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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Restoring the Moral Dimension: The Sociology of Inequalities and Moral Economy

The programme aims to contribute to the understanding of moral influences on behaviour, and of how moral sentiments, norms and commitments are in turn influenced by social structures and economic pressures. It does this by means of two main projects, one on how people interpret and negotiate inequalities, particularly of class and status, in terms of their own position relative to others, and the other on moral economy - ie the moral dimensions and implications of economic activities and relationships. The research will focus on actors normative orientations, on what they value, on their dispositions and beliefs, and how these influence their behaviour, and how these are in turn influenced by their circumstances and by discourses about such matters. The quality of life depends not merely on material resources and opportunities or on recognition, but on how these relate to actors commitments, relationships and moral sentiments and norms. These matters have been under-analysed by sociology, which has been dominated by explanations of behaviour in terms of habit, discourse, convention, and pursuit of interests. At the same time, economists overwhelmingly assume the pursuit of self-interest to dominate economic behaviour. By contrast, moral philosophy and political theory has an abundance of research on morality and conceptions of the good. I therefore intend to draw upon concepts from such theory to illuminate concrete situations, and to evaluate it in relation to lay concepts and actions. The arguments developed in the programme will draw upon a wide range of published empirical studies of behaviour and attitudes relating to economic relations and inequalities, examining them in terms of their moral aspects. Moral economy, the subject of the second project, involves the study of how economic activities are influenced by moral sentiments, norms and commitments, and how these in turn are reinforced, compromised or overridden by economic pressures. In addition, moral economies involve patterns of economic responsibilities of individuals and states for others, many of them imposed through tax and welfare systems. Again, the object will be to reinterpret existing research in a way that is sensitive to the full range of normative orientations and rationales involved, and the pressures which shape these, in order to bring out the moral implications of economic arrangements. The programme will involve a combination of consolidation of work already begun and fresh initiatives growing out of this. While the proposal is for pure basic research it has implications for how empirical social science explains actions, and for the normative assessment of economic practices and conditions by policy makers. The research will be disseminated via two books - on inequalities and on moral economy - and associated articles and conference presentations. In addition, a seminar series and a colloquium on Approaches to Moral Economy will be organized