The barriers of banking

Ann-Christine Frandsen, Elton G McGoun

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Bank architecture has always been about barriers, both material and immaterial, and in both respects, we argue here, structuring our ways of thinking about wealth and money. This paper offers an approach to addressing bank architecture as a whole, from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia (Frandsen and McGoun, 2019) to its current manifestations in such forms as financial markets and on the Internet. In doing so the paper conceptualizes wealth moving as constantly labile as well as stable, constituting ever-moving ranges of value positions that maintain both stability in accounting statements and an ability to adjust them across time and space. Two functions can be identified for the barrier, in each of which the barrier also operates as a threshold. First the physical barrier is the material means to enclosing the physical manifestations and embodiments of wealth of a given era, keeping danger out while allowing initiates, e.g. those who guard and use that wealth, in. Second the immaterial barrier guarantees that the archives in which wealth as measured via money of account to present themselves as an accurate record of the bank’s current wealth and of the current claims and uses of that wealth. This paper explores illustrates how physical and ‘psychological’ barriers interact in three different times and places—ancient Mesopotamia, 19th century America, and the 21st century Internet. It thereby seeks to open up the possibility of seeing continuities as well as differences in the long-term development of bank architecture. In that regard it seeks to suggest that bank architecture continues to form barriers as thresholds in both material and immaterial ways even in the case of 21st century banking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-31
Number of pages8
JournalBulletin: newsletter from the EABH
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2020


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