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The symbolism of money in Imerina

Bloch, Maurice (1989) The symbolism of money in Imerina. In: Parry, Jonathan and Bloch, Maurice, (eds.) Money and the Morality of Exchange. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 165-190. ISBN 9780521367745

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Identification Number: 10.1017/CBO9780511621659.007


One of the more disturbing moments of my field work occurred at the very end of my first period with the Merina of central Madagascar. As I was about to leave, the head of the family in which I had become partly integrated, presented to me a significant sum of money in Malagasy bank notes. These were intended to help me on my journey and perhaps also to be used when I arrived back in England. The cause of my embarrassment, I told myself at the time, was the difficulty I felt in receiving money from people who were clearly much poorer than myself. Another element was perhaps the recurrent sense of guilt of fieldworkers who feel that they are putting a relationship of mutual moral obligation to quite another purpose. This is made all the worse by the suspicion that the fieldworker benefits from this in a way which does not include the other party in the relationship. However, as I think back over this episode, which was to repeat itself on my subsequent visits, I am not sure that my worries were not really of a different nature. The moral problem of the fieldwork relationship I had partly resolved at the time, by having made what I was doing as clear as I could. The problem of taking from people who were poorer than me was also an unsatisfactory explanation. First of all I am not sure that it was literally true in this particular case.

Item Type: Book Section
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 1989 Cambridge University Press
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
H Social Sciences > HG Finance
JEL classification: Z - Other Special Topics > Z1 - Cultural Economics; Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2011 14:46
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 08:41

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