13 thoughts on “Class 11 ANTHROPOLOGY AND BIOETHICS

  1. Hi Rowan, thank you for your post! It gives a very nice summary of both readings and explains how they relate to each other. You talk a lot about subjectivity in your post: I feel as though subjectivity is the basis of this class. Everyone has their own unique bias, whether it is in line with a religion or philosophy or something else. Each reading has its own subjectivity and message it hopes to impart to its readers. Everyone interviewed or observed by ethnographers who then wrote articles or books have their own views and beliefs that come through in their actions which are then translated into text. In regard to this week’s readings, there is a clear idea that how we view our circumstances is subjective. As you noted, some women in Dr. Seeman’s article view a child, even born from less-than-perfect circumstances, as a blessing. Others not interviewed but in their positions may view it differently. Even in Kleinman’s article, definitions of ethics and morals may be set by the author, but how we choose our ethical guidelines or how we choose our morals is up to each of us. Bioethics is subjective at its core because we are each subjective.

  2. Hey Rowan! Thanks so much for your insight on this week’s readings. I really appreciate your decision to highlight Kleinman’s view of ethnography as a way to broaden the audience for local moral and ethical realities. I think that he’s right that ethnography is an extremely powerful tool to take hyperlocal or esoteric opinions on certain bioethical issues to a broader audience. However, as I pointed out on Sunny’s analysis, I think that we need to be extremely cautious in taking such analyses at face value. Its exceedingly easy for researchers to allow their own personal opinions to color their views on these admittedly highly charged issues. I’d also be concerned because ethnographies often tell personal stories relating to these issues, stories that are likely more emotional than other, more quantitative research. This might be another avenue for interpretative bias, both on the part of the researcher and the reader. Overall though, your point about Kleinman feeling ethnographies are the most valuable for expanding understanding of the moral thought of some small group or community to a broader audience is well-taken. It is exactly because they include such emotion and reality that they can effectively create a broader understanding of these issues and convey the humanness that exists in all of us. Great job, Rowan!

  3. Hi Rowan! I really appreciate your summaries of the readings from week 11 as well as your personal take on them. I also admire your vulnerability in your religious background, personal beliefs, and history! Great job.

    I was moved by the ways you described the women at Naomi’s House. Ultimately, so much of how we as humans understand the world is how we subjectively understand our experiences. In my PSYC 330 Class on personality theory, we recently learned about Richard Lazarus and his model of stress. In order to feel stress, we need to interpret the stressor first as a threat; then internally we must believe we have insufficient resources in order to deal with it.

    The women at Naomi’s House, many of whom we may deem as having insufficient resources and are extremely threatened, use their personal agency in their own unique ways to view their pregnancies as blessings. They dismiss both stages of Lazarus’s model and instead develop a gentle approach to their circumstances. Thank you for sparking this connection, Rowan, about decision-making and agency within the realms of pregnancy and reproductive technology!

  4. Rowan,
    Your introduction provided a great framework for your summary. The difference between morals and ethics was not really something I thought about until doing the reading. I liked how you put it, that maybe we should just allow some people to think one way, others to think another way, and just accept it. Ethnography helps us examine how other people think, and it is my hope that the process of ethnography improves as we continue to do it. I admire how the women at Naomi’s House find the positive in their situation. I think we all should look to do that in our lives, despite our circumstances. I think part of the reason why these women consider their pregnancy as such a blessing is because it allows them to look at their lives through a new lens, similar to ethnography. Though I have not been in a similar circumstance as your almost-tumor, I can relate to viewing a “negative” thing in my life positively. My family experienced a lot of sicknesses when I was growing up, which led to us being very poor. Though it was hard and I had wished things were different, I have learned to find the good in this. I now know how to deal with hardship, and it does not scare me in my adult life. I am also able to empathize with people better and feel that I have an overall better understanding of poverty and sickness. I think this is what ethnography aims to do.

  5. Hi Rowan! Thank you for your extremely thoughtful reflections on the readings for the week. I really appreciate you adding in your own experience–it helped me to think about these topics through a different and more personal lens, so thank you for sharing with us. I think the discussion about the subjectivity of ethnography is really interesting and useful for this course. It does make me wonder though, how much research can we determine to be truly objective? Of course, ethnography definitely lands of the subjective side of research, but I do not think any research can truly be devoid of the author/researcher’s bias. Though, I would be curious as to what other people have to say about this. I also feel as tough subjective has a negative connotation in the world of research. There can surely be downfalls to subjectivity in research, but I do not think that subjectivity totally de-values a person’s research. We just must be diligent about taking that subjectivity into account when analyzing or discussing ethnographic research. Thanks again for your wonderful post and I look forward to hearing more from you in class!

  6. Hi Rowan – thank you so much for this wonderful post! I love how you organized the subject material and I appreciate your thoughtful analysis. I, too, was interested in Kleinman’s definitions of morals as opposed to ethics, and how examining issues from both perspectives is valuable in certain situations. Both perspectives have implications, but when considered in a balanced conjunction with each other can lead to a valuable, holistic understanding of the issue as a whole. I also applaud you for sharing your personal connection to the themes discussed in the second reading: it can be hard to reflect on the ways that an upbringing impacts the ways that we evaluate complex circumstances – even scary at times. However, this concept of morality remains personal and constantly evolving. Regardless of our own definitions of “religion” and “spirituality,” the women in the study are entitled to their understanding of the same concepts, and their understandings may align with some aspects of ours, but differ, as well. Diversity within the interpretations of such broad concepts is valuable: we should not merely accept the doctrines under which we were brought up, but should evaluate the complexities within each, eventually reaching our own definitions and understandings of them in order to contribute to broader society. Thanks Rowan! I look forward to discussing in class.

