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Random Riches - Urs STÄHELI

Contested Boundaries of the Economy: Gambling and Speculation in the USA

The paper develops a media theoretical perspective on gambling and speculation in the USA. An analysis of popular documents on speculation and gambling (1870-1920) shows that the boundary between legitimate and illegitimate economic practices is highly contested. Speculation and gambling are both fascinated by the self-referential nature of money and the potentialities it generates. The paper shows that the struggles about speculation and gambling are struggles not only about the proper use of the medium of money, but more foundationally about the medium itself. For doing this, the paper draws from Niklas Luhmann’s media theory and poststructuralist discussions of mediality. The analysis traces several historical strategies for controlling and normalizing the medium of money.

Urs STÄHELI
is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hamburg. In 2007, he published “Spektakuläre Spekulation. Das Populäre in der Ökonomie.”