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2017–2018 Humanities Institute Research Workshop: MAKING MONEY Workshop leaders: Jordan Geiger, Chris Lee, Stephanie Rothenberg


This new research workshop’s aim is to cultivate a discourse and network of scholars and creative practitioners (both within the UB, its surrounding community and far beyond) around an expanded notion of “making money.” Starting from the premise and provocation that money is indeed an artifact of a creative practice prompts the convention of an interdisciplinary platform on which the discourse and methods of a practice of “making money” might begin to take shape. This workshop will thus approach both “making” and its relation to “money” via reference points located in the anthropological scholarship on exchange, human geography, feminist economics and urbanism, the role of technology and the development of information networks, as well as in precedents found amongst artistic and design research practices.

Workshop Description

Common idioms in English—such as “cultural currency” or “making money”—join notions of value and relevance, exchange and creativity, but also a sometimes ambiguous relationship between consumption and production. These phrases might have renewed usefulness now, as cultural and spatial practices blur lines between various forms of “making” and money. These makings are often affected by evolving information technologies, and with myriad kinds of social fallout. And they have precedent: conceptual art’s dematerialization of the object (Lippard), graphic design’s recognition of a Gutenberg Galaxy (McLuhan) and even modern architecture’s relations to Socialism (Le Corbusier) all foreshadow problems of money and culture that still pose challenges today. Since circa 1900, theorists in the humanities and social sciences have argued the place of transaction value (Georg Simmel, Gabriel Tarde); more recently, contemporary financial instruments are seen as yielding novel infrastructures (Easterling).

The current political situation in the United States is such that, among a number of urgent crises, state allocation of funds for services and agencies, from Medicaid to the National Endowment for the Arts and for the Humanities are under existential threat. The recently released budget proposal from the White House increases military spending while eliminating support for a plethora of humanitarian and humanistic institutions and shocks one into an awareness of the extent to which these are vulnerable to the fiscal priorities and calculus of empire. We are compelled then to consider questions so elementary that they have either been regarded as a subject inappropriate to serious artistic knowledge production, thus escaping substantial scrutiny, and/or they are simply dismissed as regressive: Where does money come from, culturally and materially? How is it made now? Common phrases like "making money" and "cultural currency" are both now open to re-interpretation from numerous fields concerned with the humanities, and useful for getting at these two questions. "Making" can relate to production and to "becoming" in a Bergsonian sense. "Currency" can connote values of relevance, of contemporaneity, of older notions of what it is to be educated (as in Flaubert's Bovary). Both of these have histories with different fields: Philosophy, comparative literature, art, economics, and more. Both of these also apply themselves to new situations today in an era of neoliberal economics, online information sharing, and the dismantling of federal funding for the humanities.

This workshop gets at enduring questions where culture and capital meet, but it is not timeless: the current moment poses a renewed relevance as we witness our very fields of work fall off of some spreadsheets. This occasions a deep interdisciplinary inquiry.

These are indeed speculative questions, but ones that this workshop aims to address as the basis of a praxis that seeks either to center humanistic inquiry in existing institutions or seek the possibility of material autonomy from them. This HI Workshop aims to speculate on the possibility of "making money” and cultures of exchange as a creative, pre-figurative, interventionist practice, founded on the productive debate and dialogue of a group composed of informed by a variety of disciplines. Discursive activities will be based on a collectively compiled reading list, as well as workshops and presentations by group members and external guests. Our aim is to cultivate an energetic community of thinkers/makers (composed of faculty and graduate students) whose projects exemplify one facet or another of a creative practice.

At UB, faculty have been producing research that gestures toward this common interest in relations between terms of “making” and “money.” These include Chris Lee’s co-edited volume, “Currency,” for the journal Scapegoat: Architecture | Landscape | Political Economy as well as Stephanie Rothenberg’s various installation works on labor and value. Tero Karppi has examined the relation between high-frequency trading and social media (Karppi & Crawford 2015). His forthcoming book Disconnect looks at the political economy of Facebook, and he is currently co-editing a special issue for Ephemera Journal titled “Affective Capitalism.”

Buffalo’s post-industrial condition, and as mentioned above, the current political situation, makes this a particularly fertile site and a relevant moment for this conversation and work. It is against this backdrop that the group wishes to develop a conversation towards the articulation of a theory and practice that can critically and creatively address, culture, economics, development, resilience and revitalization through practices of exchange.