Theory as Ethics

Carole McGranahan Theory as Ethics ASA Thursday Chat 02_16_23.mp4 – Google Drive

February 16, 2023

Carole McGranahan

To theorize is to make an argument, to make sense of the world, to name and create. It is to stake a claim in and about the world. This can be an ethical act. However, it has not always been one. Thinking of theory as ethics, rather than solely as intellectual practice, requires a rethinking of the purpose and not just the content of theory. This is not a prescription for theory, but an acknowledgment of a shift underway across the disciplines. In anthropology, one key move is our recognition of ethnography as theory as well as method. As we reassess theory as a form of ethnographic knowledge, how and when do ethics enter the conversation? What are our responsibilities to speak not only truth to power, but also ethics to theory? In this talk, I explore these questions through (1) my own three decades of research with the Tibetan exile diaspora, and (2) current theoretical trends in anthropology.

Carole McGranahan is Professor in and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado. She holds a PhD in Anthropology and History from the University of Michigan (2001). Dr. McGranahan is a scholar of contemporary Tibet and the USA and conducts research with the Tibetan exile community in both South Asia and North America. She is author of Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War (Duke University Press, 2010), co-editor of Imperial Formations (with Ann Stoler and Peter Perdue, SAR Press, 2007) and Ethnographies of U.S. Empire (with John Collins, Duke University Press, 2018), and editor of Writing Anthropology: Essays on Craft and Commitment (Duke University Press, 2020). She is currently finishing a book on Theoretical Storytelling.