  7. Can ethics be argued and altered according to the experience and morals cannot? Are we born with certain morals and standards and develop our ethical principles over time or vice versa? These are some of the questions I had after reading this piece. If everyone’s morals and ethics are different and inherent to them as a person, then the question of reproductive rights can never be solved. I believe that ethnography can be a bridge between understanding the connection of one’s morals and ethics, but I don’t think it would help someone understand their own. We may come to understand someone’s point of view better than ever after reading about their life, but how do we create that sense of introspection in our own lives? I cannot personally draw a straight line between my morals and ethics, although I wonder if someone read a story of my life if they could see some type of connection. I think it is much easier to judge and understand things about someone else than yourself.

  8. Hi Rowan. Thank you for this discussion of the readings—I really appreciate your candor in both your analysis and language. First of all, your description of the difference between moral and ethics provided a good backdrop for the rest of your discussion. Kleinman’s article delineates this difference, but you made it very clear. I also appreciate your emphasis on the point that “ethnography does not look to justify but to explain,” as well as ethnography’s ultimate goal as a kind of passive and objective observation—or, in other words, painting reality the way that it appears to the people living in it. As I wrote under Sunny’s post, I tend to believe that real experiences can best contribute to delineations of morals or ethics—how in the world could we make these out of numbers? I also appreciated your candor in talking about the idea of a “blessing” and your own experience. My dad, me, and my brother all have a hereditary condition where we have little pockets of blood in our brains. Of course this is difficult, but we have to go on living. You sharing your experience in the context of Seeman’s article highlights to me, again, how we use different narratives and concepts from the world around us in order to make our lives more livable.

  9. Thank you, Rowan. I enjoyed reading your response. As you mentioned, Kleinman talks about the distinct difference between morals and ethics, which I think is an important difference to make note of. Morals is completely influenced by a person’s upbringing and influences, as it refers to an individual’s personal beliefs about what is right and wrong. Ethics, on the other hand, are set principles that can guide the behavior or reactions to a particular situation in society. Morals can make up ethics. Since morals are biased by many factors like culture, religion, and environment, there will obviously be overlaps between what one group of people believes to be “good”, that another believes to be “bad” or “wrong”. Therefore, conducting a “code of conduct” that holistically take into account all individuals involved, and represents the various moral principles of different groups, as well as legal regulations that apply to the specific situation, is extremely difficult to do. I think these are extremely important distinctions to make, especially when analyzing a group of people and making judgements of them. That is where ethnography, I think, falls short. Every aspect of an individuals like is subjective and relative to their context. Only through adopting the complete moral beliefs of a region can ethical concerns can begin to be considered. Learning about these distinct definitions has helped me further understand the deepness of how one individuals “free choice” can completely be immoral to another, but perhaps ethical in a given context.

  10. Hi Rowan, and thank you for your response! I appreciate the philosophical approach that you took to this week’s reading, as I feel it is a concept that is best understood by contemplating all possible sides of many different arguments. While this is difficult to accomplish due to the diverse ideologies held by people around the world, I think that your introduction captured a degree of the complexity that issues like this are shrouded by. Your discussion about the inefficiency of ethnography shed necessary light on the approach taken by modern day anthropologists that may not truly capture all sides of the story with as much authenticity and generalizability as intended. I completely agree with your statement that understanding moral processes and their practical implications does not have to be done with ethnography, but I am interested in what alternatives might exist to shed better light on issues currently explored using the method. I appreciated the personal anecdote that you shared at the end of your response, as it helped to visualize some of the concepts discussed in a context other than reproductive health.

  11. Hi Rowan, thank you for your thoughtful reflection on this week’s readings. You spent a good deal of time focusing on an important distinction that Kleinman makes – ethnography does not look to justify, rather to explain. I agree with this distinction. If ethnography did seek to justify, who would the justifications be directed at? Whoever is reading the article? The general public? Policymakers? If ethnographers experience, research, interview, and write for the purposes of justification, this would lead to an inherent bias in their findings. Seeking only to explains allows ethnographers to subvert this bias and remain objective. I am sure maintaining this objectivity is not always easy – ethnographers are human, and it is only natural that they will have opinions. This is likely one of the tough elements of the job – putting their opinions aside. I thought you made a great connection to Made In India – nice job! I also really appreciated how you shared your personal experience of you conceptualize a “blessing,” through taking us through a previous medical experience you had.

  12. Hi Rowan, you do a great job of explaining the week’s readings. Before reading your post, I did not consider the differences between morals and ethics. I’ve been using the words interchangeably in my writing up until this point. I agree with you that a strength of ethnography is that it can help us identify both universal ethics and local morals. I think that your discussion of morals and ethics ties in nicely with your discussion of spirituality and religion. In some ways, I think that people use words like “spirituality” to describe their universal ethics, but think of “religion” in terms of local morals. At least the women at Naomi’s house viewed religion as a more restrictive belief system than spirituality.

  13. Hi Rowan, sorry for the late response, but I think you did an excellent job analyzing this week’s texts and adding in your own interpretations as well! Particularly, I think your discussion of the term “blessing” is a very interesting one, and our discussion in class on the word also sparked a different way for me to think about it. The fact that some cultures rigidly define the word in a religious context is very interesting, especially when the members of the population outlined by Dr. Seeman’s study use it much more liberally. Especially, to view their unplanned pregnancies as blessings when they were not expected or wished for in the first place is an example of the resilience and optimism found in the women staying at Naomi’s House. I also think that the way they are interviewed and treated by the researchers is an example of ethnography that more reflects Kleinman’s ideal view, as they are given their own voices in the paper as opposed to being spoken for in a potentially negative way, as other ethnographic studies have been done in the past.

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