For this special issue we are bringing together six ethnographic cases of intimate uncertainties that are situated within different regimes of reproduction, healthcare and borders in and beyond Europe. These ethnographic inquiries exemplify unprecedented settings of moral ir/responsibility shaping the intimate on different scales and in various sites of power (agencies, clinics, borderlands). These uncertainties in times of major transitions from old to new moral orders, from industrial to postindustrial, from welfare to austerity spark off a renewed debate on moral economy. The authors of these contributions all focus the theoretical lens of moral economy squarely onto the intimate.
Ethnographic Explorations of Moral Economies across Europe
Sabine Strasser and Luisa Piart
Moral Economy and Treatment Regimes in Comparative Perspective
Today the social and material situations of sick bodies are increasingly and intimately bound up with the variable moral economies of national healthcare systems in uncertain and contrastive ways. I approach these ‘intimate uncertainties’ comparatively and methodologically by drawing on ethnographic fieldwork on transplant medicine in Mexico in order to interrogate European healthcare, specifically the UK. The UK National Health Service is an exemplary site of moral economy, one that the Mexican case appears to stand in stark contrast to. However, as I show, the uncertainties we see at work in Mexico enable us to seek them out in the UK too, particularly those generated at the nexus of the state, failing organs and new strategies for healthcare rationing. The article traces the gendered and socioeconomic inequalities, which follow from these shifts, while offering a critique of analyses that take the European and North American experience as methodologically foundational.
Self-Infliction and Arbitrary Survival in the German Transplant System
This article traces the trope of self-infliction for the moral economy of liver transplantation. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Germany, I discuss the trope of self-infliction to explore intimate uncertainties that people with an alcoholic liver disease face when looking for medical care. I claim that the moralising trope of self-infliction plays a significant role in considerations about who is deserving of a liver transplant and a ‘second chance’. As access to transplantation becomes a life-and-death matter when livers fail, I see the trope of self-infliction as a tool for triaging lives for liver transplantation. Moreover, I claim that the trope of self-infliction, with its emphasis on self-responsibility, has a gendered dimension that puts women with an alcoholic liver disease under particular moral scrutiny. Furthermore, I demonstrate how this moralising trope shapes regulatory practices, like the ‘six-month abstinence rule’, which consequently confine livers and thus, eventually, confine lives.
The Moral Economy Underlying Russian Feminist Advocacy
This article traces the conceptual emergence and development of feminist-oriented abortion politics in urban Russia between 2011 and 2015. Examined as an example of local adaptions of global reproductive rights movements, Russians’ advocacy for abortion access reflects commitments and tensions characterising post-Soviet feminism. Specifically, I show how calls to preserve women’s access to legal abortion have drawn on both socialist-inspired ideals of state support for families and liberal-oriented ideas of individual autonomy. Attention to the logics underlying abortion activists’ rhetoric reveals the specific historical sensibilities and shifting cultural values at stake in the ways progressive Russian activists construe justice. The analytic concept of ‘moral economy’ brings into relief how their advocacy evokes ideal visions of reciprocal obligations and uncertainties in both state-citizen relations and intimate relations. I argue that contextualised analyses of local feminist abortion politics may enrich global debates for reproductive rights and justice.
How are politics generated by grief actually lived, and how do they endure? By exploring long-term repercussions of Europe’s lethal borders, I show what shape shared grief takes in the minute encounters between ‘ordinary people’ across borders and how alternative politics are lived as a vivid critique of the moral economy of the EU border regime. Therefore, I explore intimate uncertainties that arise both in the confrontation with death and in the unexpected affection between strangers. The analysis of a single shipwreck in 2003 indicates the need for more ethnographically nuanced, historically informed and translocal approaches to death during migration in anthropology.
Evoking the Affective Powers of ‘Happiness’ in Commercial Surrogacy
This article explores how the notion of happiness is employed in order to obscure the moral ambiguity and intimate uncertainties of commercial surrogacy. My ethnographic data elucidate the ways in which surrogacy agents and other intermediaries operating in Russia and Ukraine evoke happiness. I discuss three forms of their affective labour: a discourse of fear and hope, the attempt to make surrogacy a joyous and happy process and the claim that there is a right to happiness. I contend that ‘happiness’ serves as the ultimate argument, an argument that has the affective power to override moral concerns and delegitimise critique.
Situating and Scaling Intimate Uncertainties in an Adriatic Harbour
This article explores how a specific pattern of relational ethics – referred to as ‘never . . . too much’ – figures as a way of coping with intimate uncertainties in close relationships. The concept of relational ethics refers to the historically embedded ways in which people live and cultivate ethical values through relations and, as such, also represents an ethnographically grounded conceptual contribution to ongoing anthropological debates on moral economy. My research unfolds ethnographic insights into three variations of the relational ethics of ‘never . . . too much’, three respective sets of social actors and relational scales: ‘never feel too much’/local women and their relationship to their marital partner; ‘never own too much’/local men and their relationship to property; ‘never settle too much’/female migrants from Russia and their relationship to the place of settlement. The article’s analysis is developed against the background of a particular spatial and temporal location – a border minority town with a history of (forced) migration, and is a contemporary focal point of migration, marginalisation by the state and patriarchy.