Frisby Lecture 2016 with Prof. Nancy Scheper-Hughes (Berkeley), University of Glasgow

This year’s Frisby Lecture at the University of Glasgow will be given by Prof. Nancy Scheper-Hughes (University of California, Berkeley).

The lecture will take place on Wednesday 2nd March, in the Sir Charles Wilson Lecture Theatre (16.00-18.00). There will be a drinks reception following the lecture, which is free to attend and open to all.

Prof. Scheper-Hughes is one of the world’s leading medical anthropologists. Her work has focussed on everyday forms of violence and suffering in the context of what she has called the “small wars and invisible genocides” of late modernity, exemplified in her classic ethnographic study of everyday life in Brazil: “Death Without Weeping”. Her most recent work concerns the trafficking of humans and human organs and she is a co-founder and Director of Organs Watch, a medical human rights charity and is an advisor to the World Health Organization on these issues.

Prof. Scheper-Hughes’ talk is entitled “Towards an Anthropology of Evil”.

Abstract: In this lecture I take up the challenge to defend (through my ethnographic research on death squads, war crimes, and human trafficking for the organs of the enemy) a politically engaged anthropology that understands evil as an intrinsic aspect of the human. In doing so I respond to recent suggestions that evil should be studied like any other anthropological “object” in the world – totemism or sorcery – neutrally and dispassionately for the knowledge it can give about the phenomenon (i.e. for what it reveals about how different societies categorize the distinctions between good and evil ideologically and emotionally, and how they work them out in their everyday lives and practices). Such arguments imply that, just as a medical anthropology does not seek to cure the ill, but to understand local knowledge and healing practices, so a moral anthropology should not propose “codes of good conduct or offer guidelines toward a better society”. I will argue against these propositions and toward a scholarship that includes political engagement with evil as more than a neutral object of social scientific research but rather as a political force and as a force  field, in which anthropologists can, and sometimes must, have a stake.

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