The Concept of Moral Order: Spatializing Morality

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Vinay KUMAR, State University of New York at Buffalo, USA
This paper aims to marry two bodies of literature by combining a spatial turn to the new sociology of morality and a moral turn to urban sociology, and offer a conceptual framework for inquiry into morality and space. While sociologists have generally recognized that morality is contingent on social and historical context, the spatial dimensions of morality have been under-theorized. This paper seeks to make a case for more attention to be cast on the spatial dimensions of morality. More specifically, in this paper, then, to incorporate the spatial into discussions of morality, I recall and revitalize the classical concept of “moral order.” While the origins of the concept of moral order—or something close to it—in urban sociology can be traced back to its classical incarnations—in the work of Ferdinand Tönnies and Robert S. Park, for instance—and has since had an intriguing, if intermittent, career, I intend to repurpose the concept and offer it as a heuristic device. I proceed by: (i) offering a theoretical definition of “moral order,” by conceptualizing moral order as a process, constitutive of a general order of things, and as part of a wider cultural paradigm; (ii) outlining its epistemological implications for sociological inquiry, particularly on the questions of moral truth, value freedom, and conceptualization of morality as an object of inquiry; and, (iii) spelling out the potential significance of incorporating the spatial into sociological inquiries into morality.