Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

Faubion, “The subject that is not one: On the ethics of mysticism”

February 17, 2014

Faubion, James. 2013. The subject that is not one: On the ethics of mysticism. Anthropological Theory 13(4): 287–307.

Abstract: Any anthropological approach to ethics that gives a central place to subjects and the positions they might occupy is obliged sooner or later to address an apparent paradox, instances of which are widespread. They occur in those many ethical systems that valorize a condition that can hardly be characterized without equivocation: the subject that is not one. We commonly think of such a (non-)subject as a mystic. A useful starting point in coming to terms with the mystic rests in the distinctive place in which he or she typically stands in relation to any given ethical domain – a place decidedly not at the center, at the axial conjunction that the ethical Everyperson occupies. Victor Turner’s treatment of liminality provides a useful analytical precedent, but it does not of itself adequately clarify either the specific ethical difference or the specific ethical function of mysticism as such. Crucial to both is the mystic’s generation in practice of what turns out to be a very real paradox of self-reference, the thinking and acting out of the proposition that ‘this ethics is not an ethics’. The upshot is that the mystic as (non-) subject confronts the ethical system in which or by which he or she resides with its logical and its social incompleteness. No wonder, then, that mystics are rarely beloved of ethical absolutists, whose absolutism – by their very being, and whether or not wittingly – they call into question. No wonder, on the other hand, that moral-ethical liberals so often find them beyond the pale. The ethical paradox of the mystic is insu- perable – but all the more socioculturally significant in being so.



Scherz, “Let us make God our banker”

November 7, 2013

Scherz, China. 2013. Let us make God our banker: Ethics, temporality, and agency in a Ugandan charity home. American Ethnologist 40(4): 624-636.

Abstract: Faith in divine intervention affects the ethical and temporal orientations of a community of East African nuns managing a charity home in Central Uganda and leads them to make programmatic decisions that put them at odds with mainstream approaches in development and humanitarianism. By demonstrating that their resistance to long-term planning and audit practices is not the product of material privation or ignorance but, rather, a consciously developed orientation toward time and agency, I bring together concerns from the anthropology of religion and the anthropology of development. Further, by seeking to explain how the sisters come to hold their particular beliefs, I move beyond the elucidation of doctrine to show how mundane forms of practice are central to the formation of ethical subjectivity.

Boyd, “The Problem with Freedom”

August 27, 2013

Boyd, Lydia. 2013. The Problem with Freedom: Homosexuality and Human Rights in Uganda. Anthropological Quarterly 86(3):697-724.

Abstract: The recent backlash against homosexuality in Uganda, culminating in the introduction of the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill, has focused tremendous attention on the role religious activists have played in shaping Ugandan attitudes about sexuality. Drawing on long-term fieldwork among the Ugandan born-again Christians at the center of this controversy, I argue that anti-homosexual rhetoric is animated by something more than a parroting of American homophobia. Rather, it reflects a tension between two divergent frameworks for ethical personhood in Uganda, one related to the Ganda value of ekitiibwa or “respect/honor,” and the other based in a discourse of rights, autonomy, and “freedom.” The born-again rejection of a rights-based discourse is analyzed in relation to broader anxieties generated by a neoliberal emphasis on the autonomous, “empowered” individual during a period of growing inequality and economic and political dissatisfaction in Uganda.

Daswani, “On Christianity and Ethics”

August 13, 2013

Daswani, Girish. 2013. On Christianity and Ethics: Rupture as ethical practice in Ghanian Pentecostalism. American Ethnologist 40(3):467-479.

Abstract: Rupture, a common principle of the Pentecostal Christian faith, can also give rise to ethical disputes among believers. The study of such disputes provides insight into the ways ethical practice shapes the institutional continuities and the personal inconsistencies of a Christian life. All believers learn what Pentecostal rupture is, but they have different opinions about how it is achieved, and, once born again, they differ on what constitutes good or right religious observance. I suggest that approaching rupture as ethical practice allows for a better understanding of the religious subject’s response to an incommensurability of values and practices internal to Pentecostalism.

Robbins, “Beyond the suffering subject”

August 12, 2013

Robbins, Joel. 2013. Beyond the suffering subject: toward an anthropology of the good. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19(3): 447-462.

Abstract: In the 1980s, anthropology set aside a focus on societies defined as radically ‘other’ to the anthropologists’ own. There was little consensus at the time, however, about who might replace the other as the primary object of anthropological attention. In important respects, I argue, its replacement has been the suffering subject. Tracing this change, I consider how it addressed key problems of the anthropology of the other, but I also suggest that some strengths of earlier work – particularly some of its unique critical capacities – were lost in the transition. The conclusion considers how recent trends in anthropology might coalesce in a further shift, this one toward an anthropology of the good capable of recovering some of the critical force of an earlier anthropology without taking on its weaknesses.

