Research Group Monetary Sovereignty

The group examines constitutions and transformations of privileged capacities to pay. How do degrees of monetary autonomy and dependency emerge and change – and what are the social consequences?

Money has long been perceived as a purely technical means of facilitating trade and has therefore been banished not only from the mainstream of economics but also from the agenda of other social sciences. Today money is back for several reasons: the impact of the financial crisis, experiences of globalised flows of capital and people, the financialisation of capitalism with its high-risk derivatives and monetary surrogates, the rapid and exponential growth of money supply and its influence on income and wealth distribution, the continuing tensions of the supranational common currency project "Eurozone" or the emergence of many new local means of payment and cryptocurrencies – these as well as similar topics have been analysed by researchers in the fields of sociology, cultural anthropology, political economics, and historical research.

In this revived research, money is usually neither examined as a neutral and technical tool for market exchange, nor in terms of wealth and prosperity (alone). Instead, it is viewed as a crucial component in the engine room of capitalist dynamics, linking the economic, social, and cultural spheres. In this spirit, the group examines interferences between and transformations of monetary orders – social architectures that constitute monetary values and liabilities by providing and regulating how debits and credits are registered, transferred and dissolved. Monetary orders are thus addressed as political infrastructures of economic fields and processes.

The motive linking the individual projects is the work on a more complex and sophisticated understanding of monetary sovereignty, i.e., an understanding based on empirical observation, theoretically robust analysis and interdisciplinary exchange. In other words, the group examines constitutions and transformations of privileged capacities to pay. We are keen to find out at which levels – e.g., sectoral, geographical, political – degrees of monetary autonomy and dependence are generated and shaped, how this is done, and what effects these arrangements have on the situational capacity of actors to act, for example with regard to states in the eurozone, or local policies and economies.

We ask how faculties to influence the volume, value and impact of monetary assets and liabilities are socially, politically and culturally constructed and distributed, how and by what means these arrangements change, and what relevance monetary sovereignty can claim for the theory of money, its history and the history of ambiguities of capitalism.
We are looking for the social consequences of shifts and transformations in monetary sovereignty — notably, where different monetary levels and orders interfere. The Group intends to examine the connections, differences, and tensions between various forms of sovereignty, such as territorial or democratic sovereignty.  We hope that such a panorama will help to better understand not only monetary sovereignty but also money itself.

In her doctoral project, Carolin Müller examines how sovereign creditworthiness and solvency are sociopolitically established and defined within the supranational currency project Eurozone and how these processes are changing. In doing so, she focuses on an experiment whose core lies in the overcoming of national monetary orders – precisely those for which the concept of "monetary sovereignty" was tailor-made.

Gabriel Popham studies the interferences between this supranational currency and local monetary policies in the context of the structural change in northern Italy. He will try to develop a deeper conceptual understanding of the hierarchical structuring of monetary orders (and possibly monetary sovereignty itself) and is interested in its role in the construction of different forms of value (this project will start in September 2019).

Friedo Karth approaches the topic from a political-economic and political-theoretical perspective. He is interested in the normative and democratic-theoretical resources of meaning that are called, negotiated and brought to bear in the field of monetary policy conflict with terms such as "monetary sovereignty" – and the consequences. In other words, his project focuses on the tension between monetary and democratic sovereignty in modern monetary economies.

Aaron Sahr is working on the further development of a relationist approach to money. He wonders whether different models or phases of monetary sovereignty are based on socio-political disputes that have to be reconstructed as negotiations of the legitimacy of specific practices of bonding and retaliation rather than as struggles about value.


Carolin Müller M.A.

Die Herstellung und Veränderung souveräner Kreditwürdigkeit in der Eurokrise

Gabriel Popham M.A.

Money and Territoriality: Complementary Currencies and the Construction of Local Sovereignty in Italy

Prof. Dr. Aaron Sahr, Head of the Research Group

Perspektiven einer beziehungstheoretischen Soziologie des Geldes