This is a working
list on the topic of the Moral Imagination in Social Practice [11/10/12].
[To accommodate requests for notes from a former course. There is a huge amount of material; this is
only stuff I have used in a course.] In process
> I take this to
be what is involved in all social life.
It is of course manifest in political practice in the sense that all
political interactions are informed by issues that in some sense have a
transcendental significance, since political discourse implies attempts to
frame situations with significance. So
the moral imagination is involved not only in “religious” affairs but in all
Hayden White: ??? has
argued that all narratives implicitly imply moral orientations
A useful start on the term “moral imagination” can be found
What I have in mind by social practice I mean practice in a
sense developed by Bourdieu: Outline of a Theory of Practice, The Logic
of Practice, etc.
So the topic, Moral imagination in social practice is
essentially a way of looking at cultural affairs, social practices, so as to
appreciate the moral implications or insinuations in all social interaction.
It’s another way of thinking about culture. I have defined what I mean by “culture” at:
If I were looking backwards to earlier works of interest I
The counter enlightenment authors: See Isaiah Berlin, Counter Enlightenment. Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Key figures:
Vico, Hamann, Herder, Hume.
Respondents: Kant, Voltaire
Max Muller: In,
Exploratons in Language and Meaning by Malcomb Crick
Max Weber. On
Other important works:
For a course I gave on this topic, here is a list of some of
the readings we examined together:
required of most students],
optional, except for grad students or students who have taken AN3700, in which
case it is required instead of the other],
another optional reading in case you are interested and familiar with the other
As per my understanding of culture as essentially a body of
forms whose meanings a community more or less share:
* Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Religion as a Cultural System.”
In: The Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
# Clifford Geertz. 1973.
“Ethos, Worldview and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols.” In Interpretation of Culture. New York:
& Clifford Geertz. 1973. Thick Description. In
Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
Geertz: The following
are both about art as a cultural system and can be compared with his Deep Play,
which is also about art as a cultural system.
By comparing them you can get a sense of Geertz’s concept of cultural
system, a topic on which I am not sure many readers have gotten right.
* Clifford Geertz. 1973 “Lost in Translation: Social History
of the Moral Imagination.” In: Local Knowledge.
# Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Art as a Cultural System.” In: Local
Clifford Geertz: The following is the
most important article to understand and internalize but it is difficult; it’s
easy to miss the fact that the views he presents first are defective. Note what is wrong with each. Hint:
Look for what he has to say about defining situations. The definition of the situation is a critical
concept for our topic.
* Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Ideology as a Cultural System.”
In: The Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
Also, Geertz, Thick…[above]
Victor Turner: all of his works are aimed at understanding the moral imagination in social practice. He comes out of a different tradition [British Manchester School] and so uses a somewhat different language. See for instance his Betwixt and Between, and his other works on the Ndembu.
Abner Cohen. See his Custom and Politics in Urban Africa. Also, his Masquerade Politics. [Also from the same tradition as Turner. Their mentor: Gluckman.]
Irving Goffman was an influence on Geertz’s thought, but he comes
out of a “symbolic interactionism” tradition. This was early associated with Geo Herbert
Mead: “I” vs “Me”,
as fundamental concepts of the person.
G. H. Mead.
1934. Mind, Self and
Society. Ed by C.W. Morris. Chicago
G. H. Mead.
1938. The Philosophy of the Act.
Ed by C.W. Morris. Chicago.
1959. [selections] The
Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life.
New York: Anchor. *Introduction 1-16. * [6th day] Performances 17-76.
Marshal Sahlins. Sahlins’s
ideas we will spend a lot of time on.
1985 Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities [Selections]
Marshall Sahlins. 2004. [selections] Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding Culture as History and Vice
Included is: *”Elian
Included is: *“On the
Shot heard round the world”
William Sewell is looking for theoretical frames of reference that
will help historians be more deliberate and conceptually consistent in their
work. I like the whole book. I don’t think he understands Geertz but he find’s Sahlins’s structuralist approach [that is, as critically revised by Sahlins] to the study of history
helpful. [Of course Sahlins sought to
revise structuralism, as in the readings above.]
William H. Sewell, Jr. Logics of History . Chicago:
University of Chicago.Chapter 1
* [ch 3, Eventful Sociology ] Logics of History
William Sewell, Jr. [ch 4, Theory of Structure] Logics of
William Sewell, Jr. [ch 5, Concepts of Culture] Logics of
Sewell [ch 6, Geertz]
Sewell [ch 7, Sahlins, Theory of Culture]
* Sewell [ch 8, Translations of Structures]
Sewell [ch 10 Refiguring the Social]
From here many useful studies of the moral imagination
appear in the anthropological journals.
