Objects—pieces of paper, coins, lumps of precious metal—may serve as currency and represent specific monetary values, but what underpins the exchange of money is trust. We trust that our money will retain its value, that others will be willing to trade for it, and that it will still be in the bank when we come back for it.

In recent years, cryptocurrency has emerged as a disruptive alternative to traditional money. Fundamentally, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum function by replacing trust in banks and the government with trust in digital cryptography.

Instead of relying on a bank or a third party to mediate the exchange of money for goods or services, cryptocurrencies use an encrypted, decentralized digital ledger called a blockchain to secure transactions and to restrict the creation of more units of the currency. As an anthropologist, it’s fascinating to watch the new transition of money into cryptocurrency—an evolution underpinned by a larger cultural narrative about what we value and who we trust.

Anthropologists have long been intrigued by mediums of exchange. As British social anthropologist Mary Douglas once wrote, “Money is only an extreme and specialized type of ritual.” Modern culture abounds with meaningful customs, beliefs, and terms about money.

We say “blood money” for money obtained at the cost of a life or “dirty money” for that accrued from illegal or immoral transactions. An individual can either be “filthy” rich or “dirt” poor. Read more from realclearscience.com…

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