Moral values and economic action in Eurasia

Conference of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology on the foundations of the twenty-first-century economy

November 29, 2017

The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology will hold a conference titled “Moral Economies: Work, Values and Economic Ethics” from 6 to 9 December 2017 at the Leucorea on Collegienstraße 62 in Wittenberg. More than 30 scholars will discuss their research on topics ranging from family businesses to the moral basis of economic action in Eurasia. The keynote address will be held by social philosopher Hans Joas, who will talk about the main theses of his new book, Die Macht des Heiligen (The Power of the Sacred). The language of the conference is English.

Anthropological field studies of family businesses
The conference “Moral Economies: Work, Values and Economic Ethics” is organized by members of the Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’, who explore the connections between moral traditions and economic action with reference to Max Weber’s influential writings on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Seven doctoral students will present empirical findings from their field research on family businesses in China, Denmark, India, Myanmar, Russia, Turkey, and Hungary and discuss their ideas with international experts, many of whom will also present papers. The conference is part of the project “Realising Eurasia: civilisation and moral economy in the 21st century” (REALEURASIA). Funded by the European Research Council, the project was launched in July 2014 and will run for a total of five years. Project head is Prof. Dr. Chris Hann, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.

Max Weber in the context of social anthropology
A key theoretical reference point for the project is Max Weber and his writing on world religions and theory of the development of a typically occidental rationalism. “The texts in which Weber addresses the connections between an economic ethic and business success have been tremendously influential in the social sciences. That’s why Weber is so important for our project,” Hann explains. “However, it is undeniable that Weber focused largely on western Europe. Therefore we want to go beyond Weber and use empirical field research as the basis for showing the close interconnections between civilizational traditions, values, and the economy throughout Eurasia.”

Traditions and values in Eurasia
“Our project is exceptional in that we consider Europe and Asia as a single entity. Several decades ago, British anthropologist Jack Goody argued that across the continent, from the Mediterranean to the Pacific, there are striking similarities that can be traced as far back as the end of the Bronze Age, around 1000 BC,” Hann says. The family-run and small-scale businesses studied by the research group extend from Lutheran Denmark to Confucian China. The project is based above all on theories and methods from economic anthropology. Hann: “Family businesses reveal most clearly the ways in which economic behaviour is shaped by value-oriented factors and the degree to which these values have a religious basis that runs counter to capitalist utilitarian imperatives.”

Moral economy and Eurasian civilization
In addition to the concept of Eurasia, the concepts of moral economy and civilization play a key role in the REALEURASIA project. Hann explains: “If we want to study a continent like Eurasia empirically, concepts like ‘culture’, ‘community’, or ‘society’ that make up the standard toolkit of the social sciences are insufficient. In order to examine the underlying resemblances between larger social configurations, we find it helpful to use the term civilization as theorized by Marcel Mauss.” Another source of inspiration for Hann and his research group is the British historian E.P. Thompson’s term moral economy. “The concept refers to economic behaviour in which moral norms play a central role. At our conference in Wittenberg we will explore to what extent a common moral economy can be identified across Eurasia, as a foundation for ideas about the redistribution of resources and the responsibilities of governments, which led ultimately to the development of the welfare state in the twentieth century.”

Studying global social change
The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is one of the world’s leading centres for research in socio-cultural anthropology. It was established in 1999 by Chris Hann and Günther Schlee, and moved to its permanent buildings at Advokatenweg 36 in Halle/Saale in 2001. Marie-Claire Foblets joined the Institute as Director of the department ‘Law & Anthropology’ in 2012.
Common to all research projects at the Max Planck Institute is the comparative analysis of social change; it is primarily in this domain that its researchers contribute to anthropological theory, though many programmes also have applied significance and political topicality. Fieldwork is an essential part of almost all projects. Some 175 researchers from over 30 countries currently work at the Institute. In addition, the Institute also hosts countless guest researchers who join in the scholarly discussions.

Registration is requested; please contact:
Dr. Lale Yalçın-Heckmann

Conference programme

More information about the research project REALEURASIA

Contact for this press release
Prof. Dr. Chris Hann
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Department 'Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia'
Advokatenweg 36, 06114 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: 0345 2927-201

Prof. Dr. Lale Yalçın-Heckmann
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Department 'Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia'
Advokatenweg 36, 06114 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: 0345 2927-221

PR contact
Stefan Schwendtner
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Press and Public Relations
Advokatenweg 36, 06114 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: 0345 2927-425

Go to Editor View