Moral judgments that justify or vilify different economic arrangements on the basis of some final value are extremely common in the social sciences. Since the beginning of political economy, market institutions have elicited strong and rival views across a broad spectrum of positions. Those who marvel at the coordinating power of the invisible hand confront those who revile capitalism’s inherently exploitative nature. The celebration of efficiency faces the condemnation of waste. And democratic interpretations of laissez faire meet the hard reality of growing social inequalities. There is no economy that is not political and moral at the same time.
Social scientists, of course, are not the only ones to judge the economy while living in it. E.P. Thompson famously coined the term « moral economy » to denote the inchoate feelings and obligations that orient workers, and make them see certain courses of action (such as riots) as legitimate or illegitimate. To the extent that individuals and institutions act on them, those judgments help constitute economic lines of action, too.
Finally, economic instruments and technologies lay down, and perform, moralized rules about what is expected of economic actors. All exchange systems embed implicit or explicit codes of moral worth in their specific designs and rules; all economic institutions make and remake kinds of moral beings by shifting their classificatory schemes or treatment algorithms. These « economic moralities, » typically fashioned by the action of markets and states, interact more or less peacefully with people’s « moral economies. » Indeed many of today’s pressing political conflicts may be understood in terms of the hiatus between these two social forms.
The 2016 SASE conference in Berkeley, California, hosted by the University of California, Berkeley from 24 – 26 June 2016, will seek contributions that explore the relationship between economy and morality from a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives, reaching back to SASE’s origins and moving forward into new territories. Fiat Lux!
President and Program Director: Marion Fourcade ()
Local Organizing Committee: Neil Fligstein, Heather Haveman, and Annalee Saxenian