The first phase of anthropology’s turn toward ethics called our attention to freedom, evaluative reflection, and projects of intentional self‐cultivation. While the inclusion of such moments of intentionality and freedom provided a helpful corrective to overly determinist frameworks for the study of morality and social life, we lost sight of other aspects of ethical life and personhood that are less easily controlled. Drawing on an ethnographic case that might otherwise be considered exemplary of a Foucauldian “care of the self,” this article draws on texts from Africanist anthropology and Franciscan theology to explore how members of a community of Ugandan, Kenyan, and Tanzanian Franciscan nuns living and working at a residential home for orphans and children with disabilities in central Uganda understand and engage with the uncertain potential of moral transformation.
By: Andrea Grant (University of Cambridge)
During my fieldwork in Rwanda, I was asked to write a “needs assessment” report for a centre for disabled youth outside of Kigali run by Catholic nuns. I was asked by a friend, a prosperous Rwandan woman in her 40s, who was a member of the centre’s volunteer board, made up of other Rwandan women who wanted to help the centre “morally and materially”. The centre was woefully underfunded and understaffed, and my friend felt that the report might help secure funding in the future. Although my research was focused on the new post-genocide Pentecostal churches, I agreed, thinking the centre might provide an interesting point of comparison. Over the course of several months, I made a number of trips to the centre, interviewing some of the sisters who ran it and some of the disabled youth. Even in my brief engagement with the centre, I was impressed by the sisters’ devotion to the residents, and their ability to provide so much care – and, indeed, what seemed to me to even be love – with such limited means. I couldn’t help but contrast this everyday engagement with the “drop in” visits Pentecostals made to orphanages or widows’ groups as part of their “outreach activities”. (Although these visits, it should be pointed out, were often accompanied by gifts and the sharing of food.) Entirely different understandings of community – of who was and was not included within it; of the kinds of persons and the kinds of relations that made it up – seemed to be at work.
It was with great interest, then, that I read China Scherz’s Having People, Having Heart: Charity, Sustainable Development, and Problems of Dependence in Central Uganda. Scherz in many ways tackles these issues head-on, although her focus is more pointedly on development. She compares “secular” discourses of sustainable development with Catholic understandings of charity, and explores how they converge with and diverge from local Kiganda notions of personhood and exchange. The book, she writes, is about “understanding the ways these different ethicomoral assemblages – or the heterogeneous ways people understand and orient themselves toward something we might imperfectly call ‘the good’ or ‘the right’ – come together in collision, collaboration, coexistence and compromise” (7).
Abstract: Faith in divine intervention affects the ethical and temporal orientations of a community of East African nuns managing a charity home in Central Uganda and leads them to make programmatic decisions that put them at odds with mainstream approaches in development and humanitarianism. By demonstrating that their resistance to long-term planning and audit practices is not the product of material privation or ignorance but, rather, a consciously developed orientation toward time and agency, I bring together concerns from the anthropology of religion and the anthropology of development. Further, by seeