Children’s Conceptions of Money: Concepts and Social Organization

Between 1950 and 1954, Anselm Strauss published four papers (two co-authored with Karl Schuessler) dealing with children’s conceptions of money (Schuessler and Strauss, 1950; Strauss and Schuessler, 1951; Strauss, 1952, 1954). The papers deal with a classic problem in socialization: the development of concepts. If we act toward objects in the world in ways shaped by our conceptions of those objects, it becomes interesting and important to know how those conceptions develop, what alternative paths exist, and what influences that development. A further problem concerns the stages of development: what is learned in what order?

This problem arises in connection with adults as well as children. Every new recruit to an organization or way of life necessarily learns new ideas about the world, so that the problem is as relevant to studies of acculturation or occupational initiation as it is to child development. Nevertheless, children are the classic objects of research on conceptual development: they probably learn more new concepts more continuously than adults do, and are more open to admitting their mistakes and confusions than adults are, and so offer a better opportunity to study the relevant processes.

The literature cited by the four papers refers, almost exclusively, to concept development in children, including some older studies but mainly the major studies by Piaget which were beginning to become available at the time of this research (the papers cite the French originals rather than the English translations). They do not cite relevant studies of adults, although Strauss obviously knew of the important work by his collaborator, Alfred Lindesmith,* on the development of addicts’ conceptions of opiate drugs (Lindesmith, 1947). The focus on children leads to an emphasis, probably not necessary in a general theory of concept learning, on the ages at which various concepts are learned.

The money study played a crucial role in the development of Strauss’ thinking. He says** that he started the study as a Piaget-style social psychologist, and ended it a student of social organization, more interested in Robert Park than George Herbert Mead. As a graduate student he had worked primarily with Herbert Blumer and Ernest Burgess and had, aside from some early papers (in the nature of finger exercises) on the concept of panic and on parent-child relations, been exclusively concerned with problems in a Blumerian social psychology. The study of children’s concepts of money led him, without planning or forethought, into the problem of social organization. It paved the way for the organizational emphasis in Mirrors and Masks (1959) and makes intelligible the shift, otherwise surprising, to an emphasis on organizational processes in Psychiatric Ideologies and Institutions (1964).

The major contribution of these papers is a significant and underutilized idea: when people learn concepts, they learn a logical structure of interconnected elements referring simultaneously to a set of abstract general ideas and a body of interactional practice. The papers deal, in varying ways, with these ideas, but are primarily oriented to problems of development than rather than of social organization. In developing the significance of this research for an understanding of social organization, I do not intend a criticism of the original work, which made a conscious and explicit link to theories of development. I want, rather, to make a more explicit and differentiated statement of ideas contained in the original work, although in summary form.

The Data

The papers are based on interviews with 141 children between the ages of 4 and 13, roughly half-and-half children of working class and middle class families, about ten children (five boys and five girls) at each age level. The interview, sometimes done in several sessions with younger children, covered the recognition and value of coins, and the understanding of equivalences (i.e., that a variety of combinations of coins can add up to the same amount). The interviewers posed a variety of questions about money, asking the children to perform such tasks as choosing which of two coins is more valuable, making change, and judging the worth of coins. None of the articles describes the interview beyond listing the questions, which amount to test items, administered to the children (“What would this dime be worth if it were as big as a nickel?”, “Which will buy more?” when the child is shown, e.g., a penny-and-two-nickels and a nickel-and-three-pennies, etc.), but readers can easily infer from the answers quoted in the later papers that interviewers engaged in much more flexible and probing questioning later in the interview.

Much of the analysis in the later papers deals with subtle questions about the uses of money, which cannot have come from answers to the simple test items described in the 1950 paper. (Strauss told me that the early interviews stuck close to the ‘test” style questions used in the scalogram analysis discussed below. but that he found the children’s responses so interesting that he created a new interview protocol, filled with the questions alluded to, and occasionally quoted, in the later papers.) The interviewers led the children to talk about, for instance, what a storekeeper did with the money customers gave him, how he paid his helpers, how he paid for the things he sold if he did not make them himself, and many other aspects of the operation of such a simple economic organization as a candy store. The interview particularly probed areas the children did not understand very well, pushing them, for example, to explain how the price of a piece of candy could be five cents when you buy it from the storekeeper but only three cents when the storekeeper buys it from the manufacturer (as in the example just below).

