The Wherewithal of Life engages with current developments in the anthropology of ethics and migration studies to explore in empirical depth and detail the life experiences of three young men – a Ugandan migrant in Copenhagen, a Burkina Faso migrant in Amsterdam, and a Mexican migrant in Boston – in ways that significantly broaden our understanding of the existential situations and ethical dilemmas of those migrating from the global south. Michael Jackson offers the first biographically based phenomenological account of migration and mobility, providing new insights into the various motives, tactics, dilemmas, dreams, and disappointments that characterize contemporary migration. It is argued that the quandaries of African or Mexican migrants are not unique to people moving between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ worlds. While more intensely felt by the young, seeking to find a way out of a world of limited opportunity and circumscribed values, the experiences of transition are familiar to us all, whatever our age, gender, ethnicity or social status – namely, the impossibility of calculating what one may lose in leaving a settled life or home place; what one may gain by risking oneself in an alien environment; the difficulty of striking a balance between personal fulfillment and the moral claims of kinship; and the struggle to know the difference between ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ utopias (the first reasonable and worth pursuing; the second hopelessly unattainable).
The Wherewithal of Life Ethics, Migration, and the Question of Well-Being
In the summer of 2005, en route from Denmark to the United States to take up yet another visiting academic position, I decided to break my journey in London to look up Sierra Leonean friends and document some of their experiences of living betwixt and between. One cloudless morning, I accompanied Sewa Koroma on a circuitous tour of the West End, revisiting the sites of critical events during his first year in the city. At one point, we stopped on Westminster Bridge to take in the view. Tourist boats were moving up and down the river, whose muddy banks had been exposed by the ebbing tide. Ahead of us lay County Hall, where I had been interviewed for a job as a welfare worker with the homeless in the winter of 1963-a lifetime ago, it seemed, before the London Eye, the Gherkin, and Millennium Bridge were built, before Sewa was born. Suddenly, as if he were also struggling with similar anachronisms, Sewa exclaimed, "You know, Mr. Mike, I am thinking that right now my brothers and cousins are all working on their farms back home in Kondembaia, working hard, but I am here in London, walking these streets, living this life, this different life." When I pressed Sewa to spell out the difference between life in his natal village and life in London, he explained that, although the menial jobs he did in the United Kingdom were very poorly paid, they were preferable to farming. While farming involved a repetition of age-old patterns, London offered perennial possibilities of something different, something new. Yet the life he had left behind haunted him. He was often "seized" by homesickness. It "took hold" of him and would not let him go. He would wake at night to dreams of fraternal in-fighting, and even though he learned to assuage them by praying to Allah in the way his father had taught him, he struggled to reconcile family obligations with personal ambitions and often felt "small," "stared at," and "stressed," as if his gains were a sordid boon that could never compensate for what he had given up by leaving his homeland.
That Sewa's ambivalent relationship with both Sierra Leone and Britain should move me so deeply reflected my own transient biography and explains why, after settling in the United States, I continued to explore the origins and repercussions of migration-during return visits to London, in the course of fieldwork with Sewa in northern Sierra Leone in 2008, and finally in the conversations that compose this book.
The Journeying Self
In the well-known opening lines of The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus asserts that "the fundamental question of philosophy" is "judging whether life is or is not worth living." Although Camus explored suicide as a response to a life that has become insufferable or meaningless, he failed to consider migration as a "way out" or address the dilemma of every migrant for whom life in his or her home place is a kind of social death, yet for whom rebirth in a foreign land may prove illusory. Yet this existential dilemma was anticipated in a letter he wrote to his best friend when he was nineteen. Describing the sea, sun, sand, geraniums, and olive and eucalyptus trees of his natal city, he concluded, "I could never live anywhere but Algiers, although I will travel because I want to know the world, but I'm sure that anywhere else, I'd always feel in exile."
