by LSE Department of Sociology
It is with great sadness that we share news of the death of Professor Nigel Dodd on 12 August 2022.
Nigel Dodd was Professor of Sociology at the LSE. He obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1991 on the topic of Money in Social Theory, and lectured at the University of Liverpool before joining the LSE in 1995. Nigel’s main interests were in the sociology of money, economic sociology and classical and contemporary social thought. He was author of The Sociology of Money and Social Theory and Modernity (both published by Polity Press). His most recent book, The Social Life of Money, was published by Princeton University Press in 2014. The main purpose of the book was to reformulate the sociological theory of money in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, focusing on the question of how money can be wrested from the domination of banks and the mismanagement of states and restored to its fundamental position as the ‘claim upon society’ that Simmel once described in The Philosophy of Money. The main arguments are organized through an exploration of eight conceptual themes: origins, capital, debt, guilt, waste, territory, culture and utopia. At the book’s heart are urgent social questions about the nature of money. What counts as legitimate action by central banks issuing currency and setting policy? What underpins the right of non-governmental actors to create new currencies? How might new monetary utopias surpass or subvert government-sanctioned currencies? The book aims not simply to understand money but to contribute to its transformation.
At the time of his death, Nigel was working on two research monographs. The first book, Images of Time, consisted of an appraisal of the conceptualization of time in the social theory of Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault. It sought to develop a deep engagement with time within the social imaginary as a key theme in critical sociological theory. Benjamin and Foucault’s works are underpinned by a fundamental critique of conventional images of time. Each thinker develops a radicalized approach to historiography on the basis of this critique. Although the work of these thinkers is situated in different European theoretical traditions, significant convergences emerge when their writings are viewed through the prism of time. The conceptual affinities between their ideas of time are striking. Each thinker opposes a conception of time that is linear, continuous and cumulative. One might even call this a distinctive ‘European’ engagement with time, in contrast to more evolutionary models of time that tend to predominate in US social thought. Both argue, moreover, for a discontinuous conception of time that underwrites the historical self-aggrandisement of their own dominant social and political order. In place of this, they advance notions of time that are non-linear, discontinuous and non-cumulative: Benjamin uses an idea of messianic time, and Foucault develops a conception of heterogeneous time. The purpose of the book was to examine and compare these alternative images of time. The book would have offered the first systematic treatment of the concept of time as it is interpreted by each author, and argue that this concept is central to their work as a whole. In sociology especially, both writers have been used mainly to reflect on spatiality at the expense of time, creating an imbalance Nigel aimed to redress. Within the work of each thinker one can find a nascent critical sociology of time that has been overlooked hitherto, and moreover, can make a substantial contribution to contemporary debates in the social theory of time.
The second book, Utopianism and the Future of Money, looked at the prospects for monetary reform. This is an important moment in monetary history, when the hegemony of national currencies is being challenged by an increasing variety of alternative monetary forms. The meaning of ‘utopianism’ here is quite specific: the book would have explored projects that link the improvement of money with the betterment of society. Whereas utopianism classically involves the abolition of money, the focus here would have been on attempts to re-imagine it and, in so doing, to improve the social world in which it circulates. These are not simply technical schemes for making money more efficient, more stable or longer lasting. They are schemes that imagine how money might be used in order to transform society. The book would have argued that there are utopian strains in almost every form of money: from large-scale forms such as Keynes’s plan for the Bancor, through currencies that are meant to symbolize national unity, to community currencies that are designed to capitalize on local trust and connection. In a world of increasing monetary multiplicity, a general theory of money against which the relative merits of utopian monies can be evaluated is more out of reach than ever as monetary scholars continue to inhabit their own small corners of the field. Nigel’s contribution to the conceptual development of this area would have been to draw out the utopianism that is implicit in all money, whatever empirical forms it takes. The projects singled out for study were informed by the view that extant ‘mainstream’ forms of money are socially damaging in various ways: for instance, they inhibit personal freedom, corrode community, and perpetuate social inequality through financial exclusion. By contrast, ‘utopian’ monies attempt (in distinctive ways) to challenge the control of money by states and banks, to enhance personal freedom, foster community and ensure financial inclusion. Historical examples include Silvio Gesell’s scheme for ‘free’ money based on the principle of demurrage, the idea of labour money as pursued by John Ruskin and Robert Owen, various forms of mutualism (e.g. as proposed by Proudhon, Clifford Hugh Douglas and Edwin Riegel), and free market money (Hayek). Present-day examples include LETS, Time Dollars, mutual credit, peer-to-peer lending schemes such as Whuffie and Kiva, and digital currencies such as Ripple, Ven, Pecunix and Bitcoin.
Nigel Dodd was co-editor (with Patrik Aspers) of Re-Imagining Economic Sociology, published by Oxford University Press in 2015. The purpose of this book was to explore new developments in the field of economic sociology: leading economic sociologists from the US and Europe joined forces to produce a volume that addressed the future of the field by reflecting what they believe to be its most compelling theoretical developments. The book contains chapters by Richard Swedberg, Frank Dobbin, Neil Fligstein, Jens Beckert, Karin Knorr Cetina, Philippe Steiner, Victor Nee, Laurent Thevenot, Bruce Carruthers, Nigel Dodd, Patrik Aspers, Nina Bandelj and Mabel Berezin.
Nigel taught courses at the LSE at master’s level in Classical, Modern and Contemporary Social Thought, and co-founded the MSc in Economy, Risk and Society (later retitled MSc in Economy and Society) with Bridget Hutter and Juan-Pablo Pardo-Guerra. He was also responsible for co-ordinating sociology papers on the University of London External Studies programme.
Professor Dodd supervised a number of doctoral students interested in pursuing doctoral research in economic sociology and social theory. Successful doctoral theses supervised by Professor Dodd include “Unfinished and Unfinishable: London’s Skylines”, “The UK National Lottery and charitable gambling”, “Nothing Under the Sun: New Explorations of Adorno’s Sociology”, “A Sociological History of Lie Detection”, “Everyday economics: ideas new and old from lay theories of economic life”, “New German painting: painting, nostalgia & cultural identity in post-unification Germany” and “Language and the social: investigations towards a new sociology of language”. Professor Dodd’s final group of doctoral students researched topics such as “The Development of Islamic Banking in Malaysia” and “Valuation Processes in the Diamond Industry”.
Professor Dodd was editor-in-chief of the British Journal of Sociology from 2014 until 2022 and was a member of the editorial boards of Economy and Society and the Journal of Classical Sociology. He recorded a number of short talks for the BBC World Service on various aspects of the 2007-9 financial crisis, including the role of economic forecasters in predicting the crisis (and a subsequent recovery), and the likely impact of the crisis on monetary metaphors in the popular imagination.
This post originally appeared on the LSE Department of Sociology website. This current version includes hyperlinks to Dodd’s works.