Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics, and the Academy

By Marilyn Strathern | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

The trickster's dilemma

Ethics and the technologies of the anthropological self

Peter Pels

What I am afraid of about humanism is that it presents a certain form of our ethics as a universal model for any kind of freedom. I think that there are more secrets, more possible freedoms, and more inventions in our future than we can imagine in humanism…

Foucault (in Martin 1988:15)

As several chapters in this volume attest, auditing and accounting have become the operational signs of the global spread of neoliberal values. On the one hand, they accompany high hopes about a transformation of transnational relationships in the direction of good governance and an increasing transparency of the organization of state and civil society; on the other, they generate the fear that this transformation of liberal morality cloaks a novel order of increasing global inequalities. If, as Power argued, auditing threatens to replace the monitoring of quality with the monitoring of systems to monitor quality (1994:6), this may remind us of an earlier critique of liberalism: its tendency to replace political discussion by the systems that are supposed to safeguard democratic representation, depoliticizing relationships that are in fact fraught with conflict (Schmitt 1993; Habermas 1989). Elsewhere (1999a: 111) I have argued that the recent resurgence of interest in the ethics of anthropology must also be seen against the background of the spread of neo-liberal ideals, and that this raises similar doubts about the way in which anthropological morals may cover up new structures of exploitation. Here, I want to continue that investigation into the cultural and historical background of anthropological morality, precisely because it can bring out some of the dilemmas peculiar to the constitution of the liberal self. In particular, I think

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