Examples that I have used follow:
On civil wars [civil wars always provide excellent examples of how competing sides misconstrue and misrepresent each other, so good examples of how moral rhetoric works in social practice:
*Denich, Bette. 1994.
“Dismembering Yugoslavia: Nationalist Ideologies and the Symbolic
Revival of Genocide.” American
Ethnologist 21(2):367-390. [ISSN 0002-7294]
Sells, Michael A
. 1996. The bridge betrayed:
Religion and genocide in Bosnia.
Berkeley: University of California
Sells, Michael A. 2002. “Construction
of Islam in Serbian Mythology.” In: Maya Shatz Miller, ed: Islam and Bosnian
Conflict Resoltuion and Foreign Policy in the Miltiethnic states. Montreal:
Ben Anderson: Imagined Communities.
Bruce Kapferer. Evil and the State, In: Legends of People Myths of State.
Other works of my own [apologies for self-promotion]:
Robert L. Canfield :
2008c Fraternity, Power, and Time in Central
Asia. In: The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan, edited by Robert
Crews and Amin Tarzi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
2004b New Trends among the Hazaras:
From “The Amity of Wolves” to “The Practice of
Brotherhood”. Iranian Studies
2003. Symbol and Sentiment in Motivated Action. In:
Tom Headland, MaryRuth Wise and Ruth Brend (eds), Language and Life:
Essays in Memory of Kenneth L. Pike.
Dallas: SIL International. Pp
343-358. [This was perhaps too abstract an argument; few people pay attention
to it. The Linguists think it is too
elementary to be useful. But the point
is to find a way to describe how signs “resonate” both subjectively and
Other works of interest:
Richard G. Fox. 1983. [Selections] Gandhian Utopia
Fredrik Barth. 1993. [Selections] Balinese Worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Fredrick G. Bailey: [selections] The Prevalence of Deceit. Ithaca: Cornell University
Verdery, Katherine. 1991. “Introduction: Ideology, Cultural Politics, Intellectuals.” In: National Ideology under Socialism; Identity and cultural politics in Ceausescu’s Romania.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot. 1995. “The Power in the Story” Ch 1 in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot. 1995. “An Unthikable History: The Haitian Revolution as a Non-Event” Ch 3 in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon.
Wolf, Eric R. 1999. “National Socialist Germany.” pp 197-273. In Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis. Berkeley: California University. [What is interesting about this is the effective way that Wolf’s marxist approach turns out to reveal effectively how the moral imagination was constructed and reiterated in German history.]
Fernandez, James. 1986. “The Dark at the Bottom of the Stairs: The Inchoate in Symbolic Inquiry and Some Strategies for Coping with it.” In: Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture.
Lindsay:. Ch 1, “Presidents and Power” in Faith
in the Halls of Power. Oxford University Press.
* James, Wendy. 2000. Postscript to Part I: On Moral
Knowledge. In: The Listening Ebony: Moral Knowledge, Religion, and Power among
the Uduk of Sudan. Oxford: Oxford University. pp 143-156. [James is a product of the Evans-Pritchard approach to anthropology, but she reflects the maturation of that tradition into ethnography that is still very interesting. In the above chapter of the longer work she pauses to reflect on the implications of her ethnographic material. I found it creative and imaginative; my students don’t get it.]
* M. Foucault. Two
Lectures. [and other works]
*Katherine Verdery: The Political Life of Dead
Navaro-Yashin. 2009. “Affective Spaces, Melacholic
Objects: Ruination of the Production of
Anthropological Knowledge.” JRAI
* Starrett: [on Egypt]
Sorabji, Cornelia. 2006. “Manging Memories in Post-war
Sarajevo: Individuals, Bad Memories, and New Wars.” JRAI 12:1-18.
Stoczkowski, Wiktor. 2008. UNESCO’s doctrine of human
diversity: A secular soteriology. Anthropology Today 25(3, June):7-11.
Backer-Cristales, Beth. 2008. “Magical Pursuits: legitimacy
and representation in a transitional political field.” American Anthropologist 110:
Armstrong, Karen. 2000. Ambiguity and Remembrance:
Individual and Collective Memory in Finland. American Ethnologist, 27(3):
Eisenlohr, Patrick. 2006: “The Politics of Diaspora and the
Morality of Secularism: Muslim identities and Islamic Authority in
Mauritius.” JRAI 12: 395-412.
Lester, Rebecca. 2009. Brokering Authenticity. Current
Dipesh Chakrabarty. 2002. “Subaltern Histories and
Post-Enlightenment Rationalism.” Ch 2 in Habitations of Modernity: Essays
in the Wake of Subaltern Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago.