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Accepted Paper:

Ethical Capital: Virtue, Subjectivity and the Changing Face of Welfare  

Author:

Steph Grohmann (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This Leverhulme Trust funded project critically examines the notion of 'ethical capital' (analogous to 'social capital') in the context of UK homelessness services at the transition from the welfare state to marketised 'service delivery'.

Paper long abstract:

Within contemporary capitalism, the ethical has become what magazine Forbes calls "a highly influential asset" (31.1.2019). Whether 'Corporate Social Responsibility', 'social entrepreneurship' or the moral imperatives of the labour market, organisations and individuals must increasingly demonstrate that they possess certain ethical dispositions, or virtues, in order to gain access to markets and resources. Within the study of Business and Organisations, this phenomenon is gaining traction under the label 'ethical capital', in a parallel to the more familiar 'social capital'. However, this notion has so far gone unexamined within the anthropological study of ethics.

This presentation will draw on data from an ongoing, 3 year ethnographic study of how ethics-as-an-asset shapes the relationship between providers and recipients of marketised welfare in the UK. From the moral requirements of competitive government tendering processes, to the pressure on service users to perform the ethical stance of a potential "success story", I will critically examine economists' notions of 'ethical capital' as an unproblematic category, or even a remedy for the real or perceived ethical failures of the capitalist economy. Contrary to this view, I will argue that within contemporary welfare delivery, the rise of virtues as market assets serves to reinforce existing, and produce new, inequalities and exclusions.

Panel P038
Human worth in austere times: transformative welfare regimes, human needs and public policy