Giving and Taking without Reciprocity

Conversations in South India and the Anthropology of Ethics

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 University of Manchester Soumhya.Venkatesan@manchester.ac.uk
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Abstract

This article contributes to the anthropology of ethics through an analysis of conversations among Muslim and Hindu householders in Tamil Nadu, India, about instances of alms/charitable giving where there is no expectation of direct reciprocity and where both giving and taking make reference to religion. I argue, first, that people make certain kinds of giving or taking ethical or unethical through talk and, second, that instances of ‘ethical talk’, which constitute reflections on and evaluations of action, point to questions concerning freedom and choice in people’s efforts to lead lives that are good or ‘good enough’. Such conversations also reveal a striving toward accepted forms of societal attachment and detachment while considering the claims that people can or should make upon each another.

Contributor Notes

Soumhya Venkatesan is a Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. She has conducted research in Tamil Nadu, India, among Muslim weavers and among Hindu potter-priests, sculptors, and Brahmin priests. Her research and writing exhibit her growing interest in questions of freedom and responsibility. Her publications include Craft Matters: Artisans, Development and the Indian Nation (2009) and, most recently, “After the Event: Video and Its Potential for Uncovering Information” (Visual Anthropology, 2015).

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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