CCGL5063 Global Issues

How to Make (Sense of) Money (Online)

Course Description

[Lectures and tutorials of this course will be delivered online.]

It is often said that “money makes the world go around”, but what, actually, is money? Why do we need it? How is money “created” both practically and socially?

In a moment when “money” seems to be the answer for everything, understanding the nature and social significance of money is of vital importance for making sense of the contemporary world and how we should act in it.

Covering everything from cowries to cryptocurrencies, this course examines money’s characteristics, exchange uses and values. We will investigate money’s origins, and how these inform contemporary attitudes to it. We will explore commonly-encountered economic perspectives on the functions of money for exchange, payment, storing and measuring value. We will complement this with sociological understandings of money as a “memory bank”: a system of relationships, a chain of promises, and a record of people’s transactions with one another.

By adopting a comparative perspective that considers the use of money in different countries, this course will cultivate your ability to navigate the similarities and differences between your own and other cultures. Through a range of research exercises, group discussion and sharing, you will develop a critical understanding of how money impacts upon everyday life. Using this knowledge, you will be trained to ask important questions about the future possibilities of money and its consequences for society.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Critically engage with key explanations of the functions of money from across a range of disciplinary perspective.
  2. Conduct empirical analysis on monetary forms from a range of different cultural settings in order to understand their social uses and implications.
  3. Critically reflect upon the social issues created by particular monetary forms and practices, and suggest how those might be addressed in the future.
  4. Describe, explain and differentiate between various sociological, anthropological, economic and legal theories of money.
  5. Work effectively as a group to conduct and communicate research findings.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 8
Reading / Self-study 36
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 15
Assessment: Written reflections 15
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 15
Assessment: In-class quizzes (incl preparation) 15
Total: 128

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Individual project 25
Individual written assignment 25
Individual oral presentation on selected reading 20
In-class quizzes 20
Tutorial participation 10

Required Reading

  • Bataille, G. (1988). The Accursed Share, Vol. 1: Consumption (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York: Zone Books. [pp. 63‐77]
  • Goldstein, J. (2020). Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing. London: Atlantic Books. [pp. 3-23; 169-185; 213-225]
  • Maurer, B. (2015). How Would You Like To Pay?: How Technology is Changing the Future of Money. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. [pp. 51-76]
  • Miller, M. H. (2018, August 21). The inescapable weight of my $100,000 student debt. The Guardian. From
  • Plender, J. (2012, January 9). Capitalism in crisis: The code that forms a bar to harmony. Financial Times. From
  • Sandel, M. J. (2013). What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. London: Penguin Books. [pp. 89-105]
  • Thompson, D. (2008). The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. London: Palgrave Macmillan. [pp. 177-199]
  • Zelizer, V. A. (1989). The Social Meaning of Money: “Special Monies”. American Journal of Sociology, 95(2), 342-377.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor T. McDonald
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 1105
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor T. McDonald
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 1105