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Material morality: an ethnography of value among the Sanema of Venezuelan Amazonia

Penfield, Amy (2015) Material morality: an ethnography of value among the Sanema of Venezuelan Amazonia. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis explores the value of manufactured items among the Sanema, a hunting and horticultural people of Southern Venezuela. By extending the ‘virtue ethics’ approach prevalent in the study of Amazonian societies, I suggest that artefacts are as much a component of Sanema virtuous conviviality as corporeal practices. Manufactured items are meaningful in a distinct way to the often-studied crafted artefacts, which are widely seen to embody the human subjectivities of the maker. Instead, the valuable prefabricated properties of industrial goods, which I refer to as ‘affordances’, can allow morality to be conceptualised and materialised. The focus on manufactured items reflects the recent influx of such goods into Sanema lives that feature centrally in their daily narratives of personhood, sociality and ethical practises. In drawing attention to these industrial goods that emerge from the wider national context, I contextualise Sanema experiences within the contemporary setting of political participation, the market economy and frequent encounters with nonindigenous people. In contexts that range from expressions of care, inter-ethnic dependence, acts of justice, manoeuvrability within state apparatus, and the moral actions of nonhuman beings within the cosmos, the ethnography demonstrates that morality is often articulated as being realised through or within ‘things’. As such, my approach attempts to transcend the human-artefact dichotomy by leaving open the possibility that morality emerges from manifold material forms.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Amy Penfield
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Walker, Harry and Scott, Michael W.

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