The interview, in fact, is very complex, combining (in a theoretically informed way) an inquiry into simple descriptive matters (holding up a nickel and asking “What is this?”), rules governing economic behavior, typical forms of economic behavior, and the morality of economic life. Here is a sample of the dialogue on which the more complex analyses are based:

 (How much would candy bought by the storekeeper for three cents sell for?) “Two cents more.” (Is that fair?) “I just know that’s the way they do it.” (Well would that be fair?) “I don’t know. The storekeeper has to make a little more money.” (Is the customer willing to pay more than the storekeeper paid the maker?) “Yes, at least my father is and so am I. The storekeeper may need the money.” Another child says, “The storekeeper would sell it for more because he needs the money. In a way it’s not fair, but in a way it is.” (Is the customer willing to pay more?) “Maybe. He might feel sorry for the storekeeper and feel he needed money.” “He usually doesn’t know. If he knows, he won’t be willing. Because the storekeeper would make more money than the maker.” (1952: 283)

The children struggle with the increasingly complicated problems the interviewer presents, complex questions about how things are done, who can do them, whether it’s right to do them. The articles present enough material to let you see the children out of their depth at times, using words and concepts they can mouth but which do not yet fully make sense to them.

The Findings

Scales and Logic

The papers move, chronologically, from the relatively simple description of how children learn about money to subtle analyses of their notions of rules and morality. The imagery of “stages,” operationalized in the early papers through a scalogram analysis, informs the exposition throughout. The basic idea is that children’s conceptions of money, its use, and the network of social practices and relationships entailed in its use, form a logical structure. The sense these concepts make arises in their logical and definitional relationships to one another. Children cannot use money “properly” without grasping that logic.

To say that children use money “properly” involves some steps not fully discussed in the papers, although the discussion of the logic underlying the simple reasoning needed to do the tasks in the test in the 1951 paper (pp. 521-3) and the discussion of the way children learn to take multiple roles simultaneously indicate what Strauss had in mind. I’ll try to make the point more explicit.

The concepts we use to manipulate money are related to each other logically: the more complex notions can be derived from primitive concepts according to the rules of conventional two-valued logic. Developmentally, therefore, children cannot perform certain tasks (get certain test items “right”) until they have learned the logical operations necessary to arrive at those answers. Table 4 (1951: 522) lists the logical operations necessary to perform such simple tasks as making change. Over twenty propositions (e.g., “A penny is equal to a penny,” “A dime is equal to a dime,” “A penny is less than a dime”) and the rules for manipulating them (e.g., “logical addition,” whose definition they quote from Cohen and Nagel (1934) need to be understood before a child can match one stack of coins to another.

Strauss and Schuessler use this material to show that children do not use the same logic as adults because they do not understand some of the basic logical operations necessary to do these simple tasks. The form of the errors children make as their understanding of the use of money develops reveals their inability to perform these operations. If, for instance, children rely on the size and number of coins to govern their exchanges they will make such amusing errors as these:

The child may give four coins for four objects, or two coins for a small candy and four for a large. When playing storekeeper, he may return to the customer two coins for two paid him, or three coins for three objects purchased. They may pay a penny for a small candy, a nickel for a larger, and a quarter for the largest. An example of this last rule: Peter bought a large candy from Jane. Jane gave him a quarter. He gave her some coins. Then she gave him candy, observing, “He gave me these two pennies. Each have to pay, don’t they?” Peter strayed off, then rushed back, saying, “I forgot to give the quarter!”, thrust the quarter upon Jane, grabbed the two pennies from her, saying, “And I take these two pennies.” Peter had suddenly noticed that he had bought a large “quarter candy” but had not paid a quarter for it. This awful realization dominated the moment to the exclusion of exact details of the preceding transaction. (1952, p. 277)