This book is empirically grounded in the experiences of three men whose journeys from the global South to Europe and the United States dramatize, in often harrowing detail, a number of ethical and existential issues that will be familiar to most readers, if for no other reason than that the vicissitudes of attachment, separation, loss, and renewal are unavoidable aspects of every human life. Our lives oscillate between transitive and intransitive extremes. Whether planned or accidental, desired or dreaded, the passage from one place to another, one life stage to another, or one state or status to another often figures centrally in the stories we tell about our lives and who we are. Though we may hanker after hard and fast differences between self and other, human and animal, man and machine, male and female, these boundaries get blurred, transgressed, and redrawn. We morph and migrate, in and out of our bodies, in reality and in our imaginations. Our moments of rest are soon enough disrupted, our settled states disturbed, our minds distracted.
Moveo ergo sum. Along with all living things, we move through life. By this I mean not only that we are all bound to die (it is only a question of when) but that we were all once migrants (again, it is only a question of when). These sweeping statements indicate the existential perspective from which I view migration. Rather than treat the migrant as a singular figure-an interloper, anomaly, or alien in our midst-I view the migrant as exemplifying a universal aspect of human existence. Either we are moving or the world is moving-about, under, or above us. To cite the slogan so often seen on vehicles in West Africa, "No condition is permanent."
Although movement, metamorphosis, and mutation are in the nature of things, change does not merely befall us like a bolt from the blue; it is often chosen and embraced, in the hope that we may be carried into a more fulfilling relationship with the world. Whether we construe "the wherewithal of life" as a matter of having wealth or health, fresh water or self-worth, love or lebensraum, food, family, or a future-it tends to be characterized by scarcity. As a limited good, it must be actively sought, struggled for, salvaged, and safeguarded. Critical to these processes of capturing or commanding life is a capacity to move to where life appears to be most abundant and accessible, or to orient oneself so as to see what other possibilities may exist where one is. This explains why many desert-dwelling Australian Aboriginals readily abandoned a hunter-gatherer economy when they first encountered white pastoralists, choosing to "sit down" on the fringes of cattle stations or mines and exchange their labor for tea, flour, and sugar. Just as nomadic people value both stasis and movement, so sedentary people sometimes grow restive when stuck in the same place or the same rut for too long. In the traditional sand drawings and contemporary acrylic paintings of Aboriginal artists, the recurring icons of circle and line suggest a perennial oscillation between camping and traveling, sitting down and "going walkabout." Dreaming myths recount how totemic ancestors moved far and wide across the partially formed face of the earth, performing ceremony, shaping landforms, imprinting and impregnating the ground with their sweat and their designs. Exhausted by their travels and nostalgic for their natal country, they eventually returned whence they came, sinking back into the ground, to be ritually brought forth again by the dancing, chanting, and clacking boomerangs of the living. Aztec migration narratives echo this archetype. In the early sixteenth-century Mapa de Cuauhtinchan, Mesoamerican artists living in the "Place of the Eagle's Nest" depicted, two decades after the Spanish conquest, a labyrinthine journey by their ancestors through sacred landscapes. By means of this map, subsequent generations would be able to vicariously revisit the critical events that led to the founding of the Aztec world. Like Aboriginal paintings from Central Australia, this Aztec "masterpiece of cultural history and religious memory" can also be read as a cryptic account of a cosmology in which the peregrinations of the ancestors mirror the movement of life energies between microcosm and macrocosm. For the Aztecs, women, captives, and children had to be periodically fed to the sun and their "vital energy transferred" to the cosmos as a kind of "debt payment to the hungry gods" for the expected regeneration of life on earth. This primordial logic of sacrifice, requiring that individual lives be given up for life itself to be renewed, prefigures the rationale for contemporary migration, in which one gives up one's life in a natal altepetl or community to gain a more bountiful life across the border, in a foreign place. But the tension between what W. B. Yeats called "one dear perpetual place" and all the other places to which one develops ties or where one finds fulfillment is never completely resolved. How much does one have to sacrifice to have a life worth living? How much can one expect from the powers-that-be in one's search for a just apportionment of the things that make life possible? And as much as one yearns for pastures new, one also yearns, in an alien land, to be at home again or, at least, to recover a balance between being an actor and being acted upon-a balance I refer to elsewhere as "being at home in the world."
