Moral Discourse in Economic Contexts

Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


The connection between morals and markets, once a central concern of the discipline of sociology, now finds itself the focus of renewed popular and academic interest. We consider these relationships between moral codes and various aspects of market society through the lens of language, specifically the different forms of moral discourse that perpetually surround economic activity. Our review focuses on discourse produced by both individuals and institutions in three different areas of the literature: identity construction relative to the labor market, decision-making and boundary-maintenance in market environments, and the shared discourses that legitimate key aspects of market structures and economic systems. A theme across these literatures concerns the ways in which individuals use moral discourse to both legitimate their own economic activities and decisions even as these same discourses are shaped in key ways by the institutions of market society, such as the workplace. Accordingly, we argue that language represents a key link between the institutions that structure economic order (the workplace, corporations, governments, and families) and the larger moral codes that sustain them. We conclude that analyzing moral discourse can help to identify deeper dimensions of existing economic inequalities as well as imaging some of their solutions.


Labor Market Moral Ideal Moral Code Moral Discourse Economic Sociology 



The authors wish to thank Stephen Vaisey for his useful comments on an earlier version of this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Princeton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.Wheaton CollegeWheatonUSA

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