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Political Economy Institute

The value question

'Value' is a concern in the contemporary world, as humans meet, with increasing frequency, a number of economic obligations as matters of social and cultural life.

Consider the history of the uses of the word ‘value’ in inquiring into the life’s worth. It is an ancient question and, over centuries, ‘value’ has referred to a series of judgements about social life, including the measure of material and immaterial worth as well the recognition of meaningful social relationships. It appeared increasingly in the previous century, when it was tied most explicitly to political economy. How can a contemporary researcher deepen understanding of the value question for our times?

Social science can add much to deepen scholarly understandings of this new social and economic process and our research group is designed to create a forum for active researchers across the social sciences and humanities.


Our aim in the first instance is to enable researchers to discuss the question of 'value' in their studies, with the intention of understanding how it arises in contemporary social life.

The group's research centres around a set of overarching themes:

  • The study of the moral economy.
  • Smith to Jevons - the early and the later Manchester School of Political Economy.
  • 'Use value' / 'exchange value'- multidisciplinary approaches from Aristotle to Marx to Polanyi: house-holding and markets, free and unfree labour.
  • Comparative studies of value systems: Anthropological and Weberian analysis.
  • Legacies of Asian civilizations (India, China), oral societies (Melanesia).
  • Aesthetics, ethics and property relations: Cultural property / culture as property.
  • Materiality and immateriality in contemporary capitalisms.
  • Environment, nature and society.
  • Obligation, indebtedness, and the exchange of gifts.

Within these broad areas, the specific interests of members of the research group include:

Eudemonia and economy; emotions and value; cultural property, authorship, moral and economic rights in art; moral economy; wellbeing and moral values in social development; corruption in public office and the use of public funds; migration and labour; new slavery, indenture, bonded labour; alienation and inalienability householding and markets; family values and social services - healthcare provision and state education; kinship and technologically-assisted reproduction; social norms; public ethics; knowledge redistribution; evaluation of social organisations and institutional accountability; expertise and social cohesion; subaltern theories of value; social movements and moral values; ‘minor’ politics; hope and reconciliation processes; cosmopolitanism; multiculturalism and deliberative justice; environment and natural resources; genetic modification and agriculture; agro-business and small farms; housing, private equity, finance, price, use and exchange; obligation, exchange, alternative economies.

Further information

For further information about the group, or to be included on the mailing list, please contact the convenor, Professor Karen Sykes.