Anthropology’s emergence at the intersection between colonial modernity and non-modern cultural traditions has always put it face to face with moral questions unique to its field of study. The various ways of negotiating the relation between cultural and moral relativism is perhaps one of the most important. But there are many others such as the morality of modernisation and capitalist development, the morality of racial classification and the morality of different forms of patriarchal domination. All are as the old as the discipline itself and have given rise to a particularly anthropological mode of confronting moral questions. While this engagement with morality began timidly, it has continuously grown to become far more explicit today. It can even be said that since the turn of the century it is one of the growth areas of anthropological research and reflection.
Today, anthropology’s moral horizons are continuously expanding. This expansion is related in part to the extension of the spaces of anthropological research and the multiplicity of moral issues that has arisen within them. These have not only grown geographically to include the entirety of the globe, but have also come to include non-spatially localised phenomena. Topics such as the intensification and the opposition to neo-liberal globalisation, the spread of social media, the internet and online social relations, the re-emergence of national and international neo-colonial forms of interventionism, the intersection of religion, anti-colonialism and terrorism, the continuing rise of forced and non-forced migration, and the ecological crisis all have widened the scope of anthropological research while highlighting new moral questions and dilemmas.
At the same time the morality of ethnographic and anthropological practices has itself become a wider and more intense space of reflection. It has become so institutionally as the discipline becomes entangled with the imperative of ‘ethics clearance’ that faces all university research. It has become so theoretically amidst an effervescence in ethnographically grounded philosophising. Last but not least, it has also become so politically. The radical object of anthropological attachment, and the bearer of ‘the good’, continues to move between ‘natives’, ‘colonised’, ‘exploited’, ‘oppressed’, and ‘excluded’, all general categories that remain signifiers of at least one dimension of the lives of a variety of populations. There is, however, an increased acceptance, such as with indigenous governance, that contrary to what radical anthropologists like to believe, the category of the good can be located even if ambivalently among ‘investors’, and ‘bureaucrats’, etc.
The conference theme is an invitation for ethnographic research and anthropological theorisations that can contribute, critically or otherwise, to widen and multiply those moral horizons.
We seek papers from all the domains of anthropological research: social, cultural, political and economic that directly or indirectly relate to the above themes raising questions such as:
- How do moral discourses shape social life in various ethnographic contexts from formal politics and activism to everyday practices of class and gender making?
- Are moral judgements at the heart of all social distinctions?
- Are political values being replaced by moral ones in a post-political age? Should this make us wary of an increasing anthropological interest in morality?
- Is a moral anthropology an applied anthropology, an engaged anthropology or development studies?
- Do we need new ways of considering ethical research beyond the strictures of the university ethics committee?
- Is anthropology conceived as a moral project a departure from a commitment to cultural relativism?
- Do changes in university funding systems and opportunities for employment have moral implications for anthropological teaching?