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‘Moral Economy’: Its Conceptual History and Analytical Prospects
Södertörn University, School of Historical and Contemporary Studies, Institute of Contemporary History.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8788-101X
2015 (English)In: Journal of Global Ethics, ISSN 1744-9626, E-ISSN 1744-9634, Vol. 11, no 2, 147-162 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article challenges E.P. Thompson’s definition of ‘moral economy’ as a traditionalconsensus of crowd rights that were swept away by market forces. Instead, it suggests thatthe concept has the potential of improving the understanding of modern civil society. Moraleconomy was a term invented in the eighteenth century to describe many things.Thompson’s approach reflects only a minor part of this conceptual history. Hisunderstanding of moral economy is conditioned by a dichotomous view of history and bythe acceptance of a model according to which modern economy is not subject to moralconcerns. It is on principle problematic to confine a term conjoining two concepts asgeneral as ‘moral’ and ‘economy’ to a specific historical and social setting. Recentapproaches that frame moral economy as an emotively defined order of morals are alsomisleading since they do not address economic issues in the way they are commonlyunderstood. The most promising current approaches appear to be those that consider themoral economy of welfare, humanitarianism, and civil society. The concept of moraleconomy may help us to clarify alternative ways of ‘utility maximisation’ through theconstruction of altruistic meaning for economic transactions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 11, no 2, 147-162 p.
Keyword [en]
civil society; non-profit sector; humanitarianism; modernisation theory; political economy
National Category
History History of Ideas Economics Globalization Studies
Research subject
Historical Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-27986DOI: 10.1080/17449626.2015.1054556ScopusID: 2-s2.0-84938516599Local ID: 481/42/2012OAI: diva2:843628
The Moral Economy of Global Civil Society: A History of Voluntary Food Aid
Swedish Research Council, 2012–614
Available from: 2015-07-29 Created: 2015-07-29 Last updated: 2016-11-02Bibliographically approved

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Götz, Norbert
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