'Moral ecology' and 'moral capital': tools towards a sociology of moral education from a South African ethnography
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Research and pedagogy in the field of morality and moral education has long been dominated by philosophical and psychological disciplines. Although sociological studies and theorising in the field have not been absent, it has been limited and non-systematic. Drawing on a study that investigated the lived morality of a group of young South Africans growing up in the aftermath of Apartheid and in the townships of Cape Town, this paper surveys the historical contribution made by sociologists to the study of morality and introduces two sociological notions of importance to moral education research and practice: 'moral ecology' and 'moral capital'. Employing Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory it describes the moral life as an ecology of interconnecting systems, complex antinomies, diverse codes, multiple positionings, discordant processes and competing influences, over time and on multiple levels. Moral capital, draws on Bourdieu's work on capitals and is described in two ways. First, as a dialectic, such that young people living in poverty identify how being 'good' can be translated into economic capital, which in turn enables them to remain 'good'. Second, it asks, what are the necessary elements of moral capital that young people need in order to be good and so attain the economic future to which they aspire? The paper concludes by noting how a sociology of moral education contributes to understanding the relationship between poverty and morality, including the social reproduction of morality; and its relevance for moral education research and practice.