Volume 93, #2

Spring 2020

Trusting the Poor: Cash Grants and the Caring Bureaucrat in Kenya
By Tom Neumark


phone: 202-994-3215  e-mail: ifer@gwu.edu


Volume 93, #2 • Spring 2020




Reassessing Charitable Affect: Volunteerism, Affect, and Ethical Practice in a Medical Aid Agency

Britt Halvorson, Colby College

ABSTRACT—Charitable aid is sometimes characterized as an activity saturated with emotion, in which outpourings of feeling and care draw individual volunteers to the work (Muehlebach 2012, Adams 2013, Malkki 2015, Caldwell 2017). Yet the affective practice of humanitarian care can take different cultural forms, some of which may not appear deeply affecting. Drawing upon ethnographic research with the long-term US volunteers of a faith-based medical aid organization in Minneapolis/St. Paul, this article develops a linguistically and semiotically informed approach to affect in order to deepen understanding of charitable affect as an actively made experience with cultural variability among long-term charitable volunteers, rather than a singular or stable phenomenon. It argues that affective displays are central to a multifaceted ethical practice through which charitable volunteers seek to demonstrate virtuousness in their ordinary aid activities. The article explores how, within the Minneapolis faith-based organization International Health Mission, volunteer commitment is culturally scaffolded or made socially legible through a combination of conversational exchanges, embodied labor practices, and examples of the ethically disfavored course of action. Applying linguistic and semiotic tools to the analysis of charitable aid illuminates the mechanisms through which affect economies are variously realized, contested, and practiced. Though charitable volunteers may seek to demonstrate a sense of duty or care for other people, the ways they culturally exhibit these complex ethical positions may vary substantially. Charitable work can produce the feeling of participating in a shared social contract, of rectifying the inequalities and failures of the state in some cases. This article concludes that the affect practices central to mobilizing such action may not be the same, nor importantly look the same across charitable endeavors. [Keywords: Affect, volunteerism, ethical practice, charitable aid, semiosis]


What Can Words Do? Debating a “Good” Death in French Palliative Care

Kimberly A. Arkin, Boston University

ABSTRACT—This article explores the ambivalent ways that care providers in a southern French hospital (the Center) thought about patient subjectivities and the power and role of language as they argued about how to orchestrate a “good” death in palliative care. By analyzing the case of Monsieur Rami, a 67-year-old Moroccan-born immigrant who died of metastatic cancer in the summer of 2017, I argue against the presumption that individual autonomy, rational choice, and linguistic transparency are hegemonic in Western Europe, particularly in biomedical domains. Instead, I use the disagreements and frustrations that surrounded Monsieur Rami’s last weeks to trace out the variety of conflicting ways that care providers talked about his family entanglements, the role of cognitive knowledge and “choice” in end-of-life care, and the power of language itself. Care providers in the Center certainly sometimes characterized Monsieur Rami as a (potentially) autonomous, choosing individual who required transparent communication about his prognosis and diagnosis. But such characterizations served as ideological weapons in battles care providers were fighting amongst themselves over their own contradictory ethical commitments. And in palliative care, those competing ethical commitments were often grounded in assumptions about intersubjectivity and irrationality, as well as the performative power of words. [Keywords: France, palliative care, medical ethics, neoliberalism, language ideologies]





Meeting Your Neighbor For Another First Time: The Work of Second-order Reflexivity in Communication During the COVID-19 Emergency in Italy

Luigi Russi, Schumacher Society, UK

ABSTRACT—This piece acknowledges the role that a capacity for second-order reflexivity plays in communication—specifically after the latter has been disturbed by the need to adopt hygienic measures in social contact to face the COVID-19 medical emergency. After the Italian government issued recommendations for halting contagion, gestures (hugging, kissing, leaning in) that would customarily enter the fold of communication no longer remained available, generating interruptions. Interruptions challenge the continuation of the social milieus in which we participate most intensely—friendships, family relations, civil society—and engender a risk of loss of agency. Autoethnographic vignettes of micro-interactions in which participants negotiate interruptions due to the hygienic measures point to a crucial role played by the capacity for second-order reflexivity. This capacity sustains the work of orienting oneself and others to the difficulties that interrupt joint action, and of re-inviting cooperation in the co-construction of a shared world. In so doing, reflexivity constitutes an important frontier of capacity building, for increasing the resilience of our social worlds in the face of disruptive events. [Keywords: Reflexivity, social construction, agency, capacity building, COVID-19]