Research

Bottle wall

My research focuses on “Vie Libre,” an alcoholism support group in Paris, France, and the efforts of its members to work towards better selves and a better society. Rather than focusing on singular and powerful commitments to, for instance, sobriety, I attend to the various ways in which members deliberate over, balance, and selectively apply numerous (and sometimes incommensurable) values, obligations, responsibilities, and desires. In line with recent work in the anthropology of ethics, my project explores these spaces for deliberation and action – i.e., those situations for which tacit norms and cultural mores don’t suffice to direct behaviour – and recognizes them as sites of ordinary, practical ethical effort. In examining these quotidian projects, I will test two hypotheses: first, whether the fragility and importance of their newfound personal and social stability leads my informants to a heightened ethical sensibility (that is, substantially broadens the range of ‘everyday’ situations that, for them, require deliberation and decision); and second, what role their fear of their own still-vulnerable ‘alcoholic bodies’ might play in these situations. Rather than accepting that ideas of the good are largely conscious and able to be made explicit, I investigate the silent presence of the organic body in ethical reasoning. In this view, anxiety, suffering, sickness and self-doubt could play as large and productive roles in a person’s life projects as do reason, hope, and desire.

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