Date of Degree
Ruth Wilson Gilmore
Anthropology | Geography | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies
Racial Capitalism, Monetary Value, British America, South Carolina, Pennsylvania
This dissertation is on the historical development of a co-constitutive relationship between money as the form of appearance of value and race as the form of appearance of human difference. It demonstrates this relationship through a study of experiments with monetary value in eighteenth-century British America. At a time when Bank of England notes circulated primarily among merchants and within London, colonial freeholders issued paper currencies through representative assemblies and posited a link between this enterprise and the well-being of a larger provincial community within which their bills would circulate. I show how their experiments provided a means for creole elites to represent the value of free persons as a public good and a basis for social order, alongside the value of unfree persons, imported into the colonies for their capacities to labor, as private goods, or commodities. This evidences an emergent aspect of monetary value that has to do with both republican conceptions of political society and liberal conceptions of market society. In this setting, creole elites took to the money form to define skill, industry, and enterprise through a medium that could facilitate the expropriation of subaltern traditions of knowledge while denying their motive force as so much ignorance of the unskilled, unwaged, underemployed, and unfree.
This study draws inspiration from W.E.B. Du Bois's observation of a "sort of public and psychological wage" to mediate the constitutive exclusions of civic life. It focuses on provincial exchange practices that were peripheral to the circuits of capital accumulation in the Atlantic economy to give an explanation of how and why this public and psychological compensation took the form of a wage. I identify a degree of free play to the evolution of monetary form in the colonies, and argue for its significance in providing a foundation for the monetary organization of social life in a later age of emancipation and industry. In early modern England, money was the sinews of war and the blood of the commonwealth, but it was not a bearer of freedom. Landless workers who labored for a paymaster by the day or task were considered to be dependent on the will of their employer and therefore without the requisite independence necessary for membership into political society. Across the Atlantic, shortly before the collapse of Reconstruction, New York Representative Clinton Merriam called upon freedmen in his defense of the U.S. dollar by suggesting it as "the first thing they ever earned they could call their own, the first thing, save our flag, that stood before them a symbol of their freedom." Between these two poles, this dissertation traces a process of slow violence by which monetary infrastructures take root and assume their moral force. It provides a historically materialist analysis of the peculiar development of monetary forms as raw capacities available and at hand to restructure social orders predicated on the production of difference toward new geographies of unfreedom and struggle.
Agarwal, Neil S., "Yellowing the Logarithm: How Money Solved the Problem of Freedom" (2017). CUNY Academic Works.
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