The Moral Power of Money
Morality and Economy in the Life of the Poor
Ariel Wilkis


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Money and Moral Capital
chapter abstract

Money is an insightful way of understanding the relations between macro-social processes and the experiences of the poor. Understanding these dynamics helps to identify the current conditions for social integration among those who have the least to benefit from processes like globalization, financialization and neoliberalism. This book reveals that sociology is interested in the social realities money helps to shape. Money is morally ubiquitous because it has a hand in social orders, moral hierarchies and power relations. No piece of money is more moral than the next: all revolve around the efforts to establish, appropriate and accumulate moral capital. Money appears as a conceptual and methodological tool. This book offers a new focus for interpreting the multiple power relations that configure the world of the poor. The moral dimension of money plays a critical role in forging economic, class, political, gender and generational bonds.

1Lent Money
chapter abstract

By examining how consumer credit began expanding to low-income sectors in 2003, this chapter unveils the moral hierarchies rooted in the circulation of lent money. This chapter shows the moral ubiquity of money lent in heterogeneous situations, both formal and informal where money circulates. It also reveals how moral capital becomes a guarantee that sustains the power relations at the core of these situations. For those with scarce economic and cultural assets, the daily management of finances involves fighting to have their values acknowledged. Moral capital is their passport. However, like all forms of acknowledgment, it is rare and thus can become a form of domination that some are forced to accept in order to access the material benefits capitalism has to offer.

2Earned Money
chapter abstract

This chapter analyzes how the underground economy operates as a moral space of income. This exploration will reveal the dynamics of questioning and legitimizing what has to be done to earn money. The concept of moral capital is a useful instrument for understanding how this piece circulates or is taken out of circulation in response to a moral assessment of people's actions. Having moral capital is the way in to these economic transactions that are not regulated by law. Informal and illegal markets are moral spaces where the legitimacy of money earned comes into play. To get involved in these transactions, moral hierarchies are established among participants and they are the also the prerequisites for successful participation.

3Donated Money
chapter abstract

Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs have become the paradigm of the struggle against poverty. These programs have progressively expanded to around thirty countries in the region that has come to be known as the Global South. This expansion changed the household budgets of the poor and became a focus of public debate. The use of money donated by the State became a way to morally discredit the poor. This chapter reconstructed the place of money donated by the state in different hierarchies of money. It identifies the different strategies individuals use to elude the biases associated with this type of money such as stigma cleansing rituals, exclusion strategies and silence in response to such judgments. The reconstructed scenes show how monetary hierarchies uphold power relations among those who have the authority to judge and those who must acquiesce to such biases.

4Political Money
chapter abstract

Through the processes of democratization in Argentina (and most of Latin America) that began at the beginning of the 1980s, political scientists and sociologists began examining money in political life through the financial of political parties and the political clientelism. This chapter goes beyond a narrative of money's instrumental use in politics. Has the monetization of political activities dissolved values, commitments, and loyalties among the poor? Is this corruption or an ethical exchange among people who lack cash but possess moral capital? This chapter explores how politics involves power relations that can be understood through the moral dimension of money. This chapter shows how residents of a slum made political money the accounting unit to acknowledge the fulfillment of political obligations that bind leaders and their followers together in relationships of power. To put it more succinctly, this community places political money at the core of its collective life.

5Sacrifice Money
chapter abstract

This chapter narrates the competition between political and religious leaders of Villa Olimpia. It shows how these power struggles are rooted in the accumulation of moral capital associated with the pieces of money. Both religious and political networks create social distinctions among their members. While circulating, political and sacrificed money carry a series of social orders and hierarchies of money that often overlap. Each piece is indecipherable outside of the hierarchy of money and at the same time projects a social hierarchy. Between the two pieces, there is fiery competition for the range of objects and people involved. These two puzzle pieces, regulated by specific systems of feelings and perspectives, compete with one another.

6Safeguard Money
chapter abstract

The pieces of money produce a hierarchy among family members to determine each family's ranking in the social order. The different pieces of money form a unit that allows us to observe and understand the family universe. On the one hand, they help us understand intergenerational relations. This piece of money shows how people create and recreate the family social order in the sphere of money, which involves both mutual assistance and conflicts, helping complete family projects or tearing them apart. On the other hand, they help us understand gender relations as well. Safeguarded money's circulation carries gendered obligations. Poor women are viewed positively when they safeguard their households both emotionally and economically. In the hands of women money had to be used to guarantee family continuity. Any other use of the money would be questionable, transforming the safeguarded money into suspicious money.

Conclusion: Conclusion
chapter abstract

This book analyzes the way in which social orders founded on money come into being. Each chapter of this book contributes to a better understanding of the moral sociology of money, which in turn contributes to other areas of knowledge within sociology. These contributions from the moral sociology of money stem from an ethnographic reconstruction of the everyday life of poor people who live in Villa Olimpia. This work identified and assembled the pieces of money that best captured the dynamics of solidarity and conflict that characterized social bonds. However, this book takes the arguments, concepts and empirical evidence presented in the hope of reimagining economic sociology outside Villa Olimpia and the world of the poor. The moral sociology of money that is a theoretical and methodological toolbox that can be applied to other social worlds, establishing bridges with other areas of knowledge in sociology.