Throughout this book, I explore these existential tensions and quandaries through a deep engagement with the three individuals who shared their life stories with me. In each case, the stories unfolded in conversation. I did not so much interview my subjects as collaborate with them, occasionally annotating the experiences they recounted, yet distancing myself from the jargon of migration studies so that their voices would be heard and their observations and recollections would determine the course of my own deliberations. Consider, for instance, Jean-François Bayart's 2007 study of global governmentality, where migrants are spoken of collectively as "the drudges of globalization," living a "floating" or "liminal" existence. These are arresting images. But even in Roberto Franco's darkest days working in the fields of Southern California, and despite the long hours Ibrahim Ouédraogo toils for a minimal wage in an Amsterdam kitchen, these men do not ontologize themselves as drudges, floating, or liminal, although there are times when these words ring true. If we are to avoid the trap of becoming infatuated with our own intellectual-cum-magical capacity to render the world intelligible, then the vocabulary "we" all too glibly project onto "them" must be tested continually against the various and changing experiences of actual lives. Otherwise we risk becoming complicit in the social violence that reduces the other to a mere object-a drudge, a victim, a number, assimilated to a category, a class, or a global phenomenon. As John Chernoff notes in his splendid portrayals of West African urban life through the ebullient narratives of "a brilliant but uneducated African woman" who "examines moral ambiguities from a perspective of situational ethics," most media reports, academic studies, and novels of the educated elite "all have ambitions to elevate generalizations about big social issues" and "it is difficult to get an idea of what life is like at ground level or to get a feeling for the experience of the people who lived there." Ruth Behar's narrative ethnography of a Mexican migrant, whose name translates as "hope," brings home to us how close-grained empirical and ethnographic documentation can speak against the social and discursive violence that creates inequalities of presence, recovering the lived experience that is often lost in the administrative and intellectual discourse of the global North. As Behar puts it in her preface to Esperanza's story, "I can only hope that her story will find un rinconcito, a little space somewhere on this side of the border where there are no aliens, only people." I share this same hope for the stories in my book.
The Question of Life Itself
In his author's note to Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad observes that "it is well known that curious men go prying into all sorts of places (where they have no business) and come out of them with all kinds of spoil." He then refers to this work and another unnamed story as being "all the spoil I brought out from the center of Africa, where, really, I had no sort of business."
Conrad could not have anticipated the irony of his comments, for as a direct consequence of the European colonization of places where people like Conrad had no right to be, countless people from those regions would wind up in the global North, where they would be stigmatized as interlopers and often told to go back to where they properly belonged. Yet the ramifications of Conrad's observations go beyond colonialism. For whether we are speaking of mercenary ambitions for power and profit, ethnographic quests to understand the human condition, utopian longings for an elsewhere or a soul mate, or movements of people from the impoverished South to the global North in search of work and well-being, ethical questions arise that go beyond historical events, social identities, legal rights, and moral norms.
I therefore begin with the question of life itself, before considering the particular ways in which life is understood and the specific conditions under which it can be accessed, augmented, possessed, preserved, and shared.
For Spinoza, life and death were not absolute poles of being and nothingness, but matters of being more or less alive, since every life form "endeavors to persist in its own being," seeking whatever augments and amplifies its existence, while avoiding all that imperils or diminishes it. Spinoza's concept of the struggle for being is directly relevant to understanding the human impulse to move and migrate, as well as what it means to have a life or the hope of a better life, or to be so destitute of the wherewithal for life that one experiences oneself as socially dead. It also helps us understand the relation between being and belonging, since to be is also to yearn to be with others, to experience one's being as integrated with and integral to a wider field of being, and to know that one's own particular life merges with and touches the lives of others-predecessors, successors, contemporaries, and consociates, as well as the overlapping worlds of nature, the cosmos, and the divine.
