Uncanny ethics: Locating the coordinates of the ethical in the COVID-19 pandemic

Sumbul Farah


The recent anthropological focus on “ordinary ethics” emerges out of a concern to attend to the ethical aspect of social action that is intrinsic to the human condition. Ethnographic and theoretical contributions to this literature have drawn on a variety of philosophical approaches to the study of the “everyday” and the forms that ethical practice takes therein. However, a world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is far from the “everyday” that is the domain of ordinary ethics and calls for a reconceptualization of the ethical, which could provide coordinates of meaningful interaction in the unfamiliar social. In this “uncanny” world, I seek to explore the layered meanings of care and its implications for an ethics of the uncanny. While the uncanny is an epistemological condition of modernity itself, the alteration brought about by the pandemic makes it ontologically uncanny too. Locked in a cyclical relationship, the uncanny and the everyday inexorably follow the other, making it imperative to conceptualize an ethics that can accommodate the singularities of both.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/725343