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'When They See Money, They Think It's Life': Money, Modernity and Morality in Two Sites in Rural Malawi

Amy Kaler
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 32, No. 2 (Jun., 2006), pp. 335-349
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25065095
Page Count: 15
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'When They See Money, They Think It's Life': Money, Modernity and Morality in Two Sites in Rural Malawi
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Abstract

In this article, I draw on archival documents and interviews with elderly Malawian men and women to elaborate a 'philosophy of money' very different from the mainstream classical view in social history. While social theorists in the classical Euro-American tradition have until now associated money with rationality, calculability and the draining of affect and emotion from daily life, Malawian elders looking back on the monetisation of their community see it as an agent of chaos, discord and irrational behaviour. This function of money is particularly pronounced in the realms of marriage and sexuality, as money is blamed for the perceived deterioration of relations between the genders. I argue that this view of money and economic change, while not empirically verifiable, provides a thought-provoking alternative to the tendency among Euro-American social theorists to associate money with rationalisation and the decline of emotion as a governing principle in social relations.

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