Migrant narratives are, in many ways, allegories of human existence, in which the hope that our lives may be made more abundant, for ourselves and those we love, constantly comes up against the limits of what we may achieve and the despair into which we may be plunged when we find ourselves unable to achieve that state of well-being and flourishing that Aristotle called eudaimonia.
Spinoza's ethics also touches on the relation between a particular form of life-human, animal, or plant life, or different human lives-and life itself. Accordingly, ethics concerns the ways species life or individual lives are struggled for and sustained, especially under conditions of insecurity, scarcity, danger, and loss, as well as the ways in which life itself flows through all things, connecting all forms of life in a common web.
This brings us to the relation among ethics, morality, and law. Paul Ricoeur observes, "Before the morality of norms, there is an ethics of the wish to live well." So, he says, "I encounter the word 'life' at the most basic level of ethics." He then adds, "This is also the level on which memory is constituted, beneath discourses, before the stage of predication." Emmanuel Levinas writes of ethics in a similar vein, eschewing the moralistic question "What ought I to do?" and focusing on the concerns of ancient ethics-"How best can we live?" The ethical quest for existential fulfillment therefore entails the question of whether and to what extent we are justified in moving across class, cultural, national, and discursive borders in our quest for life itself, even though we may infringe moral and legal norms in doing so.
This tension between an ethics embedded in the changing exigencies of life and an abstract discourse of custom, morality, and law preoccupied thinkers as diverse as Socrates, Marx, and Gandhi, all of whom saw that customs and laws tend to favor a select few at the expense of the many, while meting out justice, well-being, wealth, and care in unequal portions. Insofar as migrants cross international borders, becoming global nomads and assuming multiple identities, their ethical concerns often echo those of critical theory, for in seeking an amelioration of their lot, migrants must often turn a blind eye to the values of their natal lifeworlds, as well as to the mores of the countries to which they gravitate in the belief that they are entitled to a better life simply by virtue of being human.
On what basis, for instance, does a migrant assume the right to seek his fortune in a place where, strictly speaking, he has no place? What kind of human right is it that leads him to ignore the fact that he may have no legal or constitutional right to live and work in the country on which he has pinned his hopes for a better life? What sense of ethics justifies his claim to a share of the good life in a country where many aver that they owe the migrant nothing and demand to know what gives him the right to come there, take jobs from locals, and benefit from social services that are paid for by the taxes of hardworking citizens?
If migrants often transgress moral norms and act outside the law, then we who seek to understand the migrant must reorient our own thinking and acknowledge the extent to which life interrupts, unsettles, and resists the moral assumptions and logocentric modes of discourse we tend to privilege in our desire to govern the world or render it intelligible. We must go with the broken flow of migrant narratives and migrant imaginaries, working out ways of doing justice to the often paratactic, contradictory, opportunistic, and improvisatory character of transitional experience.
For Heidegger, our being-in-the-world is a "thrownness" (Geworfenheit). We are "thrown" (geworfen) into a world that has been made by others at other times and which will outlast us. We choose neither the time nor place of our birth, and our origins are not of our making. Yet we strive to live this givenness as if it were chosen, and the tension between our ethical struggle for well-being and the moral or legal limits on our freedom generates existential dramas that characterize fiction and reality alike. It is not the arbitrariness of our birth, therefore, that concerns us most, but the contingency of existence itself, in which we are thrown continually off balance, obliged to rethink and reconsider the relationship between what we can and cannot change, comprehend, or endure.
