CCGL9063 Global Issues

How to Make (Sense of) Money


Course Description

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.

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 the ways that money impacts upon everyday life.

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 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
Written report 25
Written reflections 25
In-class quizzes 25
Debates 25

Required Reading

Extracts from:

  • Dodd, N. (2014). The Social Life of Money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: The First 5000 Years. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House.
  • Guyer, J. I. (2004). Marginal Gains: Monetary Transactions in Atlantic Africa. Chicago, IL.: University of Chicago Press.
  • Marx, K. (1976/1867). Capital: Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin Books.
  • Maurer, B. (2015). How Would You Like To Pay?: How Technology is Changing the Future of Money. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Mauss, M. (1967). The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Simmel, G. (1978 /1900). The Philosophy of Money. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Wang, J. (2018). Inclusion or expulsion: Digital technologies and the new power relations in China’s “Internet finance”. Communication and the Public, 3(1), 34-45.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr T. McDonald
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 1105
Email: mcdonald@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr T. McDonald
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 1105
Email: mcdonald@hku.hk