MCC-GE 2129: Money As Media / Futures of Exchange

Mondays, 2:00–4:10 / GCASL 261

Course description This is a project-based, research-intensive course that follows the New Media Research Studio model. Students will pursue connected semester-long research projects, guided by readings and discussion, presenting their findings with a variety of new media tools. The subject of our studio will be money in particular and systems of payment and exchange in general. While our research will be informed by the history of money, our focus will be on the present and future of money and moneylike instruments on new media platforms: from mobile payment systems like M-Pesa to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (and the “distributed autonomous organizations” it enables), to in-game currencies, next-generation money laundering systems and black markets, payment networks like Alipay, currencies of popularity and esteem like yy.com’s “virtual roses,” and exchange networks that seem to transcend money entirely. The goal is to produce, out of our shared reading and discussion, and our individual research projects, a coherent picture of both money and exchange and the new media platforms on which they run.

Contacting me I hold office hours in room 740, 239 Greene St, from 4:15 to 6:00 PM every Monday. My email is fb42@nyu.edu.

Assignments and grading Each student will pick a particular aspect or variety of new money (suggestions will be provided) to be their primary independent research focus for the semester. The deliverables for this project are: contributions to class discussion (factored as part of a participation grade) that reflect both your independent research and your engagement with the course materials (20%); a final “portfolio,” accumulating your findings and your analysis in an appropriate set of formats, which will vary depending on your subject (a rubric will be discussed on the first day) (60%); and a polished, ten minute presentation of your work to the class (10%). Please note that this class has an intense reading schedule; we will discuss the particular expectations for time management and meeting these demands on the first day.

Readings All readings for this class will be made available as PDFs, with the exception of Nigel Dodd’s The Social Life of Money, which we will be reading over the first three weeks.

General Course and School Policies

Grading Rubric
A = Excellent / This work is comprehensive and detailed, integrating themes and concepts from discussions and readings with original research. Writing is clear, analytical and organized. Arguments offer specific examples and concisely evaluate evidence. Students who earn this grade are prepared for class, synthesize course materials and contribute insightfully.
B = Good / This work is complete and accurate, offering insights at general level of understanding. Writing is clear, uses examples properly and tends toward broad analysis. Classroom participation is consistent and thoughtful.
C = Average / This work is correct but is largely descriptive, lacking analysis. Writing is vague and at times tangential. Arguments are unorganized, without specific examples or analysis. Classroom participation is inarticulate.
D = Unsatisfactory / This work is incomplete, and evidences little understanding of the readings or discussions. Arguments demonstrate inattention to detail, misunderstand course material and overlook significant themes. Classroom participation is spotty, unprepared and off topic.
F = Failed / This grade indicates a failure to participate.

Grade Appeals If you want to appeal a grade, send a short note explaining your concerns to me within a week of receiving your grade. (Grades that stand longer than a week will be taken as correct, and appeals will not be considered.) We will set up a meeting to review the grading, if necessary.

Academic Integrity The Steinhardt School’s Statement on Academic Integrity governs all student work in this course. “Academic integrity,” it says, “is the guiding principle for all that you do; from taking exams, making oral presentations to writing term papers. It requires that you recognize and acknowledge information derived from others, and take credit only for ideas and work that are yours.” Please familiarize yourself with the details of the statement.

Students with Special Needs Students with special needs, such as physical and/or learning disabilities, should register with the Moses Center and follow their guidelines for informing the course instructors who will arrange “reasonable accommodations” as requested.

Religious Observance In accordance with NYU’s Policy on Religious Holidays students who observe religious holidays that may interfere with the class schedule should inform course instructors well in advance of anticipated absences to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made for the completion of course work.

Writing Center Students are encouraged to make use of NYU’s Writing Center.

Schedule of Classes

1/25 / First Day: Introduction, overview, key topics

2/1 / Understanding Money 1: Origins, Capital, Debt
Nigel Dodd, The Social Life of Money: Introduction, Chapters 1, 2, 3
Due: Informal proposal for research focus and portfolio format

2/8 / Understanding Money 2: Guilt, Waste, Territory
Chapters 4, 5, 6

2/15 / President’s Day (no classes scheduled)

2/22 / Understanding Money 3: Culture, Utopia, Conclusions
Chapters 7 and 8, Conclusion

2/29 / Cash in Hand
Jane Guyer, “Soft currencies, cash economies, new monies: Past and present”
Antoin Murphy, “Money in an Economy Without Banks: The Case of Ireland”
Viviana Zelizer, “The Social Life of Money: ‘Special Monies’”
Frances Robertson, “The Aesthetics of Authenticity: Printed Banknotes as Industrial Currency”

3/7 / Getting Credit
Josh Lauer, “The Good Consumer: Credit Reporting and the Invention of Financial Identity in the United States, 1840–1940” + “From Rumor to Written Record: Credit Reporting and the Invention of Financial Identity in Nineteenth-Century America”
David Stearns, “Conclusions: Toward a General Sociotechnical History of Payment Systems”

3/14 / Spring Recess (no classes scheduled)

3/21 / Unbanked Economies
Various, “Afford Two, Eat One: Financial Inclusion in Rural Myanmar”
Various, “In the Hands of God: Risks and Savings in Afghanistan”
Lisa Servon, “Ritecheck 12” + “The High Cost, for the Poor, of Using a Bank” + “The Real Reason the Poor Go Without Bank Accounts” + “What Good Are Payday Loans?”
Due: Midterm progress report on research project

3/28 / Alternative Systems of Exchange
Benjamin Rosenbaum, “The Guy Who Worked For Money”
Bruce Sterling, “Maneki Neko”
Bill Maurer, “In the Matter of Islamic Banking and Local Currencies”

4/4 / Understanding Payments + Introductory Cryptography
Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, “New Directions in Cryptography”
Bill Maurer and Lana Swartz, “Wild, Wild West: A View From Two Californian Schoolmarms”
Rachel O’Dwyer, “Money Talks: The Enclosure of Mobile Payments”

4/11 / Crypto Anarchy + Cypherpunks
Tim May, “The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto” + “Crypto Glossary” + “Libertaria in Cyberspace” + “Untraceable Digital Cash, Information Markets, and BlackNet”
Eric Hughes, “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto”

4/18 / Digicash + Electronic Money
David Chaum, “Security Without Identification: Transaction Systems to Make Big Brother Obsolete” + “Blind Signatures for Untraceable Payments” + “Untraceable Electronic Cash”
Felix Stalder, “Failures and successes: Notes on the development of electronic cash”

4/25 / Building Bitcoin
Hal Finney, “Detecting Double Spending”
Wei Dai, “B-Money”
Nick Szabo, “Bit Gold”
Adam Back, “Hashcash: A Denial of Service Countermeasure”
Satoshi Nakamoto, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”

5/2 / New Money, New Media, New Markets
James Martin, “Lost on the Silk Road: Online drug distribution and the ‘cryptomarket’”
Various, “Ethereum” (white paper)
Vitalik Buterin, “DAOs, DACs, DAs and More”

5/9 / Last Day: Closing discussion / Presentations of research
Due: Closing presentations and final research portfolios