Strauss and Schuessler demonstrate the logic of children’s thinking about money simply and elegantly through a scalogram analysis. Scalogram techniques were originally designed, as part of the larger program of the development of survey analysis reported in The American Soldier (Stouffer, et. al. 1949), to show that a collection of statements about, say, attitudes toward members of a minority group could be treated as though the statements were related as inches are on a yardstick. That is, the statements could be put in an order such that each succeeding statement represented a greater “strength” of the attitude than those that preceded it. In a proper scale, someone who answered “yes” to the tenth item would necessarily answer yes to the nine items that preceded it (just as someone who was five feet ten inches tall would necessarily also be at least five feet nine inches tall, five feet eight, and so on); someone who answered “no” to item ten but yes to nine would answer “yes” to items one through eight; and so on. Scalogram analysis does not propose that the distances between the items are equal; the difference in “strength” of attitude between item two and item three need not be equal to the difference between any other two adjacent items, but the order must be invariant. (Or almost invariant; the rules of this game allow for some minor variations.)

You establish a scale by giving a large number of respondents a large number of attitude or test items. You need not know a priori what order the items will ultimately take. But, if the items in a test “scale,” if they can be ranked in an order that has the properties already described, you can rank the people who take it as having more or less of the phenomenon being measured. You can also establish “scale types,” test takers who share a rank because they fall at the same point on the scale, i.e., have the same pattern of “successes” and “failures” to pass the various items.

The money items create powerful scales. In fact, this study is one of the most creative and appropriate applications of the idea of the scalogram, certainly far more appropriate than the attitude studies in which the technique was mainly used. It is intuitively obvious that the kind of logical development Strauss and Schuessler expected to find could be measured and described in this way; it is not nearly so obvious with respect to such complex, multidimensional phenomena as racial attitudes.

The data reported show that children learn their ideas about money in an orderly fashion, one thing at a time; the order is the same in the several subgroups studied. Children cannot master more “difficult” concepts until they have laid the necessary groundwork of simpler concepts. They can do such simple tasks as recognizing coins without being able to do the more complex manipulations required to make change. Since the interview-test constitutes a scale in this technical sense, Strauss can use its results to support his argument about how children learn about money and, particularly, to describe the logic of their learning.

It is easy to see that logical operations are involved in the manipulation of arithmetic relations, and that is essentially where the 1951 article leaves things. The 1954 paper implies that it would be fruitful to make a similar analysis of less formalized concepts than those of arithmetic in its analysis of rules, but does not go very far in making the logic involved explicit. (See the work of Jean Lave (1989) on related matters.)

When concepts are related logically in this way, they become powerful agents of social control. Not always, and not in principle, but certainly anywhere that the idea of logic can hold sway. That is, the consequences of ignoring these logical relations are usually some sort of severe punishment or loss, delivered impersonally by the workings of “the system.” Children can ignore the logic of arithmetic in carrying out economic transactions, but only by sustaining important material (not getting as much candy as they might otherwise have gotten) and symbolic (being thought to be illogical and childish) losses. But that is not to say that it is impossible to ignore logic. On the contrary, when an extreme power differential exists between people, the more powerful person may simply ignore the logical consequences of an idea or counter it with a reference to the asymmetry of power. Children learn the limits of logic when they hear the well-known retort to their arguments: “Because I’m the mommy, that’s why!”


Strauss wants to say not only that children learn in a certain necessary order, he also wants to show that the learning has a particular character. It is not just additive, a matter of sticking more and more concepts on to a firm underpinning. It is “transformative.”

“Transformation” is a crucial concept for Strauss. It has the following characteristics (paraphrased from 1952, 285-6).

1. As the child’s perspective changes, the addition of new concepts, and new connections between them and the concepts the child already knows, changes the meaning of individual concepts. Already learned concepts acquire new connections, and are combined with and incorporated into new ideas. Later steps in the process, later meanings, “absorb” — a lovely word — earlier ones. The content of the concepts changes, even though their name stays the same. “. . . [T]here is a propulsive and interactive character to naming and renaming. As new classifications are formed, the meanings of old ones change, become revised and qualified, so that little remains of the initial or early meanings of concepts.” (285)

2. Advances in conceptualization — movement to a new scale type — do not proceed piecemeal or willynilly. Children have to acquire all the pieces necessary for the next stage of thinking about money before they can put them together.

