University of Notre Dame

Sociology of Money

Course Number: SOC 13181-4
Instructor: Erin McDonnell

What happens when we price “priceless” items like children, organs, or the environment? When is a penny not worth one cent? Why does your grandmother insist you use your Christmas money “for books not beer” even though that $20 goes into your wallet with all the others? Why have you never considered tipping your mother after a good home-cooked dinner? Why do we value expensive things more than the same item at a lower price? Is poverty just a lack of money or is it something more? This course will take a closer look at a familiar everyday object most of us take for granted: money.

This course won’t teach you how to make millions on the stock market. But we will learn about the evolution of money as a social system from premodern cowrie shells to the Euro financial crisis. We will discuss budgeting, gifts, tipping, checking, credit cards, and counterfeit as different ways to understand the peculiar green object we call money. We also explore non-physical characteristics of money: on the one hand how people value money differently in different contexts, and how people use money to create distinctions among people or objects. Ultimately we want to understand what money does to society and what society does to money.