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Title: Immoral economy : negative ethics and everyday economic life in the southern Peruvian Andes
Author: Howland, Corinna
ISNI:       0000 0004 9360 0282
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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This dissertation explores the perverse vitality of negative ethics—that is, how concerns about immorality animate everyday economic life in rural Andean Peru. Through a consideration of issues such as land inheritance, borrowing money, gift exchange, wealth inequality, and cash cropping, I argue that routine evaluative judgements about bad actions and characteristics of others are deeply implicated in attempts to make a good living and to live well. The dissertation is based on 18-months of ethnographic research in the small Aymara-speaking community of Suma Marka and sits at the intersection of the anthropology of ethics, economics, and materiality. Where immorality has often been considered analytically as a straightforward inversion of the good and subsumed within people’s attempts to achieve the good, I argue that negative ethics comprises a richly textured field of actions, beliefs, concerns, and logics that significantly incorporates, but also extends beyond this dialectic. Consequently, each chapter explores less-than-straightforward relationships between the ‘bad’ and the ‘good’, moving from an examination of interpersonal settings to collective economic endeavours over the course of the dissertation. Chapter Two begins in the setting of intimate kinship. I consider the nature of obligation when relations break down following a tragic death and ongoing disputes over land, demonstrating how people continue to tolerate bad kin in order to maintain their ideals and practices of good kinship. Chapter Three extends the consideration of debt obligations in particular, juxtaposing interpersonal moneylending with apxata (beer crate) exchange at fiestas to consider reciprocity’s discontents, and to explain the emergence of shame as interpersonal debt relations become hierarchical. Here, good attempts to extend credit inadvertently produce bad borrowers. The theme of inequality is again taken up in Chapter Four, which examines envy ascription and envy avoidance. I demonstrate how public commitments to avoiding envy contrast with private narratives about others’ envy, where the attribution of bad intentionality to others bolsters people’s self-constructions as good people who are getting ahead and living well. Finally, Chapter Five considers the failure of a quinoa sale, illustrating how material contingencies can prompt shifts in people’s ethical judgements over time, as people appraise and then reappraise the material and moral consequences of theirs and others’ lying. Here, the bad is temporarily suspended in pursuit of greater goods, only to reappear when these goods fail to materialise. The dissertation’s contributions are two-fold. Firstly, it re-centres economic activity as a sphere of social life subject to significant ongoing and unfolding moralisation, through an analysis of material affordances, interests, and contingencies. Secondly, an attention to negative ethics in Suma Marka provokes a reconsideration of the nature of the good, and draws attention to understudied aspects of relational ethics, specifically: the role of comparison, situated perspectives, instrumentality, and the occasionally-seductive quality of ethical transgression. Consequently, the dissertation affirms both the destructive and generative potentials of the “shadow side” of Suma Marquenos’ ethical lives.
Supervisor: Lazar, Sian Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Andes ; Peru ; Economy ; Ethics ; Negative Ethics