What is the place of the ethical in human life? How do we render it visible? How might sustained attention to the ethical transform anthropological theory and enrich our understanding of thought, speech, and social action? This volume offers a significant attempt to address these questions. It is a common experience of most ethnographers that the people we encounter are trying to do what they consider right or good, are being evaluated according to criteria of what is right and good, or are in some debate about what constitutes the human good. Yet anthropological theory has tended to overlook all this in favor of analyses that emphasize structure, power, and interest.
Bringing together ethnographic exposition with philosophical concepts and arguments and effectively transcending subdisciplinary boundaries between cultural and linguistic anthropology, the essays collected in this volume explore the ethical entailments of speech and action and demonstrate the centrality of ethical practice, judgment, reasoning, responsibility, cultivation, commitment, and questioning in social life. Rather than focus on codes of conduct or hot-button issues, they make the cumulative argument that ethics is profoundly “ordinary,” pervasive—and possibly even intrinsic to speech and action. In addition to deepening our understanding of ethics, the volume makes an incisive and necessary intervention in anthropological theory,
recasting discussion in ways that force us to rethink such concepts as power, agency, and relativism.
Individual chapters consider the place of ethics with respect to conversation and interaction; judgment and responsibility; formality, etiquette, performance, ritual, and law; character and empathy; social boundaries and exclusions; socialization and punishment; and commemoration, history, and living together in peace and war.
Together they offer a comprehensive portrait of an approach that is now critical for advancing anthropological theory and ethnographic description, as well as fruitful conversation with philosophy.