Social justice and democratic stability

  One thing I find interesting about the sustained demonstrations and protests in Madison, Wisconsin is the fact that people on the streets do not seem to be chiefly motivated by personal material interests. Rather, the passion and the sustainability of the protests against Governor Walker's plans seem to derive from an outrage felt by …

Cooperation

How important is cooperation in a market society? First, what is cooperation? Suppose a number of individuals occupy a common social and geographical space. They have a variety of individual interests and things they value, and they have outcomes they'd like to bring about. Some of those outcomes are purely private goods, and some can …

Polanyi on the market

Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation is a classic statement of a polar position in the issue of the universality of instrumental rationality and market institutions in explaining concrete historical circumstances in the recent and distant past. Polanyi maintains that the concept of economic rationality is a very specific historical construct that applies chiefly to the …

Subsistence ethic as a causal factor

In his pathbreaking 1976 book, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia, James Scott offers an explanation of popular politics based on the idea of a broadly shared "subsistence ethic" among the underclass people of Vietnam and Malaysia. Earlier postings (hidden transcripts, moral economy) have discussed several aspects of Scott's …

Analyzing peasant consciousness

painting: Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners (1857)painting: Edward H. Corbould, Hetty and Captain Donnithorne in Mrs. Poyser's DairyJames Scott is a scholar who has shed more light on the mentality and agency of rural people than almost any other since the reinvigoration of peasant studies in the 1970s. Scott's book The Moral Economy of the Peasant: …

Norms and deliberative rationality

Why do people cooperate? That is, what motivates individuals to come together to share labor and resources in pursuit of a common good from which they cannot be excluded -- fighting fires, hunting marauding tigers, cleaning up a public beach? Standard rational choice theory, and its application to problems of individual rationality in group settings, …

"Moral economy" as a historical social concept

The concept of a "moral economy" has proved useful in attempting to describe and explain the contentious behavior of peasants in response to onerous social relations. Essentially, it is the idea that peasant communities share a set of normative attitudes concerning the social relations and social behaviors that surround the local economy: the availability of …

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