Ethics and Intersubjectivity
The existential situation of the migrant recalls the situation of the stranger, who, as Simmel observed, suggests a paradoxical mix of mobility and stasis. Unlike the wanderer who comes today and goes tomorrow, the stranger "comes today and stays tomorrow," his ambiguous social position determined by the fact that he has not belonged to the group "from the beginning [and therefore] imports qualities into it which do not and cannot stem from the group itself." In my view, the unsettling quality that the migrant imports into the group is actually a question-the vexed ethical question of whether we see ourselves and others as united by our common humanity or differentiated by our social identities. The migrant brings into sharp relief a discrepancy that is felt, to some degree, by all human beings-between their membership in a specific society and their membership in a single species. The tragedy of the migrant is the tragedy of every marginalized individual, for insofar as his human worth is made a function of his degraded status, he is treated as a nonentity, having no claims on the society to which he has gravitated. In sum, his humanity is wholly determined by his place in a social hierarchy.
Social hierarchies are reinforced by law, morality, and custom. Fortunately, however, though any human life is largely shaped by moral, political, social, and religious regimes, every human life unfolds in ways that only partially realize, replicate, or reinforce these regimes. Indeed, the conversations and stories in this book have persuaded me that it may not be a bad thing that the good cannot be legislated or universalized, for in its surprising randomness we are perennially reminded that our very humanity can never be entirely determined by social orders and their moral rationales, and that this very indeterminacy redeems us.
This sense that virtue cannot be totally prescribed or predetermined means that much ethical activity is best understood as a function of the relationship between unpredictable situations and extant moral norms. Because the good, the right, or the true cannot be systematically derived from any one external measure-be it a social rule, a religious law, or a moral norm-we cannot preemptively declare that any human action is in its very nature absolutely right or wrong, good or bad, true or false. Rather, its worth lies in what we achieve within the limits of what is possible. Accordingly, ethics becomes practically synonymous with freedom, which Sartre understood as a question of what we make of what we are made-"the small movement which makes of a totally conditioned social being someone who does not render back completely what his conditioning has given him."
In what sense, is this struggle for life a social rather than merely personal struggle? And how might we conceptualize the social?
Just as Aristotle observed that "men create the gods after their own image," so Durkheim claimed that "God is only a figurative expression of ... society." This view that religion and ethics are socially derived was shared by Weber and Marx, and it also informed Geertz's view that religious beliefs are a way in which a social group renders its ethos "intellectually reasonable." The problem with these approaches is that they are at once too abstract and too general. The social is identified with groups and institutions, ethics is confused with moral norms, and religion is made synonymous with belief and meaning.
In many societies-including those in West Africa and Aboriginal Australia, where I have done extensive fieldwork-"religion" and "ethics" are not identified linguistically or conceptually as discrete domains, leading one to ask, as Paul Ricoeur does, whether we would do well to focus neither on a neo-Aristotelian ethics based on the idea of a good life nor on a Kantian approach based on duty and obligation, but rather on questions of "practical wisdom" (phronesis) in everyday life, when unprecedented situations arise, problems don't admit of any solution, perfection remains beyond our grasp, and virtue may reside less in achieving the good than in striving for it.
My first suggestion is that we dissolve our conventional concepts of the social and the cultural into the more immediate and dynamic life of intersubjectivity-the everyday interplay of human subjects, coming together and moving apart, giving and taking, communicating and miscommunicating. I take my cues here from Levinas's insistence that ethics begins in our face-to-face encounters with others and our responsiveness to the other, as well as Sartre's late comments that "essentially, ethics is a matter of one person's relationship to another" and that "ethical conscience" arises from one's awareness of always being, to some extent, in the presence of another and conditioned by this sense of being-in-relation with him or her. Sartre notes, moreover, that classical ethical systems-whether Aristotle's or Kant's-leave unresolved the question of whether one lives ethically all the time. "While having a bite or drinking a glass of wine, does one feel ethical or unethical, or doesn't it matter?" Can we distinguish between an "ethics of everyday life" and an "ethics of exceptional circumstances"?
