Fixing Inequalities in Time

Radicalising Westermarck’s moral emotions for a critique of financialised speculation


  • Laura Bear London School of Economics and Political Science


Precarity and uncertainty are a key axis of inequality; yet these are not problems in or of time. They are experiences generated by the forms of financialised speculation that have eroded long term planning for the public good since the late 1980-90s. Key mediating institutions such as central banks and bureaucracies have been influenced by epistemes of Post-Keynesian economics that have eroded their capacity to provide us with security of livelihoods and relationships. These have their ethical foundations in Adam Smith’s accounts of moral selfhood, and we can draw on Edward Westermarck’s critical anthropological relativizing of Smith’s ethics in order to critique them. We can also deploy Westermarck’s analyses of moral emotions to push back against emerging epistemes of narrative economics and agent based modelling that are relegitimising financialised speculation within our economic institutions at present. But more significantly perhaps, we should take Westermarck’s approach into the wild of contemporary speculative practice to analyse the moral emotions of care that characterise it. This approach is illustrated though an ethnography of the precarious, uncertain waterscape of the Global Thames. Such ethnographies should lead us to demand new versions of care based on mutuality and solidarity from our public economic institutions. This is especially important in the present moment of the COVID-19 epidemic, which has re-politicised fiscal and monetary policy.

Keywords: precarity, uncertainty, timescapes, financialisation, speculation, mutuality,




How to Cite

Bear, L. (2020). Fixing Inequalities in Time: Radicalising Westermarck’s moral emotions for a critique of financialised speculation. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 44(3-4), 3–23.