W098


Who's responsible? 
Convenorss:
Thomas Strong (National University of Ireland Maynooth)
Karolina Follis (Lancaster University)
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Discussants:
Cristina Grasseni (Utrecht University)
Format:
Workshops
Location:
V311
Sessions:
Thursday 12 July, 11:30-13:15, 14:30-16:15, Friday 13 July, 9:00-10:45 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

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.

Long Abstract

'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.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Karolina Follis (Lancaster University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper interrogates the contemporary struggles in the international legal community around responsibility of states, organizations and corporate actors for human rights violations. It proposes ethnography as an appropriate research route for understanding the relationship between claims of moral and legal responsibility.

Paper long abstract:

That moral responsibility and legal responsibility for specific wrongs are not necessarily the same thing is hardly news to victims of human rights violations. Claims of moral responsibility are narrative and performative building blocks of particular visions of social and political order, tied to ideas of how the world works. Responsibility, as imagined, delimited and adjudicated through international legal discourse strives to be a hard cold fact and a basis for specific amends. But it is also a relative novelty in international law. Hence the tensions in the legal community around the projects to enshrine mechanisms for establishing the responsibility of states, organizations and corporate actors for human rights violations in legally binding documents.

This paper is interested in the currency of the concept of responsibility in contemporary legal debates. It offers an exploration of some entry points for an ethnography of legal responsibility, such as NGO advocacy for corporate responsibility, and recent case law of the European Court of Human Rights. To ask who is legally responsible in an interconnected world is to transcend the limitations of the international legal system still premised on a vision of a community of sovereign nation-states. But the key objective of this paper is to enlist anthropology in the task of figuring out what kind of new world is being imagined and constructed by lawyers on different sides of this issue. This is important to know, for law has the strange power of solidifying moral claims into the status quo we all inhabit.

Author:

Katja Seidel (Maynooth University)

Paper short abstract:

Legal accountability and punishment in the aftermaths of mass-violence are seen as cornerstones of transitional justice efforts. My paper explores how members of H.I.J.O.S. contribute to the legal processes and to a historical narrative indebted to a moral and socio-legal universe of responsibility.

Paper long abstract:

This paper attempts a critical examination of the ways in which the post-genocidal generation in Argentina conceptualizes the meaning of justice within the frame of juridical and extra-juridical justice efforts, and the way the emerging moral narrative of "genocide" reflects back on the un/conscious construction of collective identities.

Specifically, the paper portrays the activities of the organization H.I.J.O.S. (children for identity and justice, against oblivion and silence) that came into being in 1995. Built on their shared perception of justice H.I.J.O.S.' members found their own belonging in a political activism. In a years time they developed the practice of Escrache in which they make visible the perpetrators of the military regime of the 1970s. Since the opening of the trials for crimes against humanity in 2003, they give testimony and work towards the acknowledgement of the genocidal practices of the past. Various examples of judgements that give reference to the genocidal nature of the crimes on trial now reflect the changing character of the historical narrative. As such, the local legal justice efforts in Argentina transform the responsibility of the court from a merely legal institution into a socio-political platform to establish historical "truth".

Built on my fieldwork in Argentina, I therefore suggest analysing the current justice efforts as a discursive certainty production in which the interconnectedness of truth, morality, and punishment is established as a collective responsibility to acknowledge a historical narrative of genocide that meets the ethical and moral life-worlds of the victimized citizens.

Author:

Thomas Strong (National University of Ireland Maynooth)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes discourses of 'criminalization' in relation to HIV transmission and infection. Debates about criminalizing HIV transmission illustrate points of intersection between medicine and law, exemplifying a contemporary biopolitics of ‘responsibilization.’

