Particularity and Exception: Ethnographic Commitments and Moral Exemplars

JVF Conference Papers

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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