I share Sartre's view that our sense of the ethical derives only partly from normative maxims, categorical imperatives, or cultural codifications, that it reflects also a deep awareness that our very existence is interwoven with the existence of others and that the reciprocal character of human relations gives rise, from the earliest months of life, to inchoate, conflicted, and diffuse assumptions about fairness, justice, rightness, and goodness. Maurice Merleau-Ponty also espoused this view, speaking of the social as always there, existing "obscurely and as a summons"-a "region" where our lives "are prepared." Recent psychological research in the field of primary intersubjectivity supports this view of the ethical as foreshadowed in the infant's initial interactions with the mother. Emphasizing the reciprocity of voice, eye contact, touch, smell, and playful interaction between mother and infant, Ed Tronick speaks of a "collaboration" between infant and parent in regulating interaction and laying down the neurobehavioral foundations of a "dyadic consciousness" that incorporates complex information, experience, and mutual mappings into a relatively coherent whole that functions as a self-regulating system, effectively expanding the consciousness of one person into the consciousness of another. Dyadic consciousness begins in the stage of primary intersubjectivity; should an infant be "deprived of the experience of expanding his or her states of consciousness in collaboration with the other ... this limits the infant's experience and forces the infant into self-regulatory patterns that eventually compromise the child's development." In brief, the unresponsiveness of a mother or her lack of responsibility for her baby's well-being-contrived experimentally by the mother feigning indifference to her infant and adopting a "still face"-violates reciprocity and has an immediate traumatic effect on the infant.
Ethics avant la Lettre
In developing an ethics of the intersubjective, we need a method of study that avoids prejudgments as to what is right and wrong, good and bad, and thus draws us deeply into the complexity of everyday situations. Michael Lambek has coined the term "ordinary ethics" to signal this departure from the Kantian tradition of Western moral thought-in which a priori assumptions about autonomy, agency, virtue, and community refer to particular situations cursorily, anecdotally, or not at all. For Lambek, ethics is "fundamentally a property or function of action rather than (only) of abstract reason." There are echoes here of Veena Das's argument for a "descent into the ordinary" and David Graeber's claim that "if we really want to understand the moral grounds of economic life, and by extension, human life," we must start not with cosmologies and worldviews but with "the very small things: the everyday details of social existence, the way we treat our friends, enemies, and children-often with gestures so tiny (passing the salt, bumming a cigarette) that we ordinarily never stop to think about them at all."
These gestures toward everyday ethics, and the ways questions of what is right and good figure in almost every human interaction, conversation, and rationalization, effectively reinscribe the role of ethnography as a method for exploring a variety of actual social situations before hazarding generalizations. This is not to say that empirical studies of particular events or lives offer no insights into what may be universal. Rather, by locating the ethical in the field of intersubjective life, we call into question the assumption that existence is a struggle to bring one's life into alignment with given moral norms or a mere enactment of moral scripts, and become more fascinated by our mundane struggles to decide between competing imperatives or deal with impasses, unbearable situations, moral dilemmas, and double binds.
