This issue’s forum continues a lively discussion of Nigel Rapport’s notion of ‘cosmopolitan politesse’ that was previously featured in these pages in the summer of 2018. Rapport has long proposed this sort of politesse as a ‘form of virtue’ and ‘good manners’ (2018: 93) premised on ‘the ontological reality of human individuality’, which in turn necessitates an ‘interactional code’ according to which we must presume both ‘common humanity’ but also ‘distinct individuality’ to the point where we ‘classif[y] the Other in no more substantive fashion than this’ (92). Given anthropology’s history of intricately taxonomising humans according to various criteria, this is indeed a challenging proposal – all the more so in the context of legal anthropology, where being subject to specific norms and laws is often taken to be constitutive of distinctive subjectivities, sensibilities and survival strategies. In this issue, Don Gardner responds, directing his critical attention towards the notion of personhood undergirding Rapport’s plea for a revitalised Kantian liberalism in an era of resurgent xenophobia and ethnonationalism. In the process, we see two accomplished scholars taking positions within (and consciously outside of) a whole range of classical debates in the Western philosophical cannon with pressing relevance for contemporary legal anthropology, from nature versus nurture to free will versus determinism, individualism versus collectivism and structure versus agency.
Cosmopolitan politesse, continued
Legal regimes under pandemic conditions: A comparative anthropology
As it has spread globally, the pathogen SARS-CoV-2 (known colloquially as the coronavirus) has already caused untold suffering, with more most certainly to come. Yet as the virus afflicts, it has also encountered a range of human responses – from initial indifference and outright denial in parts of the Anglo-American West to society-wide mobilizations in much of the rest of the world. In doing so, the virus has become a sort of diagnostic tool that can reveal a lot about any body politic that it happens to enter, something we attempt to leverage in this issue's forum through reflections from ethnographers working in both India (Dey) and the United States (Brinkworth et al., McGranahan).
Kinship, State and Social Media Conflict in Networked Jordan
The local uptake of new media in the Middle East is shaped by deep histories of imperialism, state building, resistance and accommodation. In contemporary Jordan, social media is simultaneously encouraging identification with tribes and undermining their gerontocratic power structures. Senior men stress their own importance as guarantors (‘faces’), who restore order following conflicts, promising to pay their rivals a large surety if their kin break the truce. Yet, ‘cutting the face’ (breaking truces) remains an alternative, one often facilitated by new technologies that allow people to challenge pre-existing structures of communication and authority. However, the experiences of journalists and other social media mavens suggest that the liberatory promise of the new technology may not be enough to prevent its reintegration into older patterns of social control.
Connections beyond ‘the Field’
Geoffrey Hughes and Anna-Maria Walter
Ethnographers today find themselves experimenting with new approaches to digital ethnography amid pandemic-related restrictions on research. Yet such developments only accelerate a broader trend toward the dissolution of the traditional ethnographic ‘field’ due to new communications technologies and the emergence of a globalized ‘knowledge economy’. Through six contributions from around the world, this forum explores how the emergence of a more diffuse, interconnected ethnographic field is impacting fieldwork's status as a rite of passage, creating new affective entanglements and shifting power relationships between researchers and participants. Despite the potential for influence and surveillance that new technologies cede to already powerful institutions, the discussions underline how ethnographic interlocutors are auteurs in their own right—and that ethnographers are also often bit characters in other people's stories.
Ugly Emotions and the Politics of Accusation
Geoffrey Hughes, Megnaa Mehtta, Chiara Bresciani, and Stuart Strange
Ugly emotions like envy and greed tend to emerge ethnographically through accusations (as opposed to self-attribution), de-centring the individual psyche and drawing attention to how emotions are deployed in broader projects of moral policing. Tracking the moral, social dimension of emotions through accusations helps to account concretely for the political, economic and ideological factors that shape people's ethical worldviews – their defences, judgements and anxieties. Developing an anthropological understanding of these politics of accusation leads us to connect classical anthropological themes of witchcraft, scapegoating, and inter- and intra-communal conflict with ethnographic interventions into contemporary debates around speculative bubbles, inequality, migration, climate change and gender. We argue that a focus on the politics of accusation that surrounds envy and greed has the potential to allow for a more analytically subtle and grounded understanding of both ethics and emotions.
Piracy, Protection, and the Anthropology of Law at Sea
Geoffrey Hughes, Naor Ben-Yehoyada, Judith Scheele, and Jatin Dua
Follow the relationship: A note on Jatin Dua’s Captured at Sea: Piracy and Protection in the Western Indian Ocean
Protection recaptured: Reflections on Jatin Dua’s Captured at Sea: Piracy and Protection in the Western Indian Ocean
Protection’s possibility: On histories and geographies of concepts