What does the salience of the concept of responsibility today tell us about contemporary culture and governance? To understand why 'responsibility' has become such a conspicuous term in contemporary thoughtstyles, this workshop invites ethnographic reflections on its diverse meanings and uses.
'Responsibility' is a keyword in contemporary politics and culture. It is invoked in diverse discursive domains: in courts of law, in reputation-bolstering campaigns of corporations, in political forums urging people to be good citizens, in philosophical debates about freedom and autonomy. Responsibility has two conventional senses: the 'capability of fulfilling an obligation or duty' and the 'state or fact of being accountable.' In both senses, to establish responsibility involves the ethical ordering of social action in time. It is to settle accounts for the past, organize the present, or anticipate a vision of the future. Determining 'who is responsible?' is a way of addressing or reconfiguring the pervasive states of anxiety, uncertainty, and disquiet produced by contemporary global capitalism. As a ubiquitous construct in contemporary life, responsibility evokes both the pedestrian and the profound: it may be a mundane aspect of bureaucracies (when rules and regulations distribute tasks within an institution) or an act of justice (when guilt and innocence is established in a court of law). It may also be a political game.
The discourse of responsibility intersects with resonant themes in anthropology today: analyses of 'risk society,' morality and ethics as ethnographic topics, and ideas about agency and structure. What does the salience of the concept of responsibility tell us about contemporary cultural concerns and forms of government? To understand why 'responsibility' has become such a conspicuous term in contemporary thoughtstyles, this workshop invites ethnographic reflections on its diverse range of meanings and uses today.