One of the reasons some anthropologists have had for doubting that they can or should sustain a serious engagement with ethics is a suspicion that to do so will involve moving their focus away from social relations and onto ‘the individual’: that in some sense ethics necessarily pertains to individuals and that character, freedom, responsibility, and so on are concepts that apply to, and describe qualities that fundamentally reside in, individuals as opposed to ‘society’. We have seen already with respect to character (Chapter 2) and freedom (Chapters 3 and 4) that this suspicion is unfounded because the opposition its formulation depends on – in which ‘society’ is conceived not as activities people are involved in but as an encompassing entity of which they are a ‘part’ – is (as we saw in Chapter 1) invalid. We have seen (Chapter 3) that ethical subjects are by no means necessarily co-extensive with human individuals. And although it is also true that human persons, for obvious reasons, are bound to figure largely among the ethical subjects anthropology has to reckon with, those subjects can only be understood as emerging and sustained through historically instituted institutions, practices, and relations. In this chapter we shall see that the same is true of one further constitutive aspect of ethical life – namely, the attribution of responsibility.
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