top of page

How to make (sense of) money



16:30 – 18:20


2nd semester

Lecture venue
Lecture time
Offer semester

  • It is often said that “money makes the world go around”, but what, actually, is money? Why do we need it? How is money “created” both practically and socially?

    In a moment when “money” seems to be the answer for everything, understanding the nature and social significance of money is of vital importance for making sense of the contemporary world and how we should act in it.

    Covering everything from cowries to cryptocurrencies, this course examines money’s characteristics, exchange uses and values. We will investigate money’s origins, and how these inform contemporary attitudes to it. We will explore commonly-encountered economic perspectives on the functions of money for exchange, payment, storing and measuring value. We will complement this with sociological understandings of money as a “memory bank”: a system of relationships, a chain of promises, and a record of people’s transactions with one another.

    By adopting a comparative perspective that considers the use of money in different countries, this course will cultivate your ability to navigate the similarities and differences between your own and other cultures. Through a range of research exercises, group discussion and sharing, you will develop a critical understanding of how money impacts upon everyday life. Using this knowledge, you will be trained to ask important questions about the future possibilities of money and its consequences for society.

  • Course Learning Outcomes – On completing the course, students will be able to:

    1. Critically engage with key explanations of the functions of money from across a range of disciplinary perspective.

    2. Conduct empirical analysis on monetary forms from a range of different cultural settings in order to understand their social uses and implications.

    3. Critically reflect upon the social issues created by particular monetary forms and practices, and suggest how those might be addressed in the future.

    4. Describe, explain and differentiate between various sociological, anthropological, economic and legal theories of money.

    5. Work effectively as a group to conduct and communicate research findings.

  • Tasks




    Written assignment


    Individual oral presentation on selected reading


    In-class quizzes


    Tutorial participation


  • [The required reading should be realistic in relation to the amount of time allocated in the specified study load [item 10] and please assign only reading tasks that will be discussed in the tutorials or the lectures.]

    [If a few chapters rather than the entire text are set as required reading, please specify the selected chapters or page numbers. For consistency, please use Harvard reference style ( to list your readings. For example:

    • Chang, F. T., & Hard, L. A. (2002). Human-animals bonds in the laboratory: how animal behavior affects the perspective of caregivers. ILAR Journal43(1), 10-18. From

    • Siegel, D. (2012). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are(2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. [Chap. 7 “Self-regulation”; Chap. 8 “Interpersonal connection”]

    Bataille, G. (1988). The Accursed Share, Vol. 1: Consumption (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York: Zone Books. [pp. 63‐77]

    Goldstein, J. (2020). Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing. London: Atlantic Books. [pp. 3-23; 169-185; 213-225]

    Maurer, B. (2015). How Would You Like To Pay?: How Technology is Changing the Future of Money. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. [pp. 51-76]

    Miller, M.H. (2018, 21 August). The inescapable weight of my $100,000 student debt. The Guardian.

    Plender, J. (2012, January 9). Capitalism in crisis: The code that forms a bar to harmony. Financial Times. From

    Sandel, Michael J. (2013). What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. London: Penguin Books. 89-105.

    Thompson, D. (2008). The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. London: Palgrave Macmillan. [pp. 177-199]

    Zelizer, V. A. (1989). The Social Meaning of Money: “Special Monies”. American Journal of Sociology, 95(2), 342-377.

Prof Tom McDonald

Associate Professor

Prof Tom McDonald
Course co-ordinator and teachers
bottom of page