Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

A Response to Nigel Rapport's 'Cosmopolitan Politesse'

in Volume 2 (2018): Issue 1 (Jun 2018)

Open to the journal’s remit to consider how the legal may enter social constructions of persons or might change meaning in terms of everyday interpretations, I am enchanted by Nigel Rapport’s redescription of anthropological practice in this issue’s forum. Such practice, he suggests, is a scaled-up version of everyday human practice, at least in so far as ‘the common humanity of our research subjects becomes the basis of our being able to understand their . . . [diverse] difference[s]’. Like Anyone, anthropologists use generalised human means to judge local actions. Acting in this way (when it becomes an ethic) is a mark of the cosmopolitan politesse he would see as a potential vector of a Western, liberal, moral vision, with its sense of the realities of human life, a knowable ontological foundation, in which individuals flourish when they sustain their own personal and collective worlds. Such a vision also mobilises a certain capacity for justice embedded in the everyday. The relation between this philosophically conceived notion of justice and ‘the legal’ is left to the imagination. But Rapport has given us much to think about with respect to how one might find or redefine what is of legal concern beyond the public arena of the state and its bureaucracy, and thus in ‘other’ kinds of social space.