinds of work.

My approach to local currency thus far has largely been informed by the idea that making new money is enormously difficult because money is so embedded in our lives as to be practically invisible—except when we don’t have enough of it. The flip side of this is to acknowledge that the reason money is so ossified is that we do a tremendous amount of work with it everyday: We make markets, establish prices, earn salary, trade money for stuff we want, and so on. This outcome and process seem to be tightly-linked, but still distinct in really important ways, and I’m trying to explore this in my dissertation. This will be one of those places where I hope the project can contribute to something much broader than an understanding of money; it speaks to the back-and-forth between institutions and practices, which is really where my long-term interests tend to wander.