Abstract: The concept of moral economy stems from two theoretical traditions: that of E. P. Thompson, which corresponds to the norms and obligations involved in traditional economies, and has nourished the works of social historians and political anthropologists; and that of Lorraine Daston, which characterizes the values and affects regulating the activity of a given group in a given time, and has inspired historians and anthropologists of science. This essay offers a third reading attempting to reconnect these irreconcilable approaches by considering a moral economy as the production, circulation, appropriation, and confrontation of values and affects with regard to a significant social object, such as immigration or punishment, rather than to a social group. This new approach allows us to address some of the issues raised by R. H. Tawney’s analysis of religion and by Marcel Mauss’s interpretation of the gift. Particular examples are drawn from the capitalist devaluation of human lives and the humanitarian asymmetrical relation of obligation.
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Our new issue features a dossier on the moral economy. It includes essays on the history of ethics as part of economic life, economic justice in early modern Europe, land arrangements in Mexico, and debates over religion, the gift, social rights, and land reform. We also include an essay on Nicholas Kristof’s savior narratives on sex trafficking in Cambodia and an essay reflecting on the limits of humanitarian logics for refugee camp volunteers in Greece and France.View entire issue >
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