This was the perspective I developed in my 1982 study of ethics in Kuranko storytelling. Almost all Kuranko tales involve journeys between town (sué) and bush (fira). As such, the moral customs (namui or bimba kan), laws (seriye or ton), and chiefly power (mansaye) associated with the town are momentarily placed in abeyance, and the wild ethos of the bush, associated with animals, shape-shifters, djinn, and antinomian possibilities, comes into play. Moreover, Kuranko stories are told at night or in twilight zones that lie on the margins of the workaday waking world. There is a close connection, therefore, between the evocation of antinomian scenarios, states of dreamlike or drowsy consciousness, and the narrative suspension of disbelief. Kuranko tilei (fables, folktales, fictions) are make-believe; they are framed as occurring outside ordinary time and space (wo le yan be la-far-off and long ago); they play with reality and entertain possibilities that lie beyond convention and custom. Typically, these tales begin with a dilemma or disturbance in the ideal order of moral relations: three sons of a chief, all born at the same time and on the same day, all claim the right to succeed their father; an elder brother maltreats his younger brother; a senior cowife exploits a younger cowife; a man betrays the trust of his closest friend; a chief abuses his power or imposes an unjust law on his people; a husband neglects his wife; a love affair jeopardizes a marriage. The ethical quandary lies in how to redress a situation in which there is considerable moral ambiguity, for there are always two sides to every story and several possible ways of restoring order or seeing that justice is done. That is to say, ethical dilemmas are never resolved by simply laying down the law, invoking a moral principle that covers every situation, or passing judgment; the dilemmas require collective discussion, in which people attempt to come up with the best solution possible, given the complex circumstances, even though it is understood that any solution may make matters worse and no one is ever in a position to know the repercussions of his or her actions. By not seeking consensus and suspending dogmatic patterns of thinking, Kuranko storytelling creates ethical ambiguity and inspires listeners to think outside the box. Accordingly, virtue is less a matter of achieving or exemplifying goodness than a relative question of doing the best one can, given the limits of the situation and considering the abilities and resources one possesses.
In more recent fieldwork, I have seen how the wider world has become, for young African migrants, a symbolic bush-a place at once of peril and of transformative possibilities, lying beyond the moral and legal space of the "town" and signifying a space of ethical questioning and bargaining, comparable to the space hitherto associated with bush spirits and the ancestral dead. Why should Africans languish in poverty when the Western world enjoys such abundance? Will a young woman's desire to marry for love jeopardize interfamily relations based on arranged marriage? How one can reconcile going abroad in search of one's fortune when this means losing touch with one's homeland and possibly neglecting one's obligations to family back home? By what right do politicians amass wealth for themselves and neglect the welfare of ordinary people?
Methodologically, then, an anthropology of ethics seeks to locate ethics within the social-without, however, reifying society, religion, and morality or regarding them as sui generis phenomena. As Fasching, Dechant, and Lantigua put it, "The study of ethics must be more than an 'objective' survey of abstract theories.... The primary and most persuasive ways religious traditions shape ethical behavior are through storytelling and spiritual practices." This implies a focus on "the life stories of [individuals] who have wrestled with questions of justice, non-violence, and ecological well-being in an age of racism, sexism, religious prejudice, nationalism, colonialism, terrorism, and nuclear war." Whereas Fasching, Dechant, and Lantigua emphasize the life stories of "extraordinary persons" like Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, my focus is on the extraordinary stories of ordinary people, all migrants, whose experiences bring into sharp relief the ethical quandaries, qualms, and questions that all human beings encounter in the course of their lives, regardless of their religious, ethnic, cultural, or class identities. To capture this protoethical sense of rightness or goodness, we need to be especially attentive to the ontological metaphors with which people capture a sense of what is ethically at stake for them in any given situation. Such metaphors remind us that an ethical sensibility inheres in our relations with others (mitwelt) as well as our relationship to the objective environment (umwelt). Just as the presence of others brings us continually back to ourselves, so the architecture of the world and the things we touch, taste, see, smell, and hear offer a fund of images with which to objectify and articulate our inchoate sense of the right, the true, and the good. People in many societies identify straightness with virtue and crookedness with vice, or invoke images of physical symmetry in expressing the idea of reciprocity (being all square, or fair and square). And commonplace allusions to true lines, fine work, good ideas, upright posture, sweet tastes, or harmonious sound suggest that ethical ideals are never plucked out of thin air but originate in our quotidian, bodily, and practical experience of being-in-the-world.
About the Book
"Reading this book transported me, in ways that few academic texts can . . . Jackson’s insightful analysis is woven into the life-stories, his thesis permeating the whole text . . . The Wherewithal of Life is anthropology of migration par excellence."—Luke de Noronha Border Criminologies
Table of Contents
Appendix: Existential Mobility