Currency, Capitalism, and Classicism: Alternative Currencies in the Argentinian Trueque

By Ava Rawson

Markets and money in its abstract form as a symbol of value, have existed in virtually all societies (Graeber, 2010:2). Money’s calculative features, what it is spent on, and the perception of the accumulation of wealth all deal intrinsically with the cosmological and cultural values they interact with. These values and interpretations often conflict due to the universal nature of money, and the global interconnectedness of the 21st century. With the development of global markets and cross-cultural extractive resource chains through the dissemination of capitalism, the frequency at which differing cosmologies interact with one another has vastly increased. This contemporary cosmopolitical sphere is primarily dominated by capitalist cosmology, and thus the most proliferated influence on how money is perceived and should be circulated is capitalist in nature. Comsologies that counteract and subvert capitalist ideals therefore allow for a subversion of the abstractions of monetary value, and promote differing boundaries for the commodification of the environment and social life. 

Shared community values have a great influence on how money is created, how it is conceptualized, and how it evolves alongside each individual culture. The universality of money operates within smaller symbolic systems where things like numbers, weights measures and writing all have different meanings relevant to differing cultural histories (Dodd, 2014:297). Histories of exclusion and exploitation likewise have a contextual effect on the role of currency within the culture it circulates through. Money’s ‘shared meanings— their expression in social practices and their representation in symbols— actively shape money as… a means of creating and sustaining differences in social hierarchy and rank.’ (Dodd, 2014:294-5). 

Money’s power to reinforce social structures is seen in the development of localized currency, the créditos, in Rosario, Argentina. The exclusion of impoverished citizens from the use of pesos prompted this bottom-up development of local currencies and barter networks (Saiag, 2017:250-1). The majority of participants in these markets, and thus owners of créditos, were women, who were also traditionally excluded from the peso-dominated marketplaces. Through the development of such currencies outside the parameters of the nation-state dictated currency creation and exchange markets, the créditos democratized the marketplace in Rosario. 

Despite the collaborative community-led initiative that led to the development of the créditos in direct rebuttal to the elitism inherent in the peso market, the use of créditos upheld the same systems of oppression in two ways. Firstly, the poor still faced exclusion from the peso market as those with access to pesos were able to profit through manipulating the market to profit over the favorable conversion between créditos and pesos. Markets that used créditos were populated by women and members of the lower class and were seen as a periphery to the peso market, rather than an autonomous and legitimate system within its own right. 

Secondly, even though class and gender hierarchies were suspended in the market (Saiag. 2017:254), because money is deeply ‘embedded in household personal relationships, (it) reaffirms gender hierarchies’ (Saiag, 2017:265). Within the market sphere women were able to gain access to a space where the prevailing gender hierarchies were absent and gain financial autonomy through the accumulation of créditos, but the legitimacy of this income, and what it can be mobilized for was limited by the patriarchal power structure within the home (Saiag, 2017). Although women within the community now had access to this new monetary system, they still existed as women within the confines of a patriarchal society. When they became married they were still excluded from wage labour and they were still disproportionately compensated for their labour compared to their male counterparts. The inclusion of the créditos does nothing to revert the sex-based division of labour within the household or the community at large. 

Despite the democratization of the economic capability to participate in the market, because it exists within a deeply classist, patriarchal, and capitalistic system of exploitation the inclusion of the working class and women serves to mimic wider systems of exploitation present. This serves as a relevant case study when determining whether or not inclusion can be possible under capitalism, and shows how the cultural facets of a community are deeply tied to how they conceptualize monetary value as it ebbs and flows through their community. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and may not reflect the opinions of The St Andrews Economist.

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Dodd, Nigel. (2014). The Social Life of Money. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. 

Graeber, David. ‘On the Moral Grounds of Economic Relations.’ Open Anthropology Cooperative Press (2010).
Saiag, Hadrien. ‘Gender & Money in the Argentinian Trueque.’ Money in a Human Economy, ed. Keith Hart. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books (2017):250-269

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