The Moral Economy of Merit and Meritocracy: An Analysis of the Chilean Lower-and Middle-Class

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Jorge ATRIA, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Chile
Juan Carlos CASTILLO, Pontificia Universitad Catolica de Chile, Chile
Merit represents an expanded principle in modern societies, related to social mobility, equal opportunities, redistributive preferences and the legitimization of inequality. Although it is commonly used to study unequal results in school, divergent work trajectories, and access to different income levels, there are still great gaps in understanding the elements that form part of the concept of merit, the values that sustain it, as well as its competing justice ideals.

This article analyzes the principle of merit from a moral economy perspective. To this end, it explores popular consensus on legitimate and illegitimate practices in social exchange and collective orientations related to meritocracy. The analysis is based on an extensive review of the literature on merit and meritocracy, as well as 9 focus groups carried out on lower-and middle-class individuals in three large cities of Chile. The results show the main conceptions of merit and meritocracy, the extent of their desirability and the contrasts between these perceptions and everyday social experiences. Finally, we discuss the extent to which the moral dimension of merit is linked to redistributive preferences, providing insights on the role of the state in financing social rights and confronting inequality.