Anthropology of biopolitics and moral choices

Marie Gaille-Nikodimov (CNRS)
Frédéric Keck (Musée du quai Branly)
Wills 3.23
Start time:
19 September, 2006 at 11:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Governments and social institutions take decisions about life and death at different levels. What kind of tools does anthropology have to describe the moral dimension of these biopolitical choices?

Long abstract:

Governments and social institutions take decisions about life and death and implement public policies based on them. They focus on private life, procreation, consumption, environment, the use of the human body and body parts for research, etc. These policies take various shapes, from mere publicity campaigns organised to make people aware of a health risk to new legislation. They can also use the social security system in order to favour or reject some individual behaviours and choices. This workshop aims to describe these decisions on life and death considered as moral choices. It has a special interest in the various institutions and actors involved in the decision-making process: on the one hand, governmental and legislative bodies, safety agencies, ethical committees and hospitals, and on the other hand, civil servants, lawyers, consumers, patients and associations. It also deals with the way public powers handle these actors, their claims and the various manners in which they address them. In addition, this workshop intends to examine what kind of fieldwork can be done on such moral choices: does the anthropologist have to negotiate his/her presence and the results of his/her enquiry? How does he/she get accepted in the institutions mentioned above, some of them being partly determined by a culture of secrecy (medical or political)? What are his/her conceptual tools to describe the moral choices about life and death at stake in the various biopolitics? Finally, this workshop would like to raise the question of the relationship between anthropology and morals. It rejects the opposition between the claim for universal moral values and the relativist conception of moral choices, it wants to concentrate on the specific dimension of each situation and the various types of constraints inherent to them, and it develops an interest in the way moral values about life and death are expressed in ordinary actions about extraordinary issues.