The Moral Embeddedness of Economic Action

Which role does morality play in economic life?

One of the central tenets of economic sociology is that economic life - even in capitalist societies - is always embedded in non-economic life, be it the trust-generating social networks that grease the wheels of markets, the ‘reproductive’ work in families that makes ‘productive’ work possible, or the moral economies that justify the ‘real’ ones. It is this later phenomenon, the essential and continuing moral contestedness of capitalism, and the pervasiveness of (stymied) moral impulses in capitalist life that have aroused my interest in the moral embeddedness of economic action.

The Spirit of Capitalism

In my empirical work, I have used the concept of the spirit of capitalism to make sense of the ways in which normative ideas motivate, legitimize, and orient the actions of capitalist actors. Drawing on a long tradition of scholarship that ranges from Sombart to Weber to Boltanski and Chiapello, I have tried to think more empirically about both, the overt strategic uses of morality, and the more subtle ways in which moral ideas influence strategic calculations.

You can read more about my thinking on the capitalist spirit in my paper(s) on the spirit of capitalism; and you can read more about my thinking about the relationship between capitalism and morality in my (overly lengthy and learned) master thesis, which you can download here.