Abstract: Despite appearances, James Scott doesn’t have much to tell us about the concept of moral economy. When he invoked the idea in his famous book The Moral Economy of the Peasant, Scott used it as a label of convenience, and he found it easy to drop in later work. Scott wanted a theory of peasant behavior that tracked actual peasant beliefs about fairness, reciprocity, and legitimacy. Only a genuine attempt to interpret peasant beliefs about their situation could hope to explain peasants’ acceptance or (in extremis) rejection of the power of elites. Judgments of fairness concerning subsistence goods provided a kind of focal case, a threshold at which judgments of legitimacy could be expected to vary sharply. Scott derived this idea from sociological theories of exchange and reciprocity, not from Thompson, whose famous idea he grafted on to his already-completed book.
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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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