ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment


Virtue in the marketplace

Location Quincentenary Building, Wadsworth Room
Date and Start Time 20 June, 2014 at 09:00


Laia Soto Bermant (University of Helsinki) email
Ammara Maqsood (University of Oxford) email
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This panel examines how 'the moral' and 'the economic' are produced through everyday practices as separate spheres of action and thought by bringing together papers that examine the connections between moral values, consumption practices and economic exchange in the marketplace.

Long Abstract

This panel will explore the relationship between morality, consumption and economic exchange. Anthropology has long recognised that moral values are not 'timeless' or 'natural' entities, but locally contingent and historically produced systems of thought and action that are not isolable from practical concerns. Yet the illusion of a discrete moral domain separate from economic interests continues to inform conceptions of virtue, morality and hospitality in different societies. In recent times, anthropologists have used hospitality as a site to not only question the arbitrariness of the boundaries between the moral and economic domain, but also their inter-connectedness. Little work, however, has been conducted that has explored these connections and disconnections through the lens of morality and virtue. How is this division - between morality, on the one hand, and economic exchange, on the other - produced and reproduced through everyday practices at home and in the marketplace? How are systems of morality and virtue connected with systems of exchange, particularly in contexts (such as smuggling, border trade, informal or unregulated industries) where there are no 'formal' rules in the marketplace. This panel thus aims to tease out the different ways in which the 'moral' and 'economic' domains are at once interlinked and dependent on each other, but are also able to perpetuate themselves as discrete and separate spheres of action.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Veiled designer-entrepreneurs, virtues and markets

Author: Elena Magdalena Craciun (National School of Political and Administrative Sciences)  email


This paper draws upon an ethnographic study of the ways in which veiled designer-entrepreneurs position themselves on the competitive market for fashionable Islamic dress in Turkey in order to illustrate how and why morality and economy can continuously be articulated and disarticulated.

Long Abstract

Turkey accommodates a vibrant market for religiously appropriate yet fashionable clothes. In the recent years, clothing companies have diversified existing lines of Islamic dress or have introduced lines designed specifically with pious Muslim women in mind; new companies have been established in response to the demand for fashionable Islamic dress; and a large number of designer-entrepreneurs, secular and conservative, have begun working for this market. In such a competitive environment, veiled designer-entrepreneurs - especially those who entered this market during its early years of existence, motivated by their own experiences of being unable to find clothes which expressed both piety and desire to be fashionable - use distinctive strategies to carve a place for themselves in the market. They emphasise their own religiosity and, thus, sensibility to covering requirements and ability to choose materials, create garments and assemble outfits that respect them. They bring to the foreground specific acts of piety and the practice of piety. They portray themselves as pious Muslims. They stress that they are the only ones who do 'the right thing to do': their creations are not exclusively meant to elicit aesthetic appreciation and generate profit; they are also meant to reflect ethical consideration and contribute to ethical cultivation. Drawing upon interviews conducted with veiled designer-entrepreneurs in Istanbul, and on media and social media commentary on their work in particular and Islamic fashion in general, this paper focuses on how these veiled designer-entrepreneurs bring virtue in the marketplace and incessantly articulate and disarticulate morality and economy.

Ghostly trade: morality, markets and the unfortunate dead in contemporary Viet Nam

Author: Marina Marouda (University of Sussex)  email


The paper is concerned with the relation between morality and the market through exploring the tensions and strains inhabiting a series of ritual practices that centre on providing relief to hungry ghosts as carried out in contemporary Viet Nam.

Long Abstract

The paper is concerned with a series of ritual practices that centre on providing relief to hungry ghosts as carried out in contemporary Viet Nam. It focuses on instances of alms offered and gifts given to destitute souls that wander marketplaces, often with unclear intentions. The ritual offerings made by shopkeepers, petty entrepreneurs and market-stall owners have, in recent years, grown significantly in terms of intensity, scale and value. The paper argues that such exchanges form a ritual technology aimed at staving off potentially malevolent influences and neutralising threats that could interfere with entrepreneurs' success in trade. Furthermore, it highlights the uncertainty and ambivalence of motivations that drive such exchanges with the said ambivalence applying equally to ghosts and humans.

