Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Ethics
Secondary Theme: The Political
The anthropological interest in virtue ethics is a kind of protest against critical theory’s crude reduction of virtue to meta-critical concepts like "symbolic capital." Virtue ethics provides a way to examine the evaluative practices of social actors without treating them merely as more-or-less informed versions of the theorist’s existing convictions (Laidlaw 2012; Mattingly 2012; Lambek 2013; Keane 2016). It is perhaps ironic then that attempts to treat ethics and virtues on their own terms have largely overlooked one of the defining properties of virtue ethics itself—that virtue is by nature inegalitarian. “Living well” entails “living better” than others in a substantive way.
This session seeks to rejoin what was impulsively torn asunder by resituating ethics in questions of value—not with a return to “conspiracy theorizing” (see Latour 2004)—but by exploring the shifts between registers of ethical, aesthetic, and material value and the semiotic practices through which actions, persons, and objects are judged to be of different worth, etc. With this in mind, our session attends to the following questions: Through what registers are value, virtue, and ethics conceptualized, and what are its consequences? How might first-person humanist approaches to virtue ethics shed light on individual and collective moral agency and experience? How do individuals negotiate the challenges in the “doing of everyday life” (Mattingly 2014)? And what resources do individuals draw from to “make the most” of what life presents them with?
Through a series of ethnographically grounded studies, these papers shed new light on how various aspects of everyday life are valued and how resulting inequalities are encouraged or restrained. The cases featured here describe the ethical pedagogy of balance among Timor-Leste fishers, the sexual antagonism that underlies the successes and failures of Ache hunters, the ethical worlding of wealth managers in Northern Italy, the sometimes conflicting ambitions of Kathmandu land brokers, Tunisian youth who find value in the socio-political transformations of their day-to-day lives, and Facebook as a morally fraught means by which Turkish-American Muslim women sustain social intimacy.