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Capitalism between market, violence, and morality

Wann 19.11.2010
von 09:00 bis 18:00
Wo FRIAS Seminarraum EG, Albertstr. 19
Kontakttelefon +49(0)761-203 97377
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Sandra Maß, Junior Fellow and Angelika Epple, University of Bielefeld


Capitalism between market, violence, and morality.

On the legitimacy of economic behaviour.

Although economic rules have always been linked to the legitimacy of the social and moral order, economic legitimacy has always been highly controversial. Could the industrial capitalism be based on slavery and child labour? Can the global economy of today rest upon the exploitation of low-wage countries without any social standards? Questions about the ethical limits of economic growth also dominate public debates of today.

These questions of economic legitimacy accompanied the historical development of capitalism and reached a new dimension with the increasing integration of the world economy in the 19th Century. One did not have to be a Marxist to critique the moral problems of the capitalist economy. Even the most convinced free-traders had to consider the morality of their actions, legitimizing their actions by pointing to the expected moral, technical, and social progress.

The history of capitalism has recently gained increasing scientific attention again, not least because of the current crisis of the economic system. Kenneth Pommeranz has analysed the institutional conditions that lead to the “Great Divergence” since the late 18th Century, which subsequently divided the world into winner and losers.

The workshop in general concentrates on questions of legitimacy and morally responsible economic behaviour in the face of the violence that we observe simultaneously and in connection with the capitalist system, such as slavery and child labour: What were the moral limits of economic behaviour? How did contemporaries semantically legitimize the use of violence and exploitation? How were the boundaries between accepted and non-acceptable behaviour questioned and shifted? Which ethical arguments were used to draw these lines and rules of economic behaviour? How and where were these rules negotiated? For whom did these rules apply? Who was as a matter of principle considered to be incapable of moral economic behaviour? What was the relevance of these discourses? Were global effects or transnational influences present in the debates and how were they thematised?

The main question of the conference is not whether the capitalist economy can be morally legitimate. Rather the aim is to historicise the borders of market, violence, and morality which seem even more necessary in the face of the current crisis of capitalism.

Programme (pdf-file)