Introduction: new ethical fields and the implicitness/explicitness of ethics in Africa

TitleIntroduction: new ethical fields and the implicitness/explicitness of ethics in Africa
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsA. Bochow, T.G. Kirsch, and R.A. van Dijk
Secondary TitleAfrica : journal of the International African Institute
Pagination447 - 461
Date Published2017///
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication Languageeng
ISSN Number1750-0184
KeywordsAfrica, ethics

Throughout history, people on the African continent have experienced momentous transformations of their lifeworlds and ways of living, some of them irruptive, uncompromising and cataclysmic, others of a more subtle and negotiable nature. What remains to be dealt with in more detail by anthropologists are the manifold ways in which these transformations are reflected in, and have a bearing on,people's ethical demeanours, commitments and debates. Given the complexityand variability of these processes, it is not possible or even desirable to give a conclusive answer to this question. Instead, taking account of historical and sociocultural specificities, this special issue features in-depth case studies of ethics as ideals in practice from several countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Botswana, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania). In doing so, the contributions combine a presentation of ethnographic findings with a discussion of a new conceptual approach for a practice-oriented anthropological study of 'ordinary ethics' (Lambek 2010). In this introduction,we argue for a rather fluid notion of ethics that entails people's convictions, value judgements and sentiments on how to live a morally good and/or just life. We suggest that the making and unmaking of ethical fields takes place within the context of state politics, the influence of international organizations and the emergence of new publics and local NGOs that provide people with new ideas about what is 'right' and 'wrong'.We show that these ethical fields emerge in dialectical processes between what we call the 'implication' and 'explication' of ethics. In what follows, we first briefly reflect on previous anthropological work on ethics in Africa. We then delineate the parameters of our conceptual approach, before finally commenting on how the articles in this special issue broaden our understanding of everyday struggles in contemporary Africa to achieve or to maintain a certain ethical composure, to win relevant others over to committing themselves to particular ethical principles, or to position oneself in relation to the (un)ethical claims of others.

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