07.- 11.06.

P 12: Moralities in an entangled world: On studying moral configurations and questions of change


Moralities in an entangled world: On studying moral configurations and questions of change

Martina Drescher, Eberhard Rothfuß, Eva Spies: University of Bayreuth


Short abstract:

How can moralities be conceptualised and how can changing moral configurations be examined in the contexts of global entanglements? The panel invites submissions of conceptual and empirical papers that discuss emerging moralities linked to transformative projects in development, religion, security, arts, health or education and present ways of studying them.


Long Abstract

On the African continent, the quests for improving everyday life and transformations in general are shaped by a high frequency of interventions by international experts and all kinds of organisations as well as by a multitude of national and civil society initiatives. What role do moralities play in those contexts in which different actors, transformative projects and ways of implementing them can be found? How do, for instance, moral practices of wealth distribution of either religious groups, savings circles or economists speak to each other? The panel addresses the challenge of how to conceptualise moralities beyond static rules of conduct, and how to study changing moral configurations in contexts of global entanglement.

We suggest that moralities should not be understood as given rules, which are limited to a specific social field, nor as principles that clash or mix when different actors meet. Rather, following M. Lambek we understand moralities as dimensions of practice and as continuously constituted in and through practice. Moral questions, demands, criteria and evaluations about well-being, justice, and the right ways to act and live a 'good life' are thus seen as products of ongoing interactions between diverse agencies and the ways in which they relate to each other: In the course of their interactions, moral claims, concerns and judgements emerge and may in turn influence imaginaries of change and ways of shaping the future. Thus, studying moralities in the making means looking at everyday relational processes in which diverse agencies participate and continuously constitute moralities. It also means exploring these moralities in flux as a result and/or catalyst of transformative actions of individuals, organisations or social movements.

We invite submissions of conceptual and empirical papers that discuss emerging moral configurations connected to transformative projects in fields of development, religion, security, arts, health or education and present ways of studying them.


01 Ademola Fayemi: Reconfiguring Ethics Scholarship in African Studies: Reflections on the Limitations and Prospects of African Languages

How can we better reconfigure ethics scholarship in African Studies and what implications would be doing so have on multiple and changing moralities in global Africa? This paper addresses this question by arguing the imperativeness of a reflexive interrogation of the use of indigenous languages in the construction and re-interpretation of moral values in ethics scholarship in African Studies. This paper provides some theoretical reflections on the weaknesses and strengths of a reconfigured linguistic nuances in the articulation of the overlapping dominant moral ideals embedded in traditional and changing moralities in African culture. This paper defends a pluriverse conception of African ethics studies reconfiguration that marks a considerable shift from both the ‘exterior orientation’ that prizes exogenous knowledge production on moralities in Africa with international dissemination and preservation mechanisms, as well as the ‘interior orientation’ in African Studies that is driven by the postcolonial quest of defending African identity in African ethics scholarship by largely writing back to audience and moral agents outside of Africa. In reconfiguring ethics scholarship in the new African Studies, this paper argues that theoretical, ethnographic, heuristic, analytic, casuistry, and hermeneutic approaches must be taken seriously in re-addressing some Eurocentric categorization of values in the African context as either ‘morality’, ‘ethic’ rather than ‘ethics’. Drawing on Michael Lambek’s The Ethical Condition that emphasizes the continuous constitution, exchanges, and changes in moralities amongst different actors, and Thaddeus Metz’s Afro-communal construction of relational virtue ethics, this paper argues that infusing the everyday indigenous languages of moralities in different African cultures is promising in the anthropology, criticality, and metatheory of ethics in African Studies. Hermeneutics of African moral languages in multiple contexts and African linguistic spaces would change the current narratives on the seeming limited scope of African ethics by promoting, mutatis mutandis (allowing for necessary variations, multiplicity, and flexibility), a flourishing culture of ethics in African Studies. The salient ideas in such ethics would be beneficial for everyday struggles in global Africa and beyond. Furthermore, this paper exposes some fundamental limitations of the new emphasis on African languages in ethics scholarship while concluding with some prospects for future African Studies.

Ademola K. Fayemi (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Lagos, Nigeria.


