Laws, rules, and categories are all around us, but so are individualistic practices, strategies, and techniques. In this panel, participants are invited to explore the nature and use of rules, their attractions and limitations, and their relationship to other social practices and resources.
Turning from structure to agency, and from law to practice, anthropology has recently had little time for rules. Bourdieu's theory of habitus demands a focus on individual strategy, rather than rule following, and legal anthropologists often emphasize litigants' strategic use of court processes. The new 'anthropology of ethics', too, entails a conscious turning away from legalistic ideas of ethics as a 'code of conduct'. But does this emphasis on the individual, the particular, and the strategic, risk ignoring the place of rules and categories in social life? Laws, rules, and categories are all around us. Explicit rules are attractive in quite local contexts, as village constitutions, and on a much larger scale as trading standards and commercial norms, even when there is no dominant power to enforce them. Legalistic ethics are common amongst 'techniques of the self'. In everyday life, rules make explicit the categories we use to think about and make sense of the world.
This panel invites participants to explore the nature and social use of rules. What it is that makes them attractive? What is the appeal of legalism and its limitations? Even where they are prominent, rules are rarely the only resource to which people turn, however. In projects of government, cross-border trade, or technologies of the self, we often find an appeal to rules next to practices of negotiation, reasoning with examples, and the elaboration of narrative and metaphor. We invite papers that explore both rules and their relationship to other social practices.