Why is giving money to the newly-wed couple considered to be inappropriate in some countries but a norm in some others (such as Hong Kong)? Why don’t we pay our spouse for sex? Why isn’t there a pension for housewives and househusbands, but domestic helpers may have minimum wage protection? Are online payment systems such as Alipay more advanced than other payment methods such as the Octopus card? Why would a representative of the French King was designated to count the numbers of the young women and girls in the street in Geneva in 1780s? Why was public toilet counted as business instead of public facilities in the city of Canton (Guangzhou) early 20th century?
Underneath these questions are the assumptions that money is an objective, standard measurement of values, and that the economic sphere is separated from the social, the cultural and the politiclal spheres. Discussions in this course this year challenges these assumptions and examines these questions. This course is not about economic theories about free market and transactions. Instead, taking an interdisciplinary approach, we will engage a series of social theories and case studies by historians, anthropologists and sociologists. The theme of this year is “Money Matters: Culture, Society and Economy.” We will unravel the idea of money as the objective measurement and look into the ethical, emotional, gender and other dimensions in money transactions. We will investigate how economic activities are shaped by, and shaping, cultural value and power structure. Some of the topics such as bride wealth have been well explored in existing literature, but other topics such as online payment or virtual currency are emerging phenomena that we will explore together. In doing so this course will familiarize students with some concepts and debates that are key to understand the intersections between the economic, the socio-cultural and the political.