Katherine Miller

VF_Miller

Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Reed College / Portland, OR

Krzysztof Michalski Junior Visiting Fellow
(September 2015 – June 2016)

Project:

Particularity and Universality as Moral Orientations: Isma‘ili Islamic Ethics in Northern Pakistan

Drawing on ethnographic research on ethics, international development and
cultural change carried out among Isma‘ili Muslims in Northern Pakistan, the
questions that guide my work at IWM concern the relationship between the local,
everyday and embodied bases for culturally-specific moral sensibilities and the
aspirations toward moral universality, specifically the idea of a universal
humanity, that people may articulate from within such particular and situated
moral worlds.

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Particularity and Exception: Ethnographic Commitments and Moral Exemplars

This paper takes up the idea of exception from the perspective of anthropology. For a discipline with sustained commitments to ethnographic particularism as well as to the generation of theoretical models, the exception appears not as a taken-for-granted status of certain cases with respect to pre-given rules. Rather, exceptions are actively made and unmade through the interpretive and social practices in which both anthropologists and their interlocutors in the field engage. The people of Hunza, Northern Pakistan engage the tropes of geographic, political and religious exceptionalism that have defined them in the eyes of outsiders in efforts to create social boundaries and exclusions regionally while simultaneously forging bonds of relatedness with valued others. The paper concludes that the designation of exceptional cases is a form of social action that takes place against the background of rules and expectations that are pervasively, rather than occasionally, normative, and that its implications are always at least potentially moral.
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Introduction
The Power of the Norm: Fragile Rules and Significant Exceptions

Certain exceptions, it is said, prove the rule. This has sometimes been understood to mean that identifying a given instance of a phenomenon as exceptional implies the existence of a rule to which it does not conform. The exception may then direct our attention to special circumstances under which the rule does not apply. Alternatively, under an older meaning of the word ‘prove,’ the phrase suggests that exceptional cases test or call into question taken-for-granted rules or expectations. ...
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