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Senior Research Seminar: Peter Lockwood (University of Cambridge) and Camille Lardy (University of Cambridge)

When Nov 29, 2019
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Trinity Hall Lecture Theatre, 'A' Staircase
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Peter Lockwood (University of Cambridge)

'Greedy Eaters' and their moralisers: A moral economy of continuity and consumption in central Kenya

Senior Research Seminar: Peter LockwoodBeyond the tranquil northern suburbs of Nairobi lies the burgeoning peri-urban sprawl of southern Kiambu County - a criss-crossing network of towns punctuating the patchwork geography of smallholder farms and enormous tea plantations that cascade across the hills in the direction of Mount Kenya. The region's rapid and ongoing urbanisation over the last two decades embodies the contradictions that define Kenya today. Proximity to Nairobi has allowed aspirations towards a middle-class standard of living to rise, but the buying-power of wages remains low. Whilst most Kiambu families practice life-long journeys of economising oriented towards endowing their children with the wealth of land and education, they observe around them an anti-economic hedonism that appears to subvert the proper moral order, emblematic of the “immoralities” (waganu) of town life are seen to have penetrated what was once country-side. Instead of careful investment in the service of familial continuity, rural families moralise about fathers who renege on their obligations to kin, sell their inherited land and spend the proceeds on the transient fun (raha) afforded by alcohol and prostitutes. Amidst Kiambu's urbanising terrain, consumption appears as a rogue value, attacking familial continuity by destroying wealth otherwise invested in in people.

This paper explores what is described as an embedded 'debate' about the relative morality of familial continuity vis-a-vis consumption, attending to the effects of locally-styled moral and immoral economic practice on evaluations of moral personhood. Moralisers denounce consumers as self-interested 'greedy eaters'. Those who embrace consumption observe the foolishness of investing the family with meaning in a context where intra-familial mistrust and betrayal prevails. 'What's the point in investing in ungrateful relatives?'.

Tracking this debate's emergence in the midst of Kenya's mid-20th century economic tumult under colonial rule to its contemporary iteration in a range of ethnographic circumstances, the paper implicitly engages with the question of how moral norms and principles keep step with material change.

Camille Lardy (University of Cambridge)

Scaling 'Our Common Home': The moral landscapes of subsidiarity among French Catholics

Senior Research Seminar: Camille Lardy
Thou shalt not pollute
In recent years, mainstream commentators in France have struggled to analyse the rise in ecological commitment among Catholics. In particular, something of a moral panic has emerged in the press around the matter of urban Catholic intellectuals choosing to leave the cities in order to settle in rural towns and villages. Many fear that this ostensible advocacy of small-scale, locally-situated green lifestyles hides a nefarious identity politics – a reactionary promotion of the (rural and Christian) 'roots' of France at odds with the Republican ideal of civic nationalism. In this paper, which is based on a chapter from my PhD thesis, I argue that the key scalar logic at stake in this Catholic turn to ecological commitment is not in fact 'localism' but 'subsidiarity' – the principle of the 'smallest scale appropriate'. My interlocutors explicitly linked this principle to Pope Francis's worldwide call to 'Care for Our Common Home' through ecology and fraternity. I argue that their newfound ecological pursuits on a local level are but one facet of their efforts to care for 'the common good' on several concatenated scales. Rather than promoting a particular pre-fabricated politics, they are engaging in a moral evaluation of the 'appropriateness' of multiple ways of scaling economic, political, and community life. While this need not issue forth in the particular identity politics feared by some commentators, it does trouble and interrogate some of the settled scalar imaginaries of French nationhood.

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