Ethn04
A particularly hairy beast: relativism, relationality and an ecology of moralities

Convenors:
Gillian Tan (Deakin University)
Monica Minnegal (University of Melbourne)
Chair:
Monica Minnegal and Gillian Tan
Discussant:
James Leach and Jadran Mimica
Stream:
Ethnographic theory and practice
Location:
Babel 204
Start time:
2 December, 2015 at 11:00
Session slots:
2

Short abstract:

This panel asks how a comparative take on morality might escape the dilemmas of relativism. Can we, rather, frame analyses in terms of the relationships through which always-contingent entities, including moralities, emerge into view? This calls for - following Bateson - an ecology of moralities.

Long abstract:

At a time when political instabilities elicit demand for moral imperatives, while conceptual developments argue for multiple ontologies and the "permanent decolonization of thought" (Vivieros de Castro 2009), how might we (and those who we, as anthropologists, accommodate to our ethnographies) achieve a comparative take on morality? Could an ecology of moralities - based on a Batesonian ecology that is attentive to multiple positions, their dialectical relations and contextual realties, but is not beholden to an empiricism that is universalized - offer a way out? In this panel, we explore ways that we, but also the people with whom we work, conceptualise and negotiate the intricacies of moral relativism. We are interested in the apparent contradictions implied in this juxtaposition of terms. But we are interested, also, in the ways that moral ambiguities are negotiated by those for whom relational ways of dwelling are challenged by encounters with radically different ontologies and epistemologies. Relativism too often foregrounds 'entities' that are already formed and that may then be placed 'relative to' others. This risks losing sight of the relationships and interactions through which always-contingent entities, including moralities, emerge into view. We invite theoretical and ethnographic contributions that: - survey the shifting ground of relativism - particularly moral relativism - as embedded within anthropology; - analyse the implications for understanding moralities by seeing them as emerging within a relational field; - explore how an ecology of moralities is, or is not, evident in different ethnographic settings.