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Extreme: Humans at Home in the Cosmos
Edited by Debbora Battaglia, David Valentine, and Valerie A. Olson
Volume 85, #4
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SOCIAL THOUGHT & COMMENTARY:
Ethnography as Political Critique
João Biehl, Princeton University
Ramah McKay, University of Minnesota
Filth and Lucre: The Dirty Money Complex as a Taxation Regime
Gustav Peebles, The New School, New York
ABSTRACT — This review essay takes a synoptic view of the ethnographic record concerning the long-standing and cross-cultural associations between money and dirt. In questioning why this association crops up as often as it does, I turn to the anthropological literature on the study of metaphor and metonym. By doing so, I offer a reinterpretation of the money form, pointing out that dirt—as a transgressive mediator between discrete realms—is itself a cross-cultural trope that is often intimately tied to ideas and rituals of social reproduction and fertility. I suggest that the widespread denigration of money as dirty may serve as a sort of economic regulatory mechanism, which aims to reinvigorate money’s potential fertility when this latter has become sterile due to alleged acts of anti-social exchange or non-exchange. [Keywords: Money, metonym, metaphor, money laundering, fertility, taxation.]