3. While children do not lose what they have learned, they do forget that they know it. The knowledge that they once thought in a certain way is forgotten now that they know a more advanced concept. It’s not that they get better at thinking correctly, but rather that they continually recombine what they know in the light of their continuing experience.

4. Errors are characteristic of stages. Just as you must reach a certain stage to be able to perform certain tasks correctly, you must reach that stage in order to make certain mistakes. The mistakes go with the concepts.

5. Learning is not just cognitive. Children learn to think, but also to do. Behavior and conceptual development are two aspects of the same change.

A simple example is the change in children’s understanding of the circulation of money. In the first stage, when children are about five and a half years old, they know that you give the storekeeper money and he gives you money, but do not understand that the money he gives you is “change,” what is left over from the overpayment you made. It’s as though they see the exchange of money as ritually, rather than economically, necessary. They say things like, “You take out and give to people. To buy something. You have to give money if you’re a storekeeper”; or “When they buy stuff. Let people keep it and then they buy stuff with it. That keeps going on in that way.” (277)

At the next stage, when the children are six and a half, the circulation of money has an economic function more like the one we understand as adults. “Money travels from customer to storekeeper to maker, and then perhaps to another storekeeper. Money does not merely accompany each transaction, but in some sense makes them possible. Things are not merely bought, but are worth something, and are bought with their exact correspondence in coinage.” (279)

The concept of money still includes as a core value the notion of metal coins and their exchange. But those ideas have been incorporated into a larger idea of the exchange of value and that has made the meaning of the exchange more complex. It is this idea of retaining some part of a concept but shifting its meaning by relating it to other, newly learned concepts that is crucial.

Defining change as transformation (which looks ahead to the discussion of metaphors of change in Mirrors and Masks) has important implications:

1. People do not change in any mechanical way. They combine and recombine what they have learned, making different mixtures and structures out of the same materials. What they know does not mean the same thing when it is part of a new whole. The children’s ideas about money and candy will continue to develop as they grow past the age when Strauss and Schuessler stop pestering them with sociological tests. Some of them will learn that candy can rot their teeth, others that it can increase their weight or give them pimples, still others that having a piece will make them feel better when things go wrong, and most of them that it will be an appropriate gift on St. Valentine’s Day. Their conceptions will become extremely complicated as they develop more and more connections and ramifications in an increasingly complex network of concepts. The monetary matters covered in this study will still be there, but increasingly buried and taken for granted.

A major substantive transformation occurs when children give up a temporal understanding of the nature of exchange for a logical one. This comes about as they develop the notion of credit, recognizing that you need not pay at the moment you get something from a storekeeper, but can put it on your bill and pay later. Where they had thought of this set of exchanges as requiring an invariant order, they now see that the order is not crucial. As long as you pay the storekeeper eventually, you can buy things. This major shift paves the way for still more complications:

The essence of the storekeeper-customer-maker relationships is monetary, therefore logical. To the adult it makes no difference whether the storekeeper buys goods from from the maker and then sells them; or whether he promises to pay for the goods, sells them and then pays the maker; or whether the customer orders the goods so that the storekeeper then goes and buys or gets the goods, returning to sell them for cash to the customer, and so on. (282)

2. The children don’t know what they know. At least, they don’t until something happens to call some statement, incorporated into such a network of ideas until it has become a forgotten and therefore unstated assumption, into question. One immediate consequence is methodological: if you ask people about matters that are part of such a new transformed whole, they can’t tell you about it. Marjorie DeVault, in a study of how women feed their families (forthcoming), found that her informants could barely speak about the way they made their complex calculations of what was available at a price they could afford, what they already had on hand, what the members of their families would eat, what they had had recently. They could do it but they couldn’t say how, at least not easily, because (we might say, following Strauss) they had transformed all the component ideas that went into their overall pattern of action so completely that they found it hard to disaggregate them, though they could do it.

