Ethical capital: 'What's a poor man got to leave?'

Academic Article


  • For those of little or no means, leaving one's mark through financial assets, social connections, and human investment is difficult. Using secondary analysis of transcripts from face-to-face interviews with 33 terminally-ill patients from an outpatient clinic at a public hospital serving the disadvantaged in the southern United States, we examine the legacy participants wish to leave behind. As part of this process, participants assess life circumstances to try and generate a legacy allowing them to remain personally relevant to loved ones after death. For the low-SES terminally ill persons in this study, the desire to leave a material legacy and the means to do so are not congruous. In the absence of economic resources to bequeath loved ones, participants describe their desire to leave loved ones some form of ethical currency to facilitate interactions with others and protect them against social marginalisation. We call this concept ethical capital. We then argue ethical capital is a way for disadvantaged people to find dignity and to affirm their lives. © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness/Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Williams B; Woodby L; Drentea P
  • Start Page

  • 880
  • End Page

  • 897
  • Volume

  • 32
  • Issue

  • 6