This panel explores the role of moral discourses in the everyday praxis of class distinction. Papers will address the formation and function of class moralities from respectability to liberal cosmopolitanism, as well as the implications of these moralities in terms of differential capitalisms.
Moral discourses emerge repeatedly in discussions of class. From Marx and Simmel to Bourdieu, Foucault and Skeggs, scholars have directly and indirectly addressed the formation and function of class moralities. Skeggs, for example, has argued that claims to respectability, particularly valorisation of restraint in consumption and sexuality, are central mechanisms by which middle classes demarcate themselves from working and elite classes. There is also an incipient recognition of how middle-classness is performatively constructed through reflexive liberalism and cosmopolitanism as a means of distancing from the putatively backward and provincial (racist, sexist, homophobic) working class. Somewhat belatedly, we are beginning to understand that differential capitalisms, and associated class moralities, are at the core of globalization agendas (Tsing 2005; 2013). In these moralities, the intersections of class, gender, 'race' and nationalism are readily indexed. Despite the prevalence of class-based moralities, there has been little attempt in anthropology to draw this material into a comprehensive understanding of the relationships between value and values in the everyday praxis of class distinction. Questions addressed by papers in this panel include: Do parallels in the moral materials from which class is made in different contexts suggest the emergence of, for example, a global elite and a global middle class? Are all judgements of taste moral judgements? Is morality reducible to the pursuit of self-interest and power? Do those who value morality make a virtue of necessity, stressing moral values because they have no other resources through which to improve their social position?