3. Ideas and activity are learned together and transformed together. Conceptual learning involves doing. The intimate connection of the two was evident in Lindesmith’s study of opiate addiction, where both the definition and explanation of addiction consisted of an idea and a pattern of behavior. Addiction consisted of the idea “I’m a junky” and the behavior of obsessively pursuing drugs. Lindesmith explained the development of addiction as a consequence of the prospective addict learning the idea that “I’m sick because I stopped taking drugs” and the action of taking another shot in order to alleviate the sickness. Users who went through that cycle would transform their earlier ideas of the drug and themselves into the new idea that they were now addicts (“junkies”) who had to continue to use drugs.

The concept of “perspective” introduced in Boys in White (Becker, et. al. 1961) embodied this idea by treating the ideas of medical students and the activities they undertook that were congruent with and designed to further those ideas as an indivisible unit.

4. If transformation is a continual process, then it is a simple empirical error to imagine that there is an end product which, once arrived at, no longer changes. People may think that of themselves, just as investigators may think it of them, but they are both wrong. The creation of stable types is one of the great socially constructed fictions. Since people change continuously , it is a major, and interesting, research problem to understand how the belief in stability is maintained. It follows from what’s been said that researchers should not buy into that lay conception in their theorizing, but this idea is not widely accepted. But one can study things that change in that way because, after all, not everything changes at once, some things change more or more quickly than others, and the definitions of what is and isn’t changing are themselves open to study, in just the way that these studies of money illustrate.

Social Organization

The later papers push the analysis in a new and crucial direction. The story has all along been about children learning something more than mere ideas. They are learning how to act with money as well. The research, therefore, does not look at concepts about money in the abstract. It asks about behavior as well. But, more than that, it does not ask about the child’s behavior alone. It asks about the behavior of everyone involved in the economic system. What do storekeepers do? What do customers do? What do the makers of goods do? Nor is it only a matter of behavior, because the children speak (in response to probing) about rules, morality and motivation as well. They worry about what they ought to do. What are the rules? What makes it okay for those to be the rules? What constitutes acting unfairly? They have, finally, a clear and explicit sense of motivation, of behavior as resting on impulses and desires that are socially sanctioned. Why, they wonder, do people do what they do?

In other words, the children describe, in response to probing, a complex version of a social organization. In the economy they describe, the following elements are present: rules, roles, social types, motives, morality, routine practices, and organizations. When they learn concepts, they learn this complex of elements that make up organizationally founded activity. They learn more than ideas, they learn to be functioning participants in a society and in its institutions. This powerful imagery lets us envision a variety of further research uses for it.

For instance, societies vary in the social organization built up around money and money will thus be a good way into an understanding of the rest of their practices. Those of us who live in a capitalist society learn one network of organizations, practices, and motives tied to money. We learn that we work in a “private enterprise” system. We learn to get a paycheck and cash or deposit it. Some of us learn to write checks, pay bills, make budgets, and “manage money.” (‘Some of us” because these skills are mostly reserved for adults and because, within families, it is common for one member of a marital pair to do these chores and thus the other need not learn the skills.) We learn to decipher income tax forms. Some of us become “investors,” and try to learn the complex skills of forecasting economic events. A few of us start our own businesses and learn to “meet a payroll,” make “business plans,” and so on. Capitalist economic institutions are highly developed, and their doings penetrate every other aspect of social life.

Learning to participate in such a network of organizations, we also learn a vocabulary of motives (Mills 1940) tied to that network. We learn to contemplate the possibility of “getting rich,” although we recognize that it is also reasonable and acceptable to “just earn a living.” Some of us will learn that wanting to earn money will endanger other things we want to do, as artists proverbially learn that money will tempt them to do things they would otherwise find boring or contemptible.

But all modern societies have a financial system, money, and some kind of economic institutions. The capitalist version is one, but there are others. Insofar as those institutions differ from ours, we might expect the results of a Strauss-style investigation of learning money concepts to differ as well. Children who grow up in a barter economy will learn quite different conceptions of value as well as different bodies of practice and routine activity. They may learn some notion of money, if their community is tied to a larger community in which money is common, but they will also learn that cows can be traded for grain, and shoes for wood, on whatever terms or according to whatever forms of bargaining are current. Children who grow up in socialist economies will learn other kinds of routine equivalents and transactional practices. We can imagine, though this would have to be studied empirically, that such notions as equivalence would be much the same from one society to another, but that their content would vary widely.

