chapter  4
The FAIR Money Collective
ByMichael Scroggins
Pages 14

This chapter describes the activities of the FAIR Money collective, a project that explicitly encourages amateur participation in social research;1 research that encompasses Conrad Arensberg’s (1981) understanding that “personalized ethnography” encompasses both empirical and conceptual work; research that owes a debt to Sol Tax’s action anthropology.2 In this sense, FAIR Money is a polemic whose existence argues that working with unexpected consociates, or on problems of local interest, need not mean abandoning conceptual development. The FAIR Money collective, to date, has been animated by an interest in

payday lending within Silicon Valley.3 The existence of two financial systems, one with beneficial terms for the upper and middle class and another with punitive terms for the working class, is especially apparent in Silicon Valley. Due to the brute fact of credit scoring in 21st century America, this difference has a ramifying effect on social mobility. The brute fact of dual financial systems is obvious to anyone driving from East

Palo Alto to the Stanford campus. And as the drive might suggest, the solution to this problem is often stated in terms of the presence, or lack, of knowledge; in terms of who is, and who is not, financially literate. This speaks to a wider pattern in American life of producing and creating (and exporting) educational initiatives as solutions to social problems.4 FAIR Money has eschewed assumptions about the presence or absence of knowledge, in favor of starting with an empirical description of the ordinary financial life of its research participants. My initial involvement with the FAIR Money collective stemmed from a long-

held interest in collectives, hackerspaces, and amateur scientific societies and has been sustained by the intellectual appeal of working with my FAIR Money consociates. The collective form of organizing demands that all aspects of the FAIR Money’s research are subject to deliberation and debate at each step. In this sense, the slow, deliberate pace of FAIR Money’s research has a strong affinity with the tempo of

traditional anthropological fieldwork. In contrast to much hastily done ethnographic work within NGOs and in corporations, the analysis and conceptual development flowing out of FAIR Money’s fieldwork is allowed time to develop and deepen through debate and deliberation. If the project appears radical it is only because field research in the anthropological tradition retains the power to render visible both the unexpected and the uncomfortable. This chapter is organized into three sections. The first section addresses the

organization and history of the FAIR Money collective. It begins with a brief overview of the collective’s organizing principles, then narrates a longer history of FAIR Money from its inception to the present day and ends with a discussion of participating in the project. The second section presents a synopsis of FAIR Money’s research on predatory lending in Silicon Valley. The chapter closes with a brief reflection on the history of practicing anthropology with unexpected consociates.