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.
Michael W. Doyle
Ethics and dilemmas
The two articles that follow are intended as the first in an occasional series that Focaal will feature in forthcoming issues. The objective is to encourage a more rooted consideration of some of the ethical dilemmas and problems that anthropologists face in planning their research, doing their fieldwork, and publishing its results.
Perspectives from Africa
Henrietta L. Moore
There has been much discussion in anthropology of the problem of belief and of the difficulties inherent in understanding and interpreting alternative life-worlds. One consequence of anthropological understanding and interpretation being intimately tied to the epistemological and ethical project of contextualization is that other people's knowledge is often rendered as parochial, defined by its local contexts and scope. This article discusses the recent conversion to radical Protestant beliefs in a community in northern Kenya that has resulted in new forms of knowledge and agency. The moral continuities and discontinuities between researcher and researched cannot in this situation be glossed by making the informants rational in context or by asserting the existence of culturally distinct worldviews. The article explores how this sets up a series of epistemological and ethical dilemmas that shape both the research project and the research process.
The evaluation of citizenship has always been tied to ethical issues, as citizenship laws reflect existing rules and also define the desired ‘good’ citizen. In order to assess whether ethical considerations have affected the legal construction of citizenship in Israel, I compared the two main laws in Israel that regulate newcomers and their citizenship—the Law of Return (1950) and the Citizenship Law (1952). I examined the legal texts and used content analysis to address the subjective intentions of the legislators who proposed them, as presented in an explanatory memorandum. Many scholars have argued that these laws were introduced as the foundational laws of the Jewish state. Nevertheless, until the 1980s, the Citizenship Law was explained as a technical measure governing the citizenship of non-Jews. Although both laws are presented as ethical, politicians characterize them as mainly republican, concealing their liberal ethical component.
The twenty-first century has witnessed the rise to power of images in every aspect of human endeavour. Speculative financial derivatives have achieved a predominant place in the economy, spin and perception rule the political sphere, and technological media ensure that we spend our lives surrounded by images of all kinds. Reading the works of Shakespeare reveals the roots of this process in the early modern period, when the iconoclasm of the Reformation, popular protests against usury, and the campaign against ritual magic combined to provide an ethically based popular resistance to the power of signs.
The Correctness of Affective Transactions in Northeast Brazil
Drawing on ethnographic research in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, this article proposes the concept of the 'intimate event' as a heuristic device in the cross-cultural study of kinship and relatedness. This theoretical construct refers to the retrospective recognition of affective transactions as meaningfully intimate, that recognition being an event which in Maranhão compels ethical reflection. Intimacy can be imagined as an aesthetic of practice that indicates when something simply feels right, and which then frames the correctness of both moral conformity and transgression in affective terms.
Reining in the Future in the Yemeni Youth Revolution
Based on research at the heart of the 2011 revolution in Yemen, this article explores how a capacity to inhabit the future culminated in a collective act of temporal deception on the part of the revolutionaries. Contrary to the prevalent assumption that the future is something that is worked towards, aspired to, emerging or lying in wait at the end of a distant telos, revolutionary life in Yemen asserts that the future can itself be a way of being, but in the present. Upholding the future involved dramatic acts of selflessness whose value lay not just in where they would lead, but in the acts themselves. This fusion of means and ends, presents and futures, ultimately bred a capacity for endurance that defied the temporal expectations of the regime.
Time Trickery, Ethical Practice and Energy Demand in Postcolonial Britain
The qualities of domestic buildings that are aimed for in the energy reduction agenda, such as efficiency and zero-carbon impacts, are often at odds with the aesthetic preferences of home-owners for keeping original features of their houses unaltered. The set of visual traits followed in the maintenance and listing of character houses in the UK, and their corresponding material affordances in relation to energy demand, can be regarded as affecting and delaying the future of carbon-emission reduction promised by the country’s own Climate Change Act. This article interrogates the temporal and ethical considerations enacted in maintaining and admiring character houses with ‘original’ features. It discusses the ways in which domestic buildings emerge as multitemporal assemblages, and the forms of time trickery these processes involve in relation to notions of history, tradition and national and cultural identity.
Adjudicating Moral Being and Becoming in the Los Angeles Mental Health Court
Abigail Jane Mack
Engaging an account of a judicial decision made in the Los Angeles Mental Health Court, this article interrogates the role of anticipation in the lived negotiation of moral, social and institutional orders. As Judge Samuel Benton recounts his attempt to let himself ‘emotionally off the hook’ in the wake of a patient’s suicide, anticipation emerges as: 1) an ordered, linear sequencing of events towards logical ends; 2) unsettled, temporally disjunctive engagements with the past in order to make sense of present experience and ambiguous futures; 3) existential negotiations of one’s potential morality and social belonging; and 4) distributed organization of information between people and across objects in order to elaborate present and future experience. These manifestations of anticipation reveal the social and temporal contingency and deep intersubjectivity of our negotiations with uncertainty in the unsettling process of becoming moral.
Earthquakes, blitzkrieg, and ethical futures
This article is a contribution to the growing literature that suggests that the methodological and writing practices of anthropology are out of kilter with the times. The processual structures and regulative mechanisms that produce anthropological knowledge were formed when objection and engagement were not the almost-inevitable consequence of publication. Those who inform anthropological research now frequently object to the ways they are represented. My argument here focuses particularly on the relationship between the ethical structures of anthropology and the nature of objection. Thus far, the consistent response from anthropologists has been to explain away objections as differences in epistemology. In this light, I draw on an objection to my own research on postdisaster reconstruction in India to ask why there should not be disagreement between anthropologists and those who inform research. I also illustrate why the epistemological explanation is now insufficient and why new structures of research and writing might be required to make the leap from an age of objection.