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Department of Social Anthropology


  James Laidlaw)

This research cluster takes up issues of self, personhood and ethics and explores them in relation to both subjectivity and social action. Focal topics include cross-culturally diverse understandings of inner awareness and self-cultivation, diverse notions of virtue, flourishing and well-being, the motivational and structuring force of values, social practices of accountability and conceptions of justice, and the role of creativity and emotion in fostering people’s understandings of themselves and their social worlds. Research explores how political and economic structures shape and are shaped by people’s intimate concerns, and considers how such concerns are informed by and feed into various means of public expression such as ritual and religion, art, and activism, as well as how they unfold across the life-course. Work in this area is deeply informed by engagements with philosophy and psychology, and brings that scholarship into dialogue with vernacular understandings across all of the topics studied. Research on ethics, subjectivity and emotion have contributed in recent years to a profound rethinking of anthropological theories of practice and accounts of the nature of sociocultural life. Our work in this cluster aims to continue to make contributions along such inter-disciplinary lines.


Research undertaken under this cluster includes work on:

- the role of values in shaping ethical life

- the place of religious education in projects of self-making

- creation of subjectivity and social roles through forms of speech and other modalities of self expression

- affect as anthropological method; diversifying affect

- Liberal reformism as a contested project of remaking persons

- linguistic translation as a space for exploring moral and political concepts

- diverse pursuits of justice beyond rights-based claims

- ethical scaling and institutionalisation through grassroots organisations/movements

- regimes of intention management and accountability in everyday and ritual life

- cross-cultural differences in moral development and imagining as social practice

- emotions and the ends of life - role of emotion at life’s end, as well as the construction of meaning in life

- comparative ethnographies of freedom

- imagination and creation - internalizations and externalizations of knowledge and thought.