Theoretical Approach

What is the scope of a critical moral anthropology? Indeed, it does not propose a code of good conduct or a guide towards a better society. Rather, it facilitates the understanding of the evaluative principles and practices operating in the social world, the debates they arouse, the processes through which they become implemented, and the arguments that are given to account for discrepancies observed between what should be and what actually is. It therefore concerns moral economies at the global, national and local levels, as well as the moral work and moral subjectivities of the social agents.

It can be qualified as critical for two reasons. First, at the level of the moral facts observed and interpreted, it is not restricted to a grammar of justifications (as moral sociology usually understands it) nor to a cultural approach of realities (as the ethnography of moralities often displays it), but it also involves an analysis of the historical context and political stakes – which are obviously crucial in the case of the governing of immigrants and minorities. Second, at the level of the process of observation and interpretation of moral issues, it includes reflexivity on the moral position of the researcher (from the time data are collected to the moment of writing and even of responding to the reception of his or her work).

Although the program was a defence and illustration of the theoretical approach briefly described above, it remained open to alternative understandings of moral issues and developed a dialogue with them, both through the discussion of classic texts and the conversation with other intellectual projects.

A set of collective works resulted from the program:

  • a collection of case studies on moral economies by young researchers working on four continents, edited by Didier Fassin and Jean-Sébastien Eideliman and published by La Découverte;
  • a critical anthology of the moral question in anthropology, edited by Didier Fassin and Samuel Lézé published in French by the Presses Universitaires de France and in English by Routledge;
  • a “Companion” volume on the anthropology of morals with chapters written by world specialists on the different approaches to moral issues, edited by Didier Fassin and published by Wiley-Blackwell.

Two parallel seminars were held in Paris and Princeton:

  • “Economies morales contemporaines,” at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (2009-2012)
  • “Moral Issues” and “Moralities & Politics,” at the Institute for Advanced Study (2010-2012).