An Anthropology of Ethics: Book Review

July 19, 2013

Faubion, James D. 2011. An Anthropology of Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

By: Anna Strhan (University of Kent)

How do people engage with questions about the good and how we ought to live in everyday social encounters? What role do particular moral logics play in the constitution of human subjects, and how, when and where does the formation of ethical subjectivities happen? Such questions might seem basic to any study of the nature of social and cultural life, and Michael Lambek notes in his introduction to Ordinary Ethics that ethnographers often find that the people they meet “are trying to do what they consider right or good, are being evaluated according to criteria of what is right or good, or are in some debate about what constitutes the human good” (2010: 1). Yet specific attention to ‘the ethical’ has arguably been historically something of a blind spot within anthropological and other social scientific theorizing. Read the rest of this entry »

Biehl, “The Right to a Nonprojected Future”

April 30, 2013

Biehl, João. 2013. The Right to a Nonprojected Future. Practical Matters 6:1-9

Excerpt: “There is a wonderful invitational quality to Christian Scharen and Aana Marie Vigen’s Eth- nography as Christian Theology and Ethics. I admire the tone and the kinds of conversa- tions that the book has unleashed and that are so thought-provokingly assembled here. Borne out of a close and passionately engaged reading, the commentaries by Emily Reimer-Barry, Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Ted A. Smith (in the order I read them) are sympathetic, critical, methodical and creatively constructive all at once. In their generosity, the commentators restore a kind of infancy, a sense of potential and possibility, to the book’s call for a theology and ethics that is marked by knowledge of the ethnographic Other, present but also absent, both worldly and particular within the totality of history, struggling to belong but at the same time transcending Christian membership. In their own commentary, Scharen and Vigen advocate for holding various binaries (reflexivity and self-absorption, objectivity and subjectivity, etc.) in “dynamic tension”— living in them instead of trying to resolve them. The goal is to create “as nuanced a picture as pos- sible,” recognizing that there are always risks and complexities to be engaged when describing lived realities.

The trust here is that the granular study of how beliefs, attitudes and values are refashioned and molded, as people navigate messy constellations of power and knowledge and face the unex- pected, brings into view alternative ontologies that can widen our sense of what is socially possible and desirable, be it at the cost of lowering our ability, real or imaginary, to discern the true truth or universal laws and historical continuities. What is at stake is “to defend the right to a nonprojected future as one of the truly inalienable rights of every person and nation,” in the luminous and al- ways contemporary words of the late Albert O. Hirschman. Scharen and Vigen’s brave book and this powerful set of commentaries make a strong plea for our own right as thinkers, across faiths and disciplines, to break open the expected value of the future: to remain relentlessly empirical yet open to theories, constantly tinkering with stories and interpretations as we face the active embroilment of life, reason, ethics and hope and try to give it a critical, albeit unfinished form, on a blank page. ”

Zigon, “On Love”

February 7, 2013

Zigon, Jarrett. 2013. On Love: Remaking Moral Subjectivity in Post-rehabilitation Russia. American Ethnologist 40(1):201-215.

Abstract: Love, I argue, is a demand around which moral experience—and thus moral subjectivity—takes shape. Love entails the struggle to ethically remake oneself, and the response to its unavoidable demand has consequences for both oneself and others. I examine the moral experience of love as it was lived by two former participants in a Russian Orthodox Church–run heroin rehabilitation program in St. Petersburg. My discussion thus contributes conceptually and ethnographically to the growing literature on the anthropology of moralities.

O’Neill, “The Soul of Security”

November 24, 2012

O’Neill, Kevin Lewis. 2012. The Soul of Security: Christianity, Corporatism, and Control in Postwar Guatemala. Social Text 30(2):21-42.

Abstract: Amid unprecedented rates of deportation as well as an ever-growing gang problem, bilingual call centers have become viable spaces of control in postwar Guatemala. They provide deported ex–gang members with not only well-paying jobs but also a work environment structured by Protestant images and imperatives. Be humble. Be punctual. Be patient. These corporately Christian virtues minister to the deported at every turn, inviting them to assume and become subsumed by ascetic subjectivities. These are monkish dispositions that provide a vital lynchpin between the political, the economic, and the subjective. They also coordinate (at the level of conduct) projects of capitalist accumulation with efforts at regional security. This assemblage of industries and ethics, made in the name of control, is what this article understands as the soul of security.

Etter, “‘Women With No One’: Community and Christianity in a Secular South Indian Homeless Shelter”

August 27, 2012

Etter, Connie, (2012) “”Women With No One”: Community and Christianity in a Secular South Indian Homeless Shelter.” Anthropology – Dissertations. Syracuse University, Susan Wadley, Advisor. Paper 96.

Abstract: This dissertation examines daily life and social service practices in a secular homeless shelter for women in Tamil Nadu, south India. The residents of the shelter have diverse backgrounds but local staff members and volunteers describe them collectively as “women with no one”: unwed mothers, orphans, widows, women abandoned or abused by husbands and lovers, former sex workers, prisoners’ wives, and women deemed mentally or physically unfit for marriage. Daily negotiations of belonging take place among this transient and diverse group of marginalized women and equally diverse and transnational care providers. The closed shelter campus provides an opportunity to query the everyday experience of secularism and pluralism. Shelter board members emphasize these concepts as guiding principles of the institution. Indeed, they are touted in many settings as a necessary and laudable framework for democratic life in globalized and increasingly diverse populations. But how do individuals and communities, in everyday life and interactions, understand and engage with such abstract ideals?

Ethnographic research, conducted between August 2008 and August 2009, revealed important insights regarding the ideals shaping the secular goals of the shelter, namely women’s social rehabilitation. First, the definition of secularism cannot be assumed and is not universal. Inline with commonsense equations of secularism and pluralism in India, the secular goals of the shelter involved passionate displays of religious conviction, continuous ethical deliberation, and reflection on cultural ideals of womanhood and family. Secularism, in other words, was a religious, cultural, and gendered idea and practice. Second, just as there were many secularisms, many Christianities were embodied and articulated within the shelter. The institution depended on various local and international Christian communities for donations of time and money. They each had different understandings of the relationship between Christianity and women’s social rehabilitation. Third, cultural ideals are fragile. The social stigma faced by women living outside of patriarchal family structures and the forced intimacy of women with diverse backgrounds living together on a closed campus emphasized this fact. Faced with the fragility of social and cultural ideals, women at the shelter took great risks to forge new terms of belonging, community, and womanhood.

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