Accepted paper:

The colors of money: everyday arbitrage and the expectation of loss in Argentina


Sarah Muir (Barnard College, Columbia University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the paradoxical relationship between formal and informal currency markets in a context characterized by limited access to foreign capital.

Paper long abstract:

Between 2011 and 2015, Argentine public life played out in large part through the dólar blue, an illegal but highly visible market for U.S. dollars. This paper examines the discourses and practices that made up dólar blue in order to sketch the folk theories of monetary value that animated it. In particular, I draw out the antinomy between state and market theories of monetary value and the everyday practices of arbitrage that antinomy made possible. I show that these practices of arbitrage articulated formal and informal currency markets with one another such that various monetary functions were priced and performed differentially. This distribution of monetary functions produced a paradoxical financial system, capable of forestalling outright economic crisis, but only at the cost of its own popular legitimacy. Situating this dynamic within the longer term history of Argentine currency regimes and the contemporary reality of the U.S. dollar as a global reserve currency, I argue that the particular case of dólar blue highlights a more general dialectic between formality and informality.

panel P009
Emerging economic futures: the intersections of informality and formality [Anthropology of Economy Network]