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Max-Planck-Institut für ethnologische Forschung
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Working Paper 174

Working Paper 174

The Moral Dimension of Economy: work, workfare, and fairness in provincial Hungary


Chris Hann

Abteilung 'Resilienz und Transformation in Eurasien'

Jahr der Veröffentlichung


Working Paper 174

The bridging concept of moral economy has been productively deployed in various disciplines but recent inflationary adaptations, in line with the burgeoning anthropology of morality (or ethics), neglect the material economy (the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services). Following a critical literature review, the moral dimension of economic life is illustrated with reference to work as a value between the late 19th and early 21st centuries in Hungary. This moral dimension is highly susceptible to politicization, as becomes clear in the passage from “reform socialism” to neoliberal capitalism and ensuing changes in welfare entitlements. The present right-wing government (in power since 2010) has laid great stress on workfare in its economic and social policies. The paper considers the functioning of these schemes in two local settings and shows how discourses of work and fairness are extended into new ethical registers to justify negative attitudes toward immigrants. Investigation of the moral dimension of economy complements the paradigms of classical political economy and the neoclassical synthesis that dominates in modern mainstream economics. While all three have a role to play in economic anthropology, investigation of the moral dimension through ethnographic methods is the hallmark of a specifically anthropological contribution to the more general programme of renewing a holistic social science.

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