Reconciling Roles, Responsibilities, and Matters of Value

Contributors from all areas/regions are invited to participate, and many specific concerns (economic, medical, religious, environmental) would work well with the panel’s focus. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

If you are interested in participating, please send a title, abstract, and keywords to Mary Good ( by April 1. I look forward to hearing from you.

This panel brings together a range of ethnographic research to examine the ways in which local ideas about responsibility—individual, social, institutional—must be re-negotiated in relation to emergent systems of value, economic and otherwise. As global flows of people, products, ideas, and capital cross national and cultural boundaries, local social actors are confronted by seemingly incommensurable priorities and responsibilities. Global circulation of neoliberal ideologies in realms such as health, environment, education, and economy place an emphasis on self-regulated action in the name of long-term benefits, often with a model of “self as a business” in the background (Gershon 2011: 539). In this context, individuals begin to cast themselves as flexible and multi-faceted “bundles of skills,” able to adapt to and profit in whatever type of social landscape they might find themselves a part of. (Freeman 2007; Gershon 2008; Urciuoli 2008). At the same time, the long-standing local relationships within which these individuals are enmeshed demand attention to pre-existing systems of social organization and situated identities based in everyday relations of care. Even when neoliberal discourses on flexibility, rationality, and self-mastery appear to be in line with people’s everyday experiences of their social worlds, the underlying meanings behind those discourses and the motivating factors for enacting appropriate behaviors may vary (Freeman 2007). Individuals may find themselves at the nexus between competing moral obligations to institutions, personal networks, or other social forces, opening a space where notions of agency and responsibility must be re-considered and re-negotiated. What sorts of effects can a person’s actions be expected to have? What responsibility does an actor have to ensure a particular outcome versus simply making an effort towards some agreed-upon goal? To what extent does a community assume responsibility when agency becomes distributed across a field of multiple actors? Which system of value predominates when competing ideologies come into conflict? In day-to-day activities at church, at work, and at home, socially embedded cultural participants figure out the answers to such questions as the realities of roles, responsibilities, and matters of value continually shift.

The research brought together here suggests the way that “Anthropology Matters,” and is in fact critical to, unraveling the webs of competing obligations and contradictory roles that situate people within relations of power and value. The participants on this panel take up the call to move beyond simply showing local manifestations of neoliberalism and instead apply an “anthropological imagination” in order to articulate how varying ideas about the circulation of knowledge and particular modes of social organization are used in the negotiation of multiple roles, responsibilities, and values (Gershon 2011: 543).