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The Anthropology of Moralities

The Anthropology of Moralities

Edited by Monica Heintz
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    The Anthropology of Moralities
    Book Description:

    Anthropologists have been keenly aware of the tension between cultural relativism and absolute norms, and nowhere has this been more acute than with regards to moral values. Can we study the Other's morality without applying our own normative judgments? How do social anthropologists keep both the distance required by science and the empathy required for the analysis of lived experiences? The plurality of moralities has not received an explicit and focused attention until recently, when accelerated globalization often resulted in the collision of different value systems. Observing, describing and assessing values cross-culturally, the authors propose various methodological approaches to the study of moralities, illustrated with rich ethnographic accounts, thus offering a valuable guide for students of anthropology, sociology and cultural studies and for professionals concerned with the empirical and cross-cultural study of values.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-938-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction: Why There Should Be an Anthropology of Moralities
    (pp. 1-19)
    Monica Heintz

    There is probably no other field of enquiry in which the ‘otherness’ of human beings is as difficult to conceptualise as in the field of morals and values. Sometimes striking and difficult to accept, sometimes resembling our principles to the point that we become blind to their differences, values that underpin the others’ actions are difficult to grasp, understand and explain. Can we, as anthropologists, maintain both the distance required by objective science and the empathy required for the analysis of lived experiences when addressing the issue of morality? Can we preserve in our writings the dignity of other cultures...

  5. Chapter 2 Norm and Spontaneity: Elicitation with Moral Dilemma Scenarios
    (pp. 20-45)
    Thomas Widlok

    Anthropology has a long record of comparing ‘the mores and customs’ in different places and of discovering specific moral biases in European thought (Widlok 2004a). Debates about cultural relativism and universalism are regularly (re)fuelled by the comparative ethnography of morality (Moody-Adams 1997).

    However, the particular biases that an anthropology of morality faces are not only the misrepresentations of ‘distant’ forms of moral behaviour on the basis of specific norms and values of the observer (e.g. nationalism, liberalism or Eurocentrism). They are in a sense more general and more fundamental biases, such as blindness towards ‘morality in action’, the exaggeration of...

  6. Chapter 3 Life History and Personal Experience: The Moral Conceptions of a Muscovite Man
    (pp. 46-61)
    Jarrett Zigon

    Wherever one looks these days, morality is showing up in the works of anthropologists. It has been suggested that the use of this concept allows anthropologists to avoid the well-understood difficulties of the traditional anthropological concepts of culture, society and power (Rogers 2004). Morality, so it may be thought, provides a more intimate perspective on the everyday lives of our subjects and interlocutors. While this is certainly commendable, the very concept of morality remains under-theorised by anthropologists. Because of this there is little agreement or coherence among those anthropologists who study moralities about just what it is they are attempting...

  7. Chapter 4 Morality, Value and Radical Cultural Change
    (pp. 62-80)
    Joel Robbins

    The anthropological study of morality is relatively undeveloped. This point is often made and appears to hold as well today as it did forty years ago (e.g. Edel and Edel 1968 [1959]; Howell 1997b; Laidlaw 2002). Many authors concur in pointing to one important reason why the development of an anthropology of morality appears to be almost permanently stunted: the anthropological tendency to treat all of culture or collective life as morally charged leaves morality as a domain of study woefully underspecified. Understood in these terms, to quote Laidlaw (2002: 313), the moral means everything and nothing. It does no...

  8. Chapter 5 Accelerated Globalisation and the Conflicts of Values Seen Through the Lens of Transnational Adoption: A Comparative Perspective
    (pp. 81-101)
    Signe Howell

    Children and their well-being became a central public concern during the twentieth century in Western Europe and North America. This ideological focus on the child and the state’s commitment to ensure its best interests are thus of recent origin and are linked to changes in the ideology of marriage, procreation and family life more generally. Earlier, one adhered to a moral understanding that adults’ needs are paramount, and, according to the influential social historian Ariés (1962), children were perceived as miniature adults with few special needs. This made way during the second half of the nineteenth century for a characterisation...

  9. Chapter 6 Morality, Self and Power: The Idea of the Mahalla in Uzbekistan
    (pp. 102-117)
    Johan Rasanayagam

    This chapter explores the relation between morality and the self. It discusses how we might think about moral selfhood as produced through a creative engagement within a social environment, so that morality is particular and individualised, while at the same time recognising that moral evaluation is made with reference to standards that exist outside the individual. It thus addresses the relationship between the universal and the particular. However, the universal is not a static set of norms or system of values, but is a set of dynamic and flexible moral frames, individually shaped within personal experience while remaining shared moral...

  10. Chapter 7 Moralising Female Sexuality: The Intersections between Morality and Sexuality in Rural Vietnam
    (pp. 118-135)
    Helle Rydstrøm

    Since the introduction in 1986 of the renovation policydoi moi, Vietnamese society has undergone rapid socio-political and economic changes. The dynamic processes of societal transformations in Vietnam pervade all levels of society and have provided the possibilities of reconsidering moral ideas and creating new moral in-between spaces. Especially in urban areas, citizens can highlight their sexuality more explicitly than was possible in pre-doi moiVietnam (Khuat Thu Hong 1998; Truong Trong Hoang 1998; Phan Thi Vang Anh and Pham Thu Thuy 2003; Thang Van Trinh 2003).

    However, with a Confucian heritage of comprehensive morals that over the years has...

  11. Chapter 8 Narrative Ethics: The Excess of Giving and Moral Ambiguity in the Lao Vessantara-Jataka
    (pp. 136-160)
    Patrice Ladwig

    Stories of exemplary donors who give away huge amounts of wealth, body parts or even their own life are not uncommon in Buddhism. The most famous of these,The Perfect Generosity of Prince Vessantara, in which the protagonist loses his right to inherit the throne because of his excessive giving, is expelled from the kingdom and finally gives away his children and wife, is perhaps better known in Laos than the biography of the Buddha himself. Whilst in the field surrounded by monks with an often profound knowledge of and love for traditional literature and participating in hour-long recitations of...

  12. Chapter 9 Adopting an Obligation: Moral Reasoning about Bougainvillean Children’s Access to Social Services in New Ireland
    (pp. 161-181)
    Karen Sykes

    This chapter elaborates a case study in the various negotiations over the moral value of obligation, whereby people justify and challenge the state’s responsibility to provide social services for children in Papua New Guinea (PNG) after a decade of violent political conflict within Bougainville Island. Just as Gluckman (1955, 1963) used the ethnographic case study to illuminate how a person’s actions could seem unreasonable in the eyes of state courts but be reasonable within the detailed description of the paradoxes of their specific situation, I use this case study to show that apparently difficult reasoning about obligations is actually sensible...

  13. Chapter 10 Between Facts and Norms: Towards an Anthropology of Ethical Practice
    (pp. 182-200)
    Mark Goodale

    As correctly argued in the introduction to this volume, anthropologists have traditionally neglected morality as a topic for ethnographic study and ethnological theory. This major lacuna in the intellectual history is a peculiar one, and not without consequence, especially as twenty-first century anthropology tries to come to terms with a range of contemporary problems in which morality – and normativity more generally – is fundamentally implicated. These include the rise of transnational human rights after the end of the cold war, the increasingly aggressive campaigns of religious conversion being waged in new places and new ways in the developing world, the attempt...

  14. References
    (pp. 201-214)
  15. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 215-218)
  16. Index
    (pp. 219-222)