02 Gerda Kuiper: The shifting moral configurations of the trade in second-hand clothes in Tanzania

The (im)morality of the informal economy on the African economy has sparked much debate over the past decades. Such debates have also informed policy. For example, the Tanzanian government has in recent years attempted to include informal small-scale traders into the formal economy by making business IDs mandatory for petty traders. This paper looks into a specific informal sector in this country, namely the trade of second-hand clothes. Most of the clothing consumed in Tanzania is second-hand. These clothes - locally known as mitumba  - are imported into the country by large and middle-scale companies and then distributed further by informal small-scale traders. The trade has become particularly controversial in recent years, due to an (ultimately failed) attempt by Eastern African countries to ban it. These governments and other critics of the trade argue that the export of second-hand clothes is an unethical act of "dumping waste". In contrast, consumers and traders value the clothes and the possibilities they provide. For instance, profits made through the distribution of mitumba are commonly redistributed by traders to family members, either by including relatives in the trade or by sending remittances, thus allowing these traders to meet certain moral expectations and to transform their own lives.

This paper analyses the moral economy of the Tanzanian mitumba trade by discussing the diverging discourses about the trade as expressed in newspaper articles, reports, and other grey literature. This discussion is supplemented with ethnographic observations of local trading and consumption practices that reflect these moral considerations. The paper aims to highlight interactions between the diverse moral evaluations of the mitumba trade in Tanzania over the past decade.

Gerda Kuiper (PhD) is Senior Researcher in Cultural and Social Anthropology at the Global South Studies Center, University of Cologne, Germany.


03 Magnus Echtler: “A woman who says ‘It is democracy! We are now equal’ belongs to hell”: Patriarchal morality in the Nazareth Baptist Church, South Africa

Facing the challenge of another succession conflict in 2011, doing ethics in the Nazareth Baptist Church, one of the largest African Indigenous Churches in South Africa, took a decidedly conservative turn. When Isaiah Shembe founded the Nazareth Baptist Church in 1910, he established a transformative project that entangled Christian millenarian hope with African traditionalism, and his way to salvation entailed adherence to biblical laws, a protestant work ethic, dancing to salvation in African or Scottish attire, and a variant of patriarchal respect (ukuhlonipa) that included the ancestors. The church`s multiple moralities transcended yet retained both African and Christian traditions and trajectories, but as ‘Black Messiah’ Shembe ruptured the epistemic domination of white mission Christianity. He was a charismatic leader, who proved his divine mission through miraculous deeds. After his death, charisma turned hereditary, but this concept did not prevent conflicts over church leadership amongst his descendants.

In the latest succession conflict, one of the contenders, Mduduzi Shembe, strengthened his position by mobilizing traditional authorities, notably chiefs, both within the church and beyond. In my paper, I analyse how Mduduzi’s claim was supported by preachers’ moralizing sermons, but also through doing ethics at the church’s assemblies, where moralities materialized in gestures of respect, dancing, dress, in spatial layout and atmosphere. These assemblages created a utopian Zulu homestead, a heterotopia of perfection emitting an affective force that demanded commitment to Mduduzi. In conclusion, I link the church’s moralities with Zulu nationalist forces in post-apartheid South Africa.

Magnus Echtler (PhD) is Senior Researcher at the Kolleg-Forschergruppe “Multiple Secularities” in Leipzig and Habilitand in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Bayreuth, Germany.


04 Seth Tweneboah: The Clash of Values and the Moralisation of Homosexuality in Ghana

Despite the growing secularisation of African societies, religious and moral solidarity crucially provides a platform for African states to assert their sovereignty when it comes to resisting external pressure. In this presentation, I present homosexuality as a means through which local sexual morality and international legal and human rights standards are contested in the Ghanaian public sphere. The presentation demonstrates the way in which the controversy over same-sex relationship, which marks a significant sexual revolution, yields itself to moral panic in society. At the core of the presentation is the question of the extent to which religious and moral resources both impede and facilitate political modernity in Ghana.

Methodologically, the presentation is a product of ethnographic fieldwork (between 2015 and 2020) drawing on different sets of interviews with three key non-state agents (chiefly actors, traditional religious specialists, and churchly leaders). It also relies on extant and more recent literature on the politicization of homosexuality (for example, Tweneboah, 2019, 2020). The data gathered from the field of study are interrogated, using content analysis method to contend that the ongoing controversy over homosexuality in Ghana and most of Africa manifests itself as a clash of different legal, religious and moral norms and ideological values of society.

The presentation, in many ways, calls attention to the urgent need of studying the often-ignored topic of the invocation of Africa’s shared moral traditions and norms as conduits of distinguishing itself, and at the same time, participating in the global secular political arena. The presentation also reflects ongoing endeavor to strengthen critical scholarship within Africa’s religion-secular engagement.

Seth Tweneboah (PhD) is a Lecturer at the Centre for Conflict, Human Rights and Peace Studies of the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana.

June 10 @ 10:30
10:30 — 12:00 (1h 30')

Zoom Room 3

Eberhard Rothfuß, Eva Spies, Martina Drescher

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