David Antin (1984) has performed a thought experiment of just this kind by describing a hypothetical country in which the meanings of money are tied to such practices and problems as air pollution, privacy, and making love. In this little country, nestled in a valley between two polluting industrial countries, breathable air is so scarce that one has to buy it. But it is so expensive that ordinary people can only afford to keep one room full of breathable air. But then they have no privacy in which to make love. They can do that in closed compartments on public buses which, however, cost much more than riding in the open with the general public. In the hypothetical currency of this country, it would cost a couple eight bregmas for a full night in a compartment. But a workman might only earn four or five hundred bregmas a month and a student might only have an allowance of one or two hundred bregmas. So to spend two nights a week together (72 bregmas) might use up as much as seventy-five per cent of a student’s allowance or, anyway, fifteen to twenty per cent of workman’s income.

No wonder, then, that this society has an expression medrabregmadzian, which means, according to Antin, its chronicler (p. 35), “spending the whole night screwing” or, more generally, sensualizing of any variety — the literal meaning, however, as Antin parses it in the language he invented for this experiment, is based on the root idea of the bregma , the monetary unit, and means an impossibly large amount of bregmas***. Similarly, the expression for “fabulously wealthy” is tij vlazcescu mberie bregmadziu na dumobru ezadjie (“a man rich enough to make love in his own house,” i.e., rich enough to fill at least two rooms with breathable air). In this society, as revealed by the evidence of common idioms, the meanings of money would include (envelop, absorb) all these other meanings related to air, privacy, and sex.

Just as societies vary, so the world that we have all learned never stands still. That creates problems for us. For social practices to persist in just the same form, all the conditions that make it possible for them to exist must likewise persist. But things change. What we have learned to do no longer works because something we learned to take for granted does not happen as we expected it to. The physical world changes: earthquakes, hurricanes, soil erosion, global warming, and all the other dramatic and not-so-dramatic things that alter our material world. The social world changes too. Inventors create new technical possibilities. Individuals and groups move from place to place, country to country. Social inventors create new ways of doing things together and those, in turn, create new conditions of life, new desires, new sorrows. The economic world changes. Prices rise and fall, depressions and booms occur, industries change in their economic importance.

All these changes create problems for people living their daily lives, who solve those problems by inventing new social practices, which in turn change the conditions of life for those with whom they interact. A simple example, relevant to conceptions of money, is the occurrence of a large-scale inflation. When the value of money changes drastically, people have to learn a new arithmetic, new equivalences, and have to invent new routines for forecasting economic futures and making financial plans. We usually think of hyperinflation as leading, rapidly, to social breakdown, but in fact such countries as Israel and Brazil have lived for years with rates of inflation we would think unbearable. It would be interesting to repeat the Strauss-Schuessler study in such conditions, as a way of understanding how concepts adapt to differing economic conditions.

Conceptions of money and the practices associated with it change in less dramatic ways as well. As the structure of the American family changed in the late 19th and early 20th century, the allocation of money between husbands, wives, and children also changed: how much a wife got, when she got it, what she could use it for, and who decided all of that changed substantially between 1870 and 1930 (Zelizer, 1989). The language associated with these changes seems only a little quaint now, but in fact embodies conceptions of social arrangements every bit as subtle and complex as those invented by Antin in his analysis.

We can also look at concepts common to other, less logical areas of social life to see what shared practices are embedded in them. Passuth found that children’s conceptions of age embodied powerful notions of heirarchy and morality in addition to the purely arithmetic ones studied in the Piagetian tradition. As she says, they “do not simply learn age concepts; they also develop complex ideas about an entire age structure” (Passuth, 1987, p. 189). The heirarchy is embodied in routine practices. The children recognize a distinction between “big kids” and “little kids,” and know that big kids are more powerful, expressed in bossiness, excluding little kids, defeating them in games, and hurting them physically (Passuth, 1987, p. 193). Those who suffer under this system don’t like it much but recognize it as legitimate, compared to the illegetimate and reprehensible actions of “acting too old” — assuming the prerogatives of an older age grade — or “acting too young” — e.g., crying when you are too old to any more. As with money, the arithmetic cannot be separated from the social practices.


