Economy of Words

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Cultural Anthropology, Volume 24, Issue 3, p.381-419 (2009)


In this essay I introduce the notion of “the economy of words” as the means by which central banks model linguistically and, hence, communicatively economic phenomena operating at the limits of calculation and measurement. In this economy “at large” or “in the wild,” words perform the decisive function of creating context—countless contexts—that frame data series, statistical measures, and econometric projections. Within this analytical framework—inspired by J. M. Keynes and Michel Callon—words are employed not merely for expressing interpretative accounts or commentaries: they create the economy itself as a communicative field and as an empirical fact. Through the technical mediation of an economy of words—a monetary regime has, thus, come to be endowed with reflexive voices. The current financial situation highlights the role of the communicative practices in formulating policy to influence the severity, the breadth, and the duration of the destructive storm.