Moral anthropology: A critique of criticism

Kristine Van Dinther


The anthropology of morality continues to be met with resistance. Opposition rests on the perception that one cannot study morals without moralizing or advocating which makes it both epistemologically and professionally questionable. This blinkered view of the objectives of moral anthropology ignores the differences in approaches which need to be considered if epistemic integrity is the real issue. Since most criticisms are aimed at Didier Fassin and Nancy Scheper-Hughes, I argue that the issue is political and that this singling out of their work raises its own set of questions regarding professional ethics. With reference to my own work and others who focus on embodied moralities, I show that neither moralizing nor advocating are an inevitable consequence of this approach and that the study of morals has genuine ethnographic value.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/711729