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The Moral Dimensions of Economic Life in Africa

While orthodox views and mainstream analyses tend to exclude morality from the investigation and understanding of economic life, in reality there are always various moral dimensions at play when it comes to people’s economic thinking, practices and relationships, on one hand, and the structures in which they operate, on the other. It is important to pay attention to, and better comprehend, these dimensions, for various reasons: across the world, the moral qualities of contemporary capitalism, and the moral climate in particular economic sectors are being increasingly questioned in the public sphere. Discussions about the trajectories of moral change in contemporary economies (and societies more broadly) foster concerns about crisis and decline, as well as calls for moral renewal. Furthermore, awareness of global and national socio-economic inequalities, and demands for stronger redistributive measures, are growing under the impulse of social movements, radical politics, and academic debates.

In its diversity and complexity, Africa is a privileged site to discuss the moral dimensions of economic life. A number of African economies are characterised by rapid change, substantial foreign intervention and related societal restructuring (including a locking-in of a particular variant of capitalism), uneven levels of penetration of capitalism, the persistence of poverty, informality and precarity, and structural transformations that often entail growth and material change as well as rising inequalities across classes and locations. Debates also flourish about the impact of global connections and new technologies, the cultural changes that have come with liberalisation and marketisation, the rise of a new middle class, and the distinctiveness and future of ‘Africapitalism’. Increasingly vocal in contesting the existing power, wealth, and inequality structures, social movements and political oppositions challenge the operations and outcomes of the current political economy.

In this workshop (which is a follow-up of a successful first workshop hosted at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), Uppsala, Sweden, last June) we will look more closely at the morality-economy nexus. Exploring this nexus has both an empirical and theoretical relevance. Moralities have become a central theme in contemporary social sciences. There has been a revival in the use of the concept of ‘moral economy’ in particular; there is a diverse scholarship that has employed it to analyse political conflicts, resistance and social movements, patterns of subsistence, economic behaviour and resource use, fraud, corruption, and violence, as well as moral change in neoliberalised economy/society more generally. We think that there is need to advance relevant theoretical debates via the use of more empirical data that analyses different case settings. In particular, the theme of the moral characteristics (including representations, repercussions, contestations) of capitalism in Africa (against the broader global context) deserves more analytical attention.

November 8-9, 2018

Fritz Thyssen Stiftung
Apostelnkloster 13-15
50672 Köln