Political economy, moral economy, normativity and ethics in everyday life, inequality, employment and organisational life, climate change, social theory and the philosophy of social science. Postdisciplinary proposals particularly welcome!
I am keen to supervise empirical and theoretical research relating to any of the above topics, preferably pursued in a post-disciplinary manner, and having some concern for the implications for human well-being! There may be possibilities for co-supervision not only with colleagues in Sociology, but also colleagues in other departments with complementary interests. In the past I have co-supervised with colleagues in Linguistics, and I have also had links with human geography, philosophy and politics in the past. I also welcome visiting research students who are doing PhDs elsewhere but want to spend a term or two in Lancaster with some supervision from me. Please email me if you'd like to discuss research possibilities.
Undergraduate: SOCL305 Living with Capitalism
Graduate: SOCL 912 Theories of Economy and Society and SOCL 921 Contemporary Debates in Sociology: Critique and Value, plus contributions to Introduction to Philosophy of Social Science and Ethics and Social Research
I joined the department in 1993 from Sussex University. My two main interests are firstly social theory and political economy, and secondly philosophical issues in social science. My early work in the seventies and eighties was devoted to the development of radical political economic theory through the study of uneven development, and urban and regional change. I published both theoretical and empirical research in this field, including The New Social Economy: Reworking the Division of Labor (with R.A.Walker, Blackwell, 1992), and Microcircuits of Capital (with Kevin Morgan, Polity, 1988). I then worked on political economic theory itself, attempting to reconstruct it in the wake of post-Marxism and the rise of neoliberalism (Radical Political Economy: A Critique, Blackwell, 1995). On the philosophical/methodological side I have a longstanding interest in critical realism as a philosophy of and for the social sciences. This is represented in my Method in Social Science (Routledge 1992) and in Realism and Social Science (Sage, 2000).
In the latter part of the 90s I began seeking new sources for developing critiques of economic aspects of contemporary society. This began with the need to take the cultural dimensions of economic phenomena more seriously (Culture and Economy after the Cultural Turn, edited with L.J.Ray, Sage, 1999) and led to an interest in Pierre Bourdieu's analysis of economic and cultural capital and the reproduction of inequalities. I developed this last theme in my book The Moral Significance of Class (Cambridge University Press, 2005). This analyses the ethical aspects of people's experience of class inequalities - how it affects not only people's material wealth and opportunities but how people value one another and themselves, and hence their self-respect. It seeks to explain why it is common for people to be 'in denial' about class despite its continuing influence on their life chances. It uses not only social theory but ideas from moral philosophy to reinterpret empirical studies of how class is lived. It might have been subtitled 'Bourdieu with the ethics put back in'.
The search for standpoints from which critiques of contemporary social and economic arrangements can be made has thus led me to take an interest in ethics and morality in everyday life. A major focus has been on the relationship between 'moral economy' and political economy. The former is concerned with the moral or ethical influences on, and legitimations of, contemporary economic practices and forms of organisation, and how economic pressures influence ethical sentiments and norms. The objects of this assessment can range from families, capitalist and other organizations, up through the welfare state to the international division of labour i.e. a big subject! An ESRC research fellowship in 2004-5 (Res-000-27-044) gave me the opportunity to research these matters in much more depth. Arising from this, I published Why Things Matter to People: Social Science, Values and Ethical Life (2011, Cambridge University Press), which explores social science's difficulties in acknowledging and understanding people's evaluative or normative orientation to their social worlds - or in simple terms, why anything matters to them. It attributes these problems to the common modernist belief that values are purely subjective, or merely conventional, and beyond the scope of reason. This gives much social research an alienated and alienating character, in that by evading the issue of people's well-being it fails to grasp why people care about anything. It includes chapters on the weakening of 'critique' in social science, what social science can learn from ethical theories, on dignity in everyday life, on the capabilities approach to conceptions of human flourishing, and the limits on normative thinking in social science. It tries to bring together social scientific and ethical thinking through accessible, everyday examples.
I am now working on a book likely to be entitled: Moral Economy: Why We Can't Afford the Rich. This develops a critique of legitimations and consequences of contemporary forms of economic organization, and discusses popular beliefs about economic justice, particularly the view that differences in income, wealth and quality of work are deserved. It is motivated by the dramatic expansion of the economic and political power of the rich and super-rich over the last four decades. I am also interested in the struggle to stop global warming.
I'm involved in the Cultural Political Economy Research Cluster, and the Language, Ideology and Politics group run by the Linguistics Department.
Current PhD Students
Peter Denenberg: 'Fostering: Attachment, Persistence and Disruption': William Lui 'Urban-rural return migration in China'; Oznur Erdemli 'Inter-class relations in contemporary urban Turkey'; Lizzie Houghton 'University Students and Neoliberalism'; Jihyun Choi 'The failure of multiculturalism: economic and cultural dimensions'
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Activity: External academic engagement › Invited talk
Activity: External academic engagement › Invited talk