Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Ethics
Secondary Theme: The Political
While ways in which people inhabit the world have remained a foundational focus of anthropology, it was not until recently that the centrality of ethics for human life gained distinct anthropological attention. Scholars working in this growing field of inquiry have shown that a concern for “the good” constantly animates human action and makes possible new forms of life and sociality that go beyond the need to secure social norms. This literature documents how people envision, debate and materialize various forms of human flourishing. Yet, this literature also documents the different ways in which nation states, secular governance, and market rationality seems to exist in tension with certain forms of human flourishing, particularly those envisioned in relation to and in conversation with received pasts that function as guides for action in the present.
This panel seeks to explore and interrogate this specific historical juncture with a focus on the intersection between ethics and economic relations. In doing so, it seeks to address an oversight in the anthropology of ethics, and to bring it into conversation with the renewed anthropological interest in the concept of “moral economy”. Through ethnographic investigations of modes of ethical action, moral and practical reasoning, and technologies of subjectivation in the economic sphere, the papers of this panel explore the different ways in which ethical life inhabits the marketized present. We ask: What forms of ethical life are possible in a life organized around markets? What are the conditions of possibility for such ethics? Reflecting on human action from the perspective of conditions of possibility allows us to bypass “either/or” narratives and instead observe life in all its immediacy and complexity. At the same time, attending to how collective living is forged under modern conditions offers new ways to think about such issues as coherence, commensurability, intelligibility, and translatability—issues that are central to the anthropological study of ethical life—and to attend to concepts that are central to modern ethical sensibilities, such as justice, equality, freedom, and tolerance.