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Economy and Morality. Normativity and Economic Practices in a long 20th century

The picture is part of the art project "Occupy George". We thank Ivan Cash/Cash Studios for the kind permission to use it. For the project, visit:

Economy and morality are often perceived as separate spheres or antipodes. The network wants to put into question this opposition. We interpret economic interaction as a form of social action that is intimately connected to changing social and moral norms. We do not understand morals and morality in a normative way. Instead, we propose to analyze the concept of morality from a historical perspective, and to apply it to the analysis of economic systems, discourses and practices. Our topics of research range from critiques of capitalism and alternative modes of consumption to praises of the free market. They include theoretical discourses as well as everyday interactions and embodied practices. The adjective "moral" is therefore not identical with "good". Instead, it refers to competing and historically dynamic arrangements of normative regimes that constitute the economy as a sphere of social interaction.

The research agenda of the network contributes to three current and emerging fields: First, we contribute to the integration of social and cultural history, an aspiration that has often been called for, but so far has rarely been translated into empirical research. Secondly, we offer an innovative and interdisciplinary contribution to the research on business ethics of the last two decades. Thirdly, by using economy as its focal point, the network contributes to new research on the history of morality in the modern age. It will thereby contribute to the newly emerging field of moral history.

In its conceptual approach, the network focuses on three central categories: "knowledge", "objects" and "agency". It aims at compiling an anthology of historical sources which reflect the multiple links between morality and economy in the long 20th century, adopting a transnational and European perspective. The anthology will analyze the changing characters and functions of economic morals up until today. Our central working hypothesis is that moral arguments are progressively interpreted within a global context. They tend to transcend local, regional and national frameworks, or may even refer to future generations. At the same time, this transposition of moral arguments into a transnational and global context brings about new moral conflicts, for example when debates about the welfare state or social inequality gain new currency on a national level and are explicitly framed in an anti-global rhetoric.

We contend that these developments need to be investigated in a long-term historical perspective. The participants of the network will therefore analyze the contentious spatial, social and temporal extensions of economic morals from the late 19th century into the present.