Paper long abstract:

A global debate is underway regarding the application of law -- criminal, civil, or public health -- to unique instances of HIV transmission as well as to the larger problem of controlling HIV incidence in populations. In some settings, existing statutes, such as the UK's 19th-Century 'offenses to the person act', are used to punish individuals who transmit HIV. In others, states are enacting new HIV-specific laws, such as Kenya's 2006 Sexual Offenses Act and its HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, which both included provisions criminalizing HIV transmission. Meanwhile, international HIV/AIDS advocacy and human rights organizations issue briefs opposing these measures, even as on-going prosecutions garner headlines. While advocates for the criminalization of HIV transmission seek to punish harmful conduct and thereby deter risk taking, opponents fear that prosecutions will be sought against HIV+ people already rendered vulnerable to stigma and discrimination, exacerbating inequality and hampering prevention efforts. The debate illustrates points of intersection or the between discourses of medicine and law, exemplifying a contemporary biopolitics of 'responsibilization' (Rose 2006; cf. 'judicialization' in Biehl 2008). However, insofar as opponents of criminalization argue that such measures are at cross purposes with the aims of public health, they reinscribe the biopolitical premises underlying the application of punitive law to HIV infections. Law comes to govern the morality of infection, a model of and model for the everyday ethics people may bring to bear on their sexual relations with each other.

Author:

Hideko Mitsui (University of Macau)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic observations of a variety of legal, political and social conflicts over the question of responsibility in the aftermath of the nuclear accident in Japan, this paper examines the dual working of ‘responsibility’ in the formation of subjectivities in post-311 Japan.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the dual working of 'responsibility' in the formation of subjectivities in post-WWII, post-economic growth and now post-nuclear disaster in Japan. As citizens of a post-affluence, post-growth society, people in Japan have been increasingly interpellated by the ideology of 'self-responsibility' (jiko-sekinin), which summons them to respond to and embrace a moral imperative to become strong and self-reliant individuals who can survive the ruthlessly competitive, neoliberal conditions, not in need of care or protection from the State. On the other hand, for certain institutions such as the State and large corporations, 'responsibility' asserts itself in its inapplicability and exemption, and as a ground to exonerate these institutions from being accountable for their (mis)deeds. In order to document and analyse this double life of responsibility and the role it plays in the remaking of subjectivities in post-disaster Japan, I have been observing a variety of legal, political and social conflicts arising around the idea of responsibility particularly around the ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant. This paper first demonstrates the ways in which 'responsibility' as a moral imperative has selectively interpellated people and institutions in post-WWII Japan. It then examines how it is currently reinscribing the relationship between the State and its subjects. Finally, it also ponders the possibility and space for unmaking the pervasive and dual working of responsibility through new social movements and changing forms of civic engagement.

Author:

Elise McCarthy (Rice University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will discuss the tension between the concepts of 'responsibility' and 'sustainability' in the realm of the corporate discourses and practices referred to as 'corporate social responsibility' or 'CR'.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on interviews conducted with executives in the corporate responsibility or CR arena in Ireland, this paper will highlight their very particular account of the history of 'corporate responsibility' and how they considered using instead a different phrase—'sustainability'. Reflecting a tension evident to others in CR circles in Ireland, both terms encapsulated different relationships to time and sentiment.

According to these interviews, sustainability captured how the dread of the future was investing the present, under the control of the most worldly of all—companies and citizens—with the power, the determination, to control the future now. Identifiable with a "strategically deployable shifter" (Kirsch 2010; Urciuoli 2003) the word was also becoming a 'carrier' for (physical environmental) ecological thinking, redeployed to embrace a wider ecology of social, environmental and economic concerns—zoēpolitics becoming biopolitics with heavy ethical emphasis.

In contrast, 'responsibility' was either too sacred—its use by companies "demeaned" it—or too oriented to pessimism and to critiques for corporate actions already taken, in short, to conscience.

According to these corporate responsibility practitioners, the encouragement to 'be responsible' had less of a chance of motivating companies to change fundamentally than sustainability did. Not all executives focussed on the terminology. Nonetheless, among certain advocates for corporate change the tension between the two terms is still not resolved; one leading advocacy organisation now refers to their work as providing guidance on responsible and sustainable business practices.