Ethics across borders: Incommensurability and affinity
Evans, Nicholas HA
Journal of Ethnographic Theory
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Mair, J., & Evans, N. H. (2015). Ethics across borders: Incommensurability and affinity. Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 5 201-225. https://doi.org/10.14318/hau5.2.013
This article takes what has always been a methodological and ethical question for anthropologists (how should we relate to others?) and turns it into an ethnographic one (how do those we study think ethically across borders?). We show that, paradoxically, anthropologists’ commitment to their own forms of ethics across borders have frequently effaced alternative conceptions among the people we study, whilst the burgeoning field of the anthropology of ethics has reintroduced ideas of cultural boundedness and incommensurability into the anthropological canon. Moreover, within anthropology, a focus on either universal motivation or cultural relativism has obscured ethics across borders, which as a practice is premised on both the existence of ethical difference and the possibility of transcending it. In relation to an example taken from Evans’ work on Ahmadi Muslims in India, we develop the idea that ethics across borders depends as much on the creative production and elaboration of incommensurable differencem - a process we call “incommensuration” - as on the identification of affinities. As suggested by the collection this essay introduces, ethics across borders in this sense must be widespread, and deserves greater ethnographic attention, particularly with regard to the diverse ways in which difference and affinity are imagined.
ethics, borders, incommensurability, difference, affinity
This article and the collection it introduces grew out of an interdisciplinary seminar organized by Jonathan Mair from 2012 to 2013 at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge, as part of a Melon Newton Research Fellowship. Articles collected here were presented at a conference convened by Mair and Evans under the title “Ethical Conversations Across Borders” in January 2014 held in Cambridge with the support of CRASSH, King’s College, Cambridge and St. John’s College, Cambridge. We would like to thank participants and contributors to the seminar and conference for their contribution to the development of the project, including Michael Banner, Naor Ben-Yehoyada, Matei Candea, Joanna Cook, Jane Heal, Caroline Humphrey, Paolo Heywood, Tim Jenkins, James Laidlaw, Michael Lempert, Hallvard Lillehammer, Patrick McKearney, and Alice Wilson. We would also like to thank Marie Lemaire and Ruth Rushworth for invaluable organizational support. Nicholas Evans’ contribution to this project is due, in part, to a generous research grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) to which we also extend our thanks. Finally, we are extremely grateful to Giovanni da Col and two anonymous reviewers of this introduction for their insightful comments, and to Sean Dowdy, Andra Le-Roux Kemp, and Justin Dyer for their very significant help with its production.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau5.2.013
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/251427
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