This article argues that the moral dimensions of the term 'culture' have been under-theorized in anthropology. The argument stems from a particular reading of the Western philosophy of ethics. Based in economic anthropology, I explore how an understanding of the moral imperative can illuminate differences in processes of accumulation. After a discussion of the concept of morality in philosophy and in recent anthropology, I go on to examine the principles of altruism and reciprocal utility in the light of theories of kinship and of rational choice. I then outline an argument concerning the general form of moral reasoning. According to this argument, kinship classifications function logically to synthesize variable distributions in different societies of two interconnected principles—altruism and reciprocal utility.
Virtuous Action and Obligation in Contemporary Tibet
A significant strand of anthropological work on Buddhist generosity practices in Theravādin and Tibetan Buddhist societies has examined their role in reproducing and reinforcing social and economic hierarchies. Inspired by the recent ‘moral turn’ in anthropology, this article addresses the moral dimensions of these practices by analyzing debates, decisions, and judgments about what to sponsor and how to do so during times of accelerated ‘modernizing’ change. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in northeastern Tibet (Amdo) conducted between 2008 and 2015, I focus on a mode of collective sponsorship that has, in different contexts, been considered good, problematic, or even wrong. The moral grounds for such evaluations show that sponsorship is evaluated and experienced not only as a Buddhist practice but also as a social and economic practice with direct consequences for both individuals and communities. The moral stakes of generosity practices are shown to extend beyond individual ethics to the common good.
Cognitive dissonance provides a model for understanding how we experience film texts as profound. This article looks at the ways in which filmmakers might motivate or exploit the pleasure of resolving familiar narrative dissonance to inspire emotions associated with profundity, sublimity, or transcendence. David Lynch scholarship provides a primary case study in the conflation of cognitive dissonance and transcendence, however it is contended that moral obligations to rape and trauma victims are sublimated in the process. Alternative moral dissonances across a range of different cinematic modes are subsequently addressed. Comparative analysis of vigilantism in American revenge and “social cleansing” films, Ken Loach’s social realism, Richard Linklater’s Bernie (2011), and John Sayles’s Lone Star (1996) permits an exploration of variability in filmic dissonance and narrative comprehension, as well as alternative approaches to filmmaking ethics and responsibility. The article concludes with suggestions for an applied ethics extended from cognitive film theory.
A Contribution to Discussions on Piety and Ethics
Drawing on an ethnographic research in some rural communities of Trabzon, Turkey, this article provides insights about the diversity of Islamic pieties and their relations to religious norms. An exploration of everyday Islamic practices in the area demonstrates how piety can take peculiar forms within which norms are both publicly and socially upheld and yet also hollowed out. Among Muslim men of ‘the Valley’ in Trabzon, piety emerges as an aggregate of reiterative practices exterior to the pious self. Highlighting the aestheticised and ritualised state of these engagements with Islam in the Turkish context allows discussion of the relationships among practices of piety, pious subjectivities, and ethics.
Counterfeits, Comedy and the Supreme Court
Shakespeare uses the classical comic archetype of the miles gloriosus (braggart soldier) to probe social and ethical issues regarding military honour. These issues are still with us. This article takes as its point of departure the US Supreme Court’s 2012 decision finding the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 unconstitutional on free speech grounds. This high-profile case, centring upon a latter-day avatar of Falstaff or Pistol, suggests both continuity and change in how militarist societies address the challenge of distinguishing true and counterfeit valour. Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays and Henry V, like the Supreme Court opinions, stage a contest between classical epic ideologies of honour and comic recuperations of the coward or braggart. These literary and legal discourses are further contextualized through historical anecdote and Aristotle’s account of courage and cowardice. The Aristotelian figure of the alaz¯on (impostor) creates a complex interplay between ethics and poetics which plays out in theatre and courtroom alike.
Early Adolescence and/as Narrative Rupture in Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women
When we are growing up, how might the narrative practices of our family members shape our understanding of the world we are coming to know? How might narrative desires and allegiances to formal storytelling conventions affect how individuals are represented and positioned within family discourse? In this paper, I analyze the narrative practices of characters in Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women (1971); specifically, I turn to Del Jordan's first encounter with a family member's death and to her tentative understanding of the body's aberrations and complexities, which bumps up against, competes with, and is ultimately overwhelmed by, the narrative practices of the adults in her life. When considered in relation to the bourgeoning field of narrative ethics, Lives of Girls and Women provides a compelling avenue for a rich understanding of how narrative privilege can have an impact on adult-youth relations in general, and the female coming-of-age experience in particular.
Gender at Play
In this article, I explore how the beliefs of preschool teachers that equality is the norm in their classrooms shape play periods in ways that may work to disadvantage girls. I argue that equality discourses mask the gender power children must negotiate in their play and that this leaves girls with fewer choices when they are accessing the play environment. With research grounded in fieldwork carried out in four public schools in a Canadian metropolis, I illustrate how liberal notions of equality reinforced the traditional gender binary in children’s play. Moreover, drawing on the work of Jane Roland Martin, I show that liberal understandings of equality work to sustain a male-centered education for all students in preschool. To explore ways to attend to such gender inequalities, I turn to Nel Noddings’s concept of an ethics of care and point to the need to challenge the gender binary in early learning.
Reflections in and out of Fashion
James D. Faubion
‘Misfits’ are proof positive that the anthropological chestnut of ‘the psychic unity of mankind’ glosses over the actual psychic disunity of the anthropic. The proof militates against rendering misfitness merely as a social construction even as it militates in favour of rendering it as a ‘polythetic class’, the unity of which is not based in the common features of all tokens of a given type but instead in their ‘family resemblance’. Members of the family include those who are deemed incompetent, but also those deemed best suited to specific social stations. Misfitness may also be sought and not merely ascribed. In every case, misfitness has an ethically ambiguous status – and so offers us a lesson of the systemic place of the ‘irritant’ within but also at the edge of and beyond the bounds of any current anthropology of ordinary ethics.
Crisis in the Reproduction of Anthropological Scholarship
The recent wave of important anthropological critiques of the global 'war on terror' is in danger of being undermined by a disciplinary vision that disregards challenging an institutional culture of fear and compliance with injustices and inequality, which is more likely to nurture discrimination and professional malpractices than commi ed scholarship. I am drawing an analogy with Zola's 'J'accuse…!' about how institutional rules of accountability in the tick-box form of neoliberal auditing can serve the purpose of oppressing the rights they are nominally intended to protect. The article argues that debates about disciplinary crisis should be reframed as one about a crisis in the reproduction of scholarship. The discipline needs to employ the anthropological tools of enquiry consistently in its practices and theory, 'at home' and in the wider world. Fundamental questions regarding discriminatory practices and professional ethics in the everyday academic workplace need to be addressed not silenced in order to nurture not only critical but also credible anthropological challenges to important contemporary historical processes.
Michael W. Doyle
In a widely cited and controversial speech, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan highlighted the moral character of the boundaries of political sovereignty when he questioned whether respecting national sovereignty everywhere and always precluded the international protection of human rights. He argued that it did not and highlighted the importance of multilateral authorization. In this article, I explore the difference that multilateral authority, as opposed to unilateral national decision, should make in justifying armed intervention. Should the more salient role of the United Nations lead us to a more expansive tolerance of international intervention? And, if multilateralism does make a difference—and many think its impartiality is key—are good intentions enough? Had the international community also discovered how to intervene more effectively, with a better prospect of self-sustaining self-determination, at an acceptable humanitarian cost? I will conclude that multilateralism should widen our acceptance of intervention, even though the intentions at play are not reliably superior to unilateral intentions.