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Department of Social Anthropology


Anthropology at times overlooks immorality in its study of ethics, privileging ‘the good’ and people’s positive practices of self-cultivation. This elision reflects a broader disciplinary tendency towards viewing social life as inherently positive or benign. 

Edited by Tom Powell Davies and Corinna Howland, this special issue of L’Homme reenvisages the anthropology of ethics from the point of view of ‘the negative’. What might moral life look like, they ask, if we foreground wrongdoing, misconduct, social trespasses, and people’s anxieties about them? The issue argues that immorality does not undermine social life, but rather is generative of it: tempting people, provoking outrage, galvanising action, and prompting innovation around ethical conventions.

Emerging from a 2021 workshop held at The Max Planck - Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change, the special issue includes contributions from a number of present and former Cambridge anthropologists, including Taras Fedirko, Corinna Howland, Tom Powell Davies, and Leanne Williams Green, alongside other authors such as Olivia Angé, and afterwords by Marilyn Strathern and Didier Fassin.