The theoretical relationship between individual conceptualizing and social organization contained in Strauss’ studies of monetary concepts suggests a commonsense and workable way of solving the persistent problem of “individual and society.” How does society get into people? What is the connection between the undoubted reality of the private experience of thinking and acting and the equally undoubted reality of social organization? Mead’s abstract discussions of this problem take on a solidity when looked at in the way Strauss’ work embodies. People learn ideas which are simultaneously logically connected thoughts and understandings of ways of behaving. The ways of behaving, shared among the members of a group or community, make possible the collective actions that we summarize, in a theoretical shorthand, as social organization. There is no need to find some complex set of conceptual connections between private and public, individual and collective, for the two are simply different ways of talking about the same things.

Some will feel that such notions of continuous process mean that the objects of our interest are unstudiable, that what is in continuous flux is not available to ordinary methods of knowing. There is, in fact, a lot of mystical talk about “social process” and continuous mutual influencing. Strauss’ enduring contribution to sociology and social science has been the recognition that society is constructed every minute through interaction and negotiation and that phenomena so described is nevertheless stable enough to be studied effectively. The money studies showed, early in Strauss’ career, just how we can study things that change all the time and study them precisely, even measurably. His work since then — the bulk of his work, of course — has continued on the course laid out in these early studies. Looking back at this early work deepens our appreciation both of it and of the work that followed.


Antin, David. 1984. ‘the currency of the country.” Pp. 5-47 in his Tuning . New York: New Directions.

Becker, Howard S., et. al. 1961. Boys in White: Student Culture in Medical School. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cohen, Morris R., and Ernst Nagel. 1934. An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

DeVault, Marjorie. Forthcoming. Feeding the Family. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lave, Jean. 1988. Cognition and Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lindesmith, Alfred. 1947. Opiate Addiction. Bloomington, Indiana: Principia Press.

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Mills, C. Wright. 1940. “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motives.” American Sociological Review 5: 904-13.

Passuth, Patricia. 1987. “Age Hierarchies within Children’s Groups.” Sociological Studies of Child Development 2: 185-203.

Schuessler, Karl, and Anselm Strauss. 1950. “A Study of Concept Learning by Scale Analysis.” American Sociological Review 15: 752-62.

Stouffer, Samuel, et. al. 1949. The American Soldier. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Strauss, Anselm. 1952. “The Development and Transformation of Monetary Meanings in the Child.” American Sociological Review 17: 275-286.

Strauss, Anselm. 1954. “The Development of Conceptions of Rules in Children.” Child Development 25: 193-208.

Strauss, Anselm. 1959. Mirrors and Masks . New York: Free Press.

Strauss, Anselm, et. al. 1964. Psychiatric Ideologies and Institutions. New York: Basic Books.

Strauss, Anselm, and Karl Schuessler. 1951. “Socialization, Logical Reasoning, and Concept Development in the Child.” American Sociological Review 16: 514-23.

Zelizer, Viviana A. 1989. “The Social meaning of Money: “Special Monies.”“ American Journal of Sociology 95: 342-77.


*Lindesmith and Strauss produced the first systematic statement of symbolic interactionist social psychology in their pioneering text, Social Psychology (1956).

**The following is based on conversations with Strauss in the summer of 1989.

*Antin explains that medrabregmadzian is “a compound verb built on the infinitive bregmadzian which is transparently composed of the verbalizing infintive ending plus the stem brega while medra is is an adverbial prefix itself composed of two parts med-a meaning more than and the infix r an intensifier expressing the notion of surpassing all possibility so that medra meant “impossibly many” or “much” or simply “too much,”“ etc. The entire essay develops this and similar notions in a way that, fanciful as this excerpt may seem, is quite relevant to Strauss” analysis.