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Economic Justice

Economic Justice in Early Modern Europe (1450-1850):

Commemorating Fifty Years of E. P. Thompson’s ‘Moral Economy’


Midlands Eighteenth-Century Research Network 

Annual Workshop 

University of Warwick 

May 20-21, 2021 


To attend this virtual workshop, please click here to register.

To propose a panel or paper, please send an abtract of no more than 500 words to michelle dot nortey at warwick dot ac dot uk by March 19. 

Paper presentations will be 10 minutes to leave ample time for discussion.


To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of E. P. Thompson’s ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’ in Past and Present, the organisers of the annual workshop of the Midlands Research Network propose to assess the on-going relevance of Thompson’s analytical concept while exploring the theme of economic justice more broadly. Thompson argued that crowd rebellions in the eighteenth century should not be dismissed as the ‘irrational’ manifestation of mob psychology. They should be seen as the expression of longstanding beliefs about the obligation authorities had to ensure that the poor had access to the means of survival. The moral economy put the notion of a ‘fair price’ over ‘market price’.  


With the shift from class to culture in the 1980s, interest in the ‘moral economy’ declined. Some scholars took up the study of political economy, but they tended to focus on ideas about commercial society and how governments could best expand markets. How political-economic ideas drew from, or contradicted, popular notions of economic justice was generally neglected. This workshop invites reflections on whether the concept of the moral economy has (or could have) any relevance in current scholarship. Questions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • How have more recent historiographical concerns (such as with the emotions, postcoloniality, gender) transformed our understanding of economic justice in the early modern era? How have they altered the way we think about the interactions between the lower ranks and those in power over matters of need and fairness?
  • Are the lower classes the only group with a ‘moral economy’? Did elites have notions of socioeconomic justice?  
  • Is it helpful to think of the moral economy as instantiated only by crowds or were notions of it propelled through networks and sociability?  
  • If ‘class’ is considered to be an outmoded category of analysis, how do we account for different notions of economic fairness circulating in early modern and eighteenth-century societies? Do those notions have any social basis?  
  • Were markets and communitarian notions of economic justice necessarily opposed to each other? According to more recent scholarship, Enlightenment theories of market society incorporated morality and sympathy. How then should we rethink moral economies in light of this fact?
  • Did the development of European empires have any impact on notions of economic justice?


The workshop welcomes contributions related to the themes of economic fairness and political economy anywhere in Europe or its empire. Studies of British and non-British contexts are welcome. In addition to an introductory panel session on E. P. Thompson's concept, we invite two kinds of papers: those reflecting on the relevance of the moral economy for current scholarship and those presenting research related to the theme of economic justice.  


Scholars working in any of the Humanities or Social Sciences at all levels are welcome: faculty, postdoctoral researchers and PhD students. Contributions should run for no longer than ten minutes. This will leave time for open discussion. 


The workshop will be held virtually on Friday May 21 and Saturday May 22. Precise times will be announced once the programme is made. If you have any time constraints for those days, please indicate them on your proposal.  


Please submit your panel or individual proposal of no more than 500 words to michelle dot nortey at warwick dot ac dot uk by March 19.