Accepted paper:

Invisibility as ethics: play and the making of relatedness in Maranhão


Matan Shapiro (University of Bergen)

Paper short abstract:

I focus on the emotional dimensions of ethical personhood as they manifest through forms of play in the Brazilian state of Maranhão. I argue that through play persons ‘bend’ moral boundaries and constitute the public invisibility of certain actions as an ethical practice in its own right.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I explore the playful and often paradoxical ways by which residents of a low-income neighborhood in the Brazilian state of Maranhão attempt to reconcile mutually-exclusive ethical prescriptions. On the one hand, both men and women locally consider the expression of desire, rage, longing and other emotive dispositions as the provenance of autonomy and freedom. On the other hand, persons stress the indispensability of complaisance, 'respect' and deference in the structural maintenance of abiding social hierarchies. Based on 20 months of fieldwork, I argue that through prevalent forms of play persons locally sustain an image of ethical personhood from the point of view of both these modalities simultaneously. I demonstrate ethnographically that play in Maranhão mainly consists in performances of jealousy, anguish, mockery and seduction. Since these forms of play regularly include a measure of simulation, double-standard, or even outright deceit; they enable persons to shift the ethical boundaries of mundane encounters. Consequently, play-forms render 'invisible' those actions that challenge conventional moral injunctions. In low-income Maranhão the mundane production of such 'invisibility' is predictable, and it therefore becomes intrinsic to the proliferation of intimate relations as an ordinary ethical practice in its own right.

panel P51
When means and ends coincide: beyond 'utility'