Vietnamese charitable practices towards ghosts are not simply driven by an awareness of the sufferings of others. Ethical concerns and virtues such as those of compassion and kindness are undeniably cultivated by religious training in Buddhist teachings. Yet everyday acts of benevolence are also driven by widespread anxieties. The menace the ghosts present in terms of the power they have over the fortune and wellbeing of the living is not without significance. Such menace has gained recognition in contemporary Viet Nam as the process of marketization has taken hold. This is a process marked by an increase in the numbers of the newly prospering and growing socioeconomic inequalities and experienced through intense doubts about the legitimacy of other's people wealth and uncertainties about the permanence of one's own riches.

To pay and not to pay: moral regimes of debt economies in Russian towns

Authors: Ivan Pavlyutkin (National Research University Higher School of Economics)  email
Grigory Yudin (National Research University - Higher School of Economics)  email


In this paper we suggest that debt plays an ambiguous and context-dependent role in reproducing the borderline between private interests and communal virtue.

Long Abstract

Recent research in anthropology of debt has shown that debt and credit don't necessarily fall on either side of the "moral/economic" and "virtue/vice" dichotomies (Peebles 2010; Graeber 2011; Gregory 2012). In this paper we suggest that debt plays an ambiguous and context-dependent role in reproducing the borderline between private interests and communal virtue. Drawing upon the data collected in two small towns, Kologriv and Myshkin, we compare various debt institutions in Russia and contrast alternative moral regimes of economic exchange.

In a closed community with limited access to external resources (Kologriv) conflicts between entrepreneurs (shopkeepers) and their customers over the moral ambiguity of profit-seeking within community are temporarily solved through debt books. Debts enable vendors and buyers to avoid immediate framing of their relationships as either market exchange (which would lead to debasement of community) or gift exchange (which would make profit-seeking entrepreneurship impossible).

Myshkin, on the contrary, is notable for a huge flow of tourists, which makes local entrepreneurs less dependent on local community and unwilling to credit their customers. This results in shifting the boundary between moral economy and self-interest and opens room for invasion of money-lenders and retail chains from the outside. Whereas in Kologriv debt suspends the distinction between the 'moral' and the 'economic' and thus protects members of community from mutual estrangement, in Myshkin it translates 'moral' relationships into 'economic' and thus clears the way for strangers and outsiders.

Architecture and ethics in Dongdaemun Market , Seoul

Author: Raymond Lucas (University of Manchester)  email


This paper considers the morality felt to underly architecture and urban design interventions in central Seoul. The city's markets can be described as resisting the gentrification intended by the city government with the rendering of spaces as 'sacred' rather than usable.

Long Abstract

There is often an inherent virtue ascribed to resisting gentrification, understood in urbanism and architectural debates as a form of commodification which operates to move working class communities out of an area through financial instruments such as property and rental cost increases - the gradual moving in of a wealthier population seen as a success story by the city authorities - instead of real improvements for the population who were already there. Is it unethical for architects to intervene here?

This paper shall consider the most recent substantial interventions, the Cheonggyecheon Restoration, which removed a large elevated expressway, replacing it with a 5km linear park arranged around a stream and managed wetland environment; and Dongdaemun Design plaza by 'star architect' Zaha Hadid, a scheme an unspecified and uncertain purpose which replaced an old baseball stadium used as a Flea Market and finally the Namdaemun Gate & City Hall redevelopments, key symbols of Korean nationalism against Japanese colonial history.

Anthropologies drawn from the works of James Gibson shall form one aspect of this discussion, not the regularly theorised notion of affordances so frequently cited in design, but the idea of surfaces, medium, and substances recently identified by Ingold as a crucial reinterpretation of conventional ideas of space and place. Is the proliferation of surfaces available for occupation behind the success of Cheonggyecheon and the paucity of and undifferentiated nature of the continuously unfurling surface behind the failure of DDP?

"Like playing a game where you don't know the rules": investing meaning in intercultural cash transactions

Author: Michelle MacCarthy (University of Bergen)  email


Cross-cultural cash transactions can become morally ambiguous sites of encounter, wherein differing understandings of money’s agency lead to misunderstandings about the very nature of the exchange, both as material fact and as social act.

Long Abstract

When tourists visit cultural tourism destinations, the primary form of interaction between visitors and local residents is in the exchange of money for material objects and performances. While purchase of cultural commodities in tourism contexts may appear to be simple market transactions, they are often in fact morally fraught sites of ambiguous interaction, invested with disparate meanings by different participants. Drawing on Bloch and Parry's (1989) analysis of the symbolism of money and its relationship to culturally constructed ideas about production, consumption, circulation, and exchange, this article examines the conflicting and contested views of cash transactions and other types of exchange in meetings between tourists and Trobriand Islanders in Papua New Guinea. I argue that intercultural exchange in tourism is not necessarily a straightforward commodity exchange, but evokes social relations that are often quite differently conceptualized by the producers and consumers of touristic products, leading to moral judgments about the act of transaction and the intent or effect of such transactions on the social other.

Goodwill, free will, and the labour market as a site of ethical action in the Japanese animation industry

Author: Tomohiro Morisawa (Stockholm School of Economics)  email


Based on 12-months fieldwork, this paper examines the mutual indebtedness of moral sensibilities and paid labour in the context of commercial animation making in Tokyo, Japan.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the mutual indebtedness of moral sensibilities and paid labour in the context of commercial animation making in Tokyo, Japan. Based on 12-months fieldwork, the paper ethnographically focuses on young animation makers who have to work extremely long hours with little job security as a path toward the realisation of their dreams. The concept of 'labour market' is one not many anthropologists use as part of their standard analytical lexicon. Yet I argue the ethnographic look at the labour market of the Japanese animation industry can expose the entanglements of the moral and the economic vividly with broader anthropological implications; for it is where labour, arguably the most controversial commodity since Adam Smith, becomes striped of its moral qualities and transformed into one of many economic resources for capitalist production.

Monozukuri and Machizukuri: crafts and community in contemporary Japan

Author: Stephen Robertson  email


A case study of a Japanese shopping district (shōtengai) in Nagano Prefecture suggests that partnerships between private enterprise and civil society can draw on traditional patterns of exchange to realize new forms of succession for moral economies of neighbourhood sociality.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the contemporary plight of Japan's shōtengai, traditional urban shopping districts that have long been synonymous with moral economies of neighbourhood sociality. In urban and peri-urban communities throughout Japan, demographic aging, economic stagnation, and shifting retail and consumption patterns have resulted in the widespread transformation of these once-bustling spaces into shuttered and silent shop fronts that have become symbols of nostalgia for a lost sense of organic community. Aging merchants and residents alike are increasingly faced with a generalized sense of an ending that resonates in individual lives and collective imaginings. Yet the subjective immediacy of this crisis is tempered by the objective reality that life must go on for those who remain, and that new patterns can emerge where others have passed into memory. Drawing on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in Nagano Prefecture, I discuss the experience of a shopping district that has attracted nationwide interest as the focus of concerted efforts by merchants in the private sector and civil society organizations as an experimental model for community succession. Two conclusions are drawn. Firstly, I argue that this partnership between the private and public spheres complicates analytical models of civil society as the "nonstate, nonmarket sector" in Japan. Secondly, by exploring the implications of novel practices of succession for contemporary discourses of local identity, I suggest that a focus on the creative potential inherent in entrepreneurial innovation offers a window into myriad communal futures.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.