Southern California is home to incredible cultural diversity, and that diversity is only partially captured in this archive. This project took the student researchers to Little Saigon, Little India, the Cambodian Corridor of Long Beach, Los Angeles's Chinatown, Little Armenia, the clubs of Hollywood, the dorms of UC Irvine and the barrios of East LA. It also involved phone calls to far-away relatives and friends, and travels through memories contained in family photo-albums, scrapbooks, and sacred texts.

Los Angeles and Orange Counties' history of immigration is amply represented in the array of practices documented here. So, too, are the cultural economies that have been maintained and transformed through the immigrant experience. So many of the social uses of money described in this archive have to do with movement, travel, and the networks of friendship and family that sustain them. They also have to do with spiritual journeys, and movements and orientations in cosmological space-time.

Some of these practices gain their force from an imagined "Chinese culture," described to students in various terms by Chinese and non-Chinese alike. The pervasiveness of "Chineseness" is perhaps best illustrated by the Honduran woman one of the research terms interviewed about Feng Shui. There are also traces in the research represented here of Middle Eastern, South and Central Asian cultural and political histories that transcend religious and ethnic divides, or that intertwine those divides to the point where they almost disappear. Students were surprized - and frustrated, at times - by the fuzzy and often flat-out contradictory lineages their interviewees recounted for these money objects, their "cultures," and their associated uses and beliefs.

Some of these practices have rarely been documented. Even the most ubiquitous - ghost money, or hell money - has received only cursory scholarly attention. This may be because many of these practices are assumed to be "women's work" or "women's knowledge," and/or activities involving the sustainance of family and kinship across the generations and back into the time of the ancestors. Or it may be because, like legal tender itself, they are so ubiquitous that they seem to go without saying. After all, how many times have you really stopped to ponder that quarter in your pocket before you hand it to the cashier?

The student researchers on this project discovered more than the earmarking of money for special purposes, or the inherent tension between gift and commodity that becomes so difficult to sustain when faced with cultural economies of money and money-like objects. They also discovered that money is a complicated tangle, ultimately representationally inadequate to the notions of value, community and sociality it is purported to index. And that inadequacy opens money up to reveal its deep sociality, its metaphysical meanings side by side with its earthly pragmatics.

This project is a work in progress, and will grow as more research is conducted on the meanings and uses of money and money-like objects among the various groups that make a living and a life in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

follow this link to the exhibit...


"...this project presented one of the greatest challenges of my college studies to date."

-David Eggers,
Anthro 125S,
Fall 2004


It not only takes skill, communication, and good research techniques, but the ability to look at a project that lies in fragments, see the whole it can become, and turn it into that very thing."

- Alexandria Ostowari, Anthro 125S, Fall 2004