The Activation of Moral Identities in Markets: Evidence from Recycling Practices in Brazil

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
219 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Silvio Eduardo Alvarez Candido, Federal University of Sao Carlos - UFSCar, Sao Carlos, Brazil
Fernanda Verissimo Soule, Federal University of Sao Carlos (UFSCar), Sao Carlos, Brazil
Mario Sacomano Neto, Federal University of Sao Carlos - UFSCar, Sao Carlos, Brazil; Federal University of Sao Carlos - UFSCar, Sao Carlos, Brazil
The paper discusses the conditions under which firms in specific economic spheres activate moral identities. It draws on cases of Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) recycling practices occurring in three industrial settings in Brazil from 1990 onwards, considered as particularly enlightening for understanding the effects of morality on action for addressing specific influences of the rise of a new moral grammar of “recycling”. In Brazil, recycling is now commonly valued for being environmentally friendly, for its efficiency and for being a source of income and “social inclusion” for unprivileged informal workers. The conducts of companies from three different industrial sectors that respond to most of the recycling of PETE bottles are compared. Recycling practices emerged in the textile sector at the beginning of the 1990´s, when entrant companies started to produce polyester fibers out of recovered material due to economic advantages involved. For the same strictly material reason, also in the 1990´s, companies from the resin and paint industries also started buying PETE scrap to produce alkyd and polyester resins. At the beginning of the following decade, another set of companies emerged in the PETE industry itself to produce recycled polymeric resin and bottles. Along their trajectories, the degree to which the companies of these sectors referred to the moral identities associated to recycling varied significantly. To understand how this came to be, a comparative and longitudinal case study was undertaken. Secondary data was gathered from the website of the companies and sectorial associations and from official documents. Also, 20 in depth interviews were conducted with market actors. Analysis draw on insights from sociological approaches to action developed by authors like Pierre Bourdieu and Neil Fligstein and contributions from the pragmatic sociology of critic of Boltanski and other authors of contemporary sociology of morality, suggesting that these literatures may be cross fertilized. Results show that companies from the resin and paint industry started to admit their practices only after years using the recovered material. These companies do not identify with recycling and only very rarely appeal to the legitimacy associated to it. Companies from textile industry, besides keeping a secret about their use of PETE scrap along their first years of activity, started to advertise it over the last decade and have timidly bargained for public incentives based on their moral endowments. Besides the will to publish their practices, these organizations do not identify primarily as recycling firms, but as textile ones. In their turn, companies of PETE industry identify more firmly with recycling and took advantage intensively of their moral prerogatives. Preliminary findings suggest that moral identities tended to be more deeply embodied in PETE industry due to their closer identification with the environmental problems related to plastic bottles, to their single business focus and to the momentum of their emergence, when environmental forms of worth were more strongly institutionalized. We also concluded that moral identities and discourse tend to be activated in situations of emergence and crises, when the cultural structures of fields are at stake.