The Moral Economy of Markets: Constituting and Resisting Relations of Power (2018-2019)


The creation of capitalist markets has been, and continues to be, a transformative process, involving the displacement of peoples from their homelands as well as the disruption of traditional norms, cultures and institutions – creating opportunities for some while discarding others to the margins. Such markets have brought disparate worlds together across geographies, identities and sociocultures, linking projects of market-driven modernization in intimate ways.

Various manifestations of the ideology of free trade have led to the emergence of massively unequal states of development and power, which has locked in the advantages of developed (rich and powerful) states, while changing the rules of the game for vulnerable populations across the globe.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will explore experiences and narratives especially of those thrown into various states of vulnerability, objectification and precarity by the voracious spread of market logic. Importantly, it also focuses on the ways in which individuals and communities speak up, resist and organize with and against various manifestations of market logic in their everyday lives.

In order to explore the ordering and disordering effects of modern market systems on vulnerable populations, the team will track capitalist markets’ emergence and deployment, while also stressing their historical circumstances, connected histories and the complex power modalities that precede, develop along with or live outside of markets. This approach seeks to open up conversations about how capitalist markets may work to target particular peoples but oftentimes work within preexisting conditions of vulnerability.

In particular, the team will examine the following key questions:

  • How do vulnerable populations reconfigure territories and lives with and against the incursions of marketizations and what can be learned from their experiences?
  • In what ways do individuals and communities navigate, operate outside of and/or defy the market’s system of dependence and precarity to find creative means of resilience, sustainability and wellbeing?
  • What lessons might be gleaned from modes of persistence, resilience and resistance that inform responses to planetary disasters, escalating inequalities, the disintegration of traditional communities, the expulsions of peoples and species and the deadening of land and seas?
  • What alternative narratives exist that may point the way toward a more equitable, just and sustainable future? And what might the role of markets be in this future?

Anticipated Outcomes

Preparatory work for an anthology for public and scholarly use; weekend seminar series on models of resilience; interdisciplinary symposium on experiences of resistance among disempowered peoples; publications in peer-reviewed journal; interactive website featuring educational resources, discussion forums, links to partner organizations and initiatives and general background information

Student Opportunities

This team is accepting applications from all students and is also currently seeking a graduate student project manager. Students seeking additional information about this team should contact Team Leaders Michaeline Crichlow and Dirk Philipsen.

The team will include four graduate students (including postdocs) and six undergraduate students. A graduate student will serve as project manager and will coordinate logistical aspects of the project, including overseeing meetings and providing mentoring.

Undergraduate team members will meet once a week under the supervision of faculty or graduate students mentors, and all students will meet with team leaders twice a month.

In close cooperation with team leaders and faculty consultants, students will design several aspects of the project and engage in interdisciplinary research in a humanities lab setting. Students will gain vital research skills and benefit from close collaboration with faculty and the project’s partners. Students will develop teamwork skills and gain experience doing independent and critical thinking. They will also be trained to question their assumptions about the economic, political and social structures of the world around them.

Students will be evaluated on the basis of recommendations made by field supervisors, assessments for project write-ups and ongoing participation. Undergraduates will receive grades on final essay submissions. Strong emphasis will be placed on engaged participation throughout the project.

Students are encouraged, but not required, to enroll in at least one of the related courses to provide a deeper context for their work on this project.

AAAS 352 The Cultural Politics of Food (Fall)

AAS 641 Postcolonial Subject/Citizens in a Neoliberal Age (Fall)

PUBPOL 284 Denial, Faith, and Reason (Fall)

AAAS 343 Migration and Human Trafficking (Spring)

PUBPOL 249 Life Within Capitalism (Spring)


Fall 2018 – Summer 2019

  • Fall 2018: Lab kick-off with series of full-team meetings in order set up team structure and foci of research; develop framework for research on identified communities; organize public events with lab participants and guest speakers; develop initial website design
  • Spring 2019: Continue research with partners; host second public event; select students for summer travel; develop and launch website; write-up findings for publication and poster presentations
  • Summer 2019: Selected students travel for on-site research with partners; finalize research findings; submit symposium papers for publication in special journal; add summer research content to website


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding

Get Involved

Apply here

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Michaeline Crichlow, Arts & Sciences-African and African American Studies*
Christine Folch, Arts & Sciences-Cultural Anthropology
Anne-Maria Makhulu, Arts & Sciences-Cultural Anthropology
Jay Pearson, Sanford School of Public Policy
Gunther Peck, Arts & Sciences-History
Dirk Philipsen, Sanford School of Public Policy*
Elizabeth Shapiro, Nicholas School of the Environment

* denotes team leader