Dossier Society Economy

Money & Value
Twenty Years After Viviana Zelizer’s The Social Meaning of Money

Twenty years after the publication of Viviana Zelizer’s “The Social Meaning of Money”, this special issue brings together scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds to examine the genesis of the book, its impact in shaping the analysis of economic value, and its enduring intellectual influence on both sides of the Atlantic.

Viviana Zelizer

Twenty years ago, in The Social Meaning of Money, Viviana Zelizer proposed a seminal analysis of the social and cultural features of money. In the United States, the “Zelizerian perspective,” as it is sometimes labeled, largely contributed to the renewal of economic sociology. A new generation of scholars deeply inspired by Zelizer’s work redefined the boundaries of the field of economic sociology by studying topics that were until then not considered as “serious” (and overwhelmingly masculine) economic phenomena. In addition to firms, networks, and markets, the focus switched to household production, daily monetary transactions, bodily goods, care work, and art, among other examples.

Zelizer’s influence went largely beyond the American context. In France, her book was translated and published in 2005 by Pierre Bourdieu in the collection Liber (Le Seuil). Anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and economists received Zelizer’s work with enthusiasm. Similarly, in Argentina, a dynamic trend of research emerged after the 2001 economic crisis, with a particular focus on lay monetary transactions. In 2010, Zelizer’s book was translated into Spanish.

The international conference “Pricing Practices, Ranking Practices: Evaluation in Economic Life” (Ecole normale supérieure, June 29-July 1st, 2015) organized with Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde and Ilka Vari-Lavoisier, took advantage of the tenth anniversary of the book’s translation into French to bring together scholars coming from these different national and disciplinary backgrounds. The conference explored the social and moral underpinnings of economic processes through a variety of subjects related to calculus, calculation, evaluation, money, and markets. In doing so, the conference offered a preliminary appraisal of the many theoretical, methodological, disciplinary, and national directions that are currently shaping the study of economic phenomena.

This special dossier published in La Vie des Idées and Books&ideas provides an overview of some of the debates that took place during the conference.

A first series of articles, entitled “Twenty Years After The Social Meaning of Money”, features pieces by Jeanne Lazarus, Nina Bandelj, Marion Fourcade, , Florence Weber, Fred Wherry, and Viviana Zelizer herself. It deals with the genesis of the book, the reactions it provoked, and its enduring influence on both sides of the Atlantic.

A second series of texts will deal with recent perspectives on the question of economic value, with essays by Laurence Fontaine, Laurent Feller, Mariana Luzzi, André Orléan, Alexandre Roig, Alvaro Santana Acuña, and Philippe Steiner on subjects ranging from the controversial value of slave labor, the value of contemporary art or the case of prison monies.

Twenty years ago, Zelizer’s book opened up a new area of inquiry at the crossroads of sociology, history, and economics. We hope that the articles featured in this special issue will foster the same kind of dialogue between empirical social sciences and the different theories available nowadays, from sociology and anthropology to economics and cognitive sciences, overcoming imperialism and mutual ignorance for a renewed study of the question of value and evaluation in economic life.

Dossier's Articles

by Angèle Christin & Agnès Gramain & Florence Weber, 18 January 2016

To quote this article :

Angèle Christin & Agnès Gramain & Florence Weber, « Money & Value. Twenty Years After Viviana Zelizer’s The Social Meaning of Money », Books and Ideas , 18 January 2016. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL :

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