Money Talks: Moral Economies of Earning a Living in Neoliberal East Africa

Jörg Wiegratz, Egle Cesnulyte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
346 Downloads (Pure)


Neoliberal restructuring has targeted not just the economy, but also polity, society and culture, in the name of creating capitalist market societies. The societal repercussions of neoliberal policy and reform in terms of moral economy remain understudied. This article seeks to address this gap by analysing moral economy characteristics and dynamics in neoliberalised communities, as perceived by traders in Uganda and sex workers in Kenya. The interview data reveal perceived drivers that contributed to a significant moral dominance of money, self-interest, short-termism, opportunism and pragmatism. Equally notable are a perceived (i) close interaction between political–economic and moral–economic dynamics, and (ii) significant impact of the political–economic structure on moral agency. Respondents primarily referred to material factors usually closely linked to neoliberal reform, as key drivers of local moral economies. We thus speak of a neoliberalisation of moral economies, itself part of the wider process of embedding and locking-in market society structures in the two countries. An improved political economy of moral economy can help keep track of this phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalNew Political Economy
Issue number1
Early online date15 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016


  • Neoliberalism
  • East Africa
  • moral economy


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