Accepted Paper:

An ecology of singularity: moral individualism and the Amazonian Commons  


Harry Walker (London School of Economics)

Paper Short Abstract:

Drawing on a Batesonian framework, this paper shows how attention to the commons among Peruvian Urarina is linked to a moral stance characterised by its respect for singularity.

Paper long abstract:

Rejecting the conventional environmentalist separation of the natural and the cultural, Bateson recognised the interconnectedness of the "three ecologies" of mind, environment, and social relations. Such a perspective suggests the possibility of an approach to moral life as contingent upon shifting configurations of social and ecological relationships, and a comparative approach that avoids the pitfalls of relativism. This paper develops this idea in showing how for the Urarina, a native people of the Peruvian Amazon for whom the human and non-human form an interconnected field, their relational embeddedness leads them to prioritise a distinctive moral stance characterised by its far-reaching respect for individual autonomy and uniqueness, which is quite distinct from modern possessive individualism. An orientation towards ecological and other resources that are held in common, rather than publicly or privately owned, inhibits the development of principles of equivalence of the kind that underpin Western notions of individualism and equality, and allows for an understanding of common being as founded on singularity.

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