The Contested Moralities of Markets

Simone Schiller-Merkens & Philip Balsiger (eds.)(2019)
Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 63.
Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited

Philip Balsiger & Simone Schiller-Merkens: Moral struggles in and around markets (chap. 1), pp. 3-26.

“Moral struggles in and around markets abound in contemporary societies where markets have become the dominant form of economic coordination. Reviewing research on morality and markets across disciplinary boundaries, this introductory essay suggests that a moral turn can currently be observed in scholarship, and draws a direct connection to recent developments in the sociology of morality. The authors introduce the chapters in the present volume “The Contested Moralities of Markets.” In doing so, the authors distinguish three types of moral struggles in and around markets: struggles around morally contested markets where the exchange of certain goods on markets is contested; struggles within organizations that are related to an organization’s embeddedness in complex institutional environments with competing logics and orders of worth; and moral struggles in markets where moral justifications are mobilized by a variety of field members who act as moral entrepreneurs in their striving for moralizing the economy. Finally, the authors highlight three properties of moral struggles in contemporary markets: They (1) arise over different objects, (2) constitute political struggles, and (3) are related to two broader social processes: market moralization and market expansion. The introduction concludes by discussing some of the theoretical approaches that allow particular insights into struggles over morality in markets. Collectively, the contributions in this volume advance our current understanding of the contested moralities of markets by highlighting the sources, processes, and outcomes of moral struggles in and around markets, both through tracing the creation, reproduction, and change of underlying moral orders and through reflecting the status and power differentials, alliances, and political strategies as well as the general cultural, social, and political contexts in which the struggles unfold.”


Nadai, Eva/Canonica, Alan: The Moralization of Labor: Establishing the Social Responsibility of Employers for Disabled Workers (chap. 5), pp. 87-106.


As a “fictitious commodity” (Polanyi), that cannot be separated from the human being who is its owner, labor has a special moral significance. However, this moral quality is not a given but must be asserted in struggles over the value of labor. With the example of disabled workers in Switzerland, this chapter examines the moralization of labor as a means to revalue a category of workers who range far down the labor queue. Moralization mediates the tension between the normative societal goal of inclusion for disabled people and the freedom of employers to select the most “productive” workers. Drawing on the theoretical approach of the Economics of Convention the chapter analyzes the valuation frames proposed by economic and welfare state actors in political debates over the establishment of the Swiss disability insurance and the role of employers regarding occupational integration. A core concept used in negotiations of the value of disabled labor in the public arena and within individual businesses is the “social responsibility” of employers. Historically, employers’ associations successfully promoted the liberal principle of voluntary responsibility to prevent state interference in the labor market. In contrast, disability insurance argues predominantly within the market and the industrial convention to “sell” its clientele in the context of employer campaigns and case-related interactions with employers. Only recently, both sides started to reframe the employment of disabled people as a win–win affair, which would reconcile economic self-interest and the common good.”


Sarah Lenz and Sighard Neckel (2019): Moral self-commitment and economic expansion (chap. 7), pp. 127-148.


“German ethical banks have experienced a significant increase in customers, deposits, and lending. They aim to establish a fairer banking system. But the simultaneous pursuit of social, ecological, and economic goals leaves them vulnerable to conflicting orders of worth. The authors examine the normative foundations that ethical bank employees refer to when they describe their everyday practices and identify the specific problems that arise from negotiating between moral principles and economic demands to provide insights into the impacts, constraints, and paradoxes of normatively oriented business practices. Drawing on the theoretical framework of the sociology of critique, the authors assume that moral categories, social processes of interpretation, and justification are an essential part of markets. Ethical banking is characterized by the need to meet both market-limiting and market-expanding requirements, and this particularly becomes contentious when dealing with economic growth. By analyzing ethical banks’ freely accessible documents, the authors first outline the institutional guidelines. In a second step, the authors analyze 27 qualitative interviews with employees of ethical banks to gain insights into everyday lending practices and action-guiding normative orientations. The goal of this chapter is to examine the tensions that may arise from applying normative guidelines under the condition of increasing economic requirements and to disclose the way that ethical banks negotiate between mechanisms of expansion and limitation. The analysis of this chapter points out a paradox of ethical banking: due to the banks’ economic expansion, investments corresponding to their ethical commitments tend to become a luxury they cannot afford.”