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Bialecki Suomen Antropologi Review of Faubion, An Anthropology of Ethics

Bialecki Suomen Antropologi Review of Faubion, An Anthropology of Ethics

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12/01/2012

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Faubion Book Review21
James Faubion (2011),
 An Anthropology of Ethics
, Cambridge: Cambridge University PressThe anthropology of ethics has become a well-travelled field over the last decade, with major contributions from authors such as Joel Robbins, Saba Mahmood, Michael Lambek, JamesLaidlaw and Jarrett Zigon. During this decade, James Faubion has also been a central participantin these discussions. The problem of the ethical was the object of an important theoretical article(“Toward an Anthropology of Ethics: Foucault and the Pedagogies of Autopoiesis”) of his in2001, as well as an element of 
 Lights and Shadows of Waco,
his ethnographic biography of aPost-Waco Branch Davidian Millenarian prophetess; it has also come up tangentially in essayson both kinship (2001) and fieldwork (2009). In all these works he has been adroit butdetermined in thinking through the problem through the later works of Michel Foucault, and hislatest book is no exception. However, this is his most sustained work on the “subject” (if I can beforgiven the pun), and this particular intervention occurs at a time when the decade-longconversation seems to have hit a critical mass, where the field of an anthropology of ethics israpidly maturing and when a new way of theorizing (as opposed to simply a new theory) isneeded. It is perhaps because of the timing that this book comes across as being so welcome.This book’s core plank in putting forth
an
anthropology of ethics (the author is quite explicitthat there can be no
one
anthropology of ethics, and that other anthropologies of ethics willfollow) is that the contributions that Foucault can make to this field have not yet been exhausted.This claim is demonstrated in two parts. The first half of the book consists of an extendedtheoretical essay that closely reads Foucault’s final books and lectures; this reading is informed by and in dialogue with both the existing philosophy and anthropology of ethics and morality, aswell as against the existing scholarship on Greek antiquity that was Foucault’s source for muchof his later work. The second half of the book consists of revisiting two already existingethnographic cases. The first is
Ocasião
, the epistolary ethnography/exchange between GeorgeMarcus and Fernando Mascarenhas, a Portuguese Nobleman; the second is Faubion’s own
 Lightsand Shadows of Waco
(an additional section, on the 19
th
century Greek poet Constantine Cavafy,is referred to but not included; it should be available on the internet shortly).It may seem that a revisiting of Foucault’s works on ethics, followed by a Foucauldianreading of two works that were themselves no strangers to Foucault, would be going over somealready well-mined areas. That is incorrect. What distinguishes Faubion’s work here from other anthropological uses of Foucault is a simultaneous loyalty to, and suspicion of, its Foucaultianinspirations; as Faubion himself says, in this work he is a “shameless revisionist” (24). Faubiontakes seriously the problem of applying Foucault in an ethnographic idiom, acknowledging thatFoucault cannot be simply ‘ported’ over to the social sciences. Faubion is careful to developaspect that were underdeveloped, latent, or even at times absent from the original Foucaultianformulation. In furtherance of this work, Faubion addresses ethics as socialization,recruitment/selection, the category of value and forms of social justification, the problem of 

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