The abstraction of money: emancipation or alienation?

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by Hernán Gabriel Borisonik

The chief goal of this article is to explain the abstraction process money has undergone since its earliest formal manifestations (in other words, as a specific unit of exchange, backed by a sovereign power), from Archaic Greece down to Modernity. To do this, reference is made not only to both theoretical arguments and social practices, but also to technical aspects. Additionally, and as a continuance of the ideas arising from the recently-described study, some issues are raised with regard to digital currencies, particularly bitcoin, which, even though it has been promoted as being anti-capitalist since its very beginnings, may, in practice, end up being capitalism’s most sophisticated tool.

Tamara Stuby. Global Socio-economic Politics, made simple
Tamara Stuby. Global Socio-economic Politics, made simple II (1998)

The article begins by defining two trends generally present when considering money: one functional, based on certain usages or very specific functionalities (such as being a medium of payment, a means of value, a unit of account and being divisible into smaller units), and the other historical and political, based on the customs and beliefs that have been shaped in different periods around the phenomenon of money. From there, some lines are traced to gain a more in-depth understanding of the phenomenon of money from a range of different standpoints (social, relational, technical, political and even philosophical).

The article continues by specifically discussing some of the ideas that have arisen since the end of the 19th century with regard to the so-called “dematerialization” of currencies, particularly those associated with the possibility of using increasingly metaphorical (and less literal) forms to represent value, such as bank notes, cards and digital money. Accordingly, and with the focus on the routes taken by money in light of the challenges entailed by the technological drivers of the 21st century, some bitcoin-related issues are outlined, to conclude with some thoughts on the autonomization of money with regard to the alienation of contemporary subjectivity.

Given the article’s highly theoretical methodology, the authors providing the strongest influence for its content are Aristotle, John Locke, Karl Marx, Jean Baudrillard, Georg Simmel and Satoshi Nakamoto, although there are also references to Plato, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Viviana Zelizer, Adrian Pel and Dmitri Kosten, amongst others. The general conclusions deal with the effective abstraction undergone by money’s formats and aim to cross-reference the debate with its political and social foundations.

Full paper:

Borisonik, H.G., (2018). The abstraction of money, emancipation or alienation?. Digithum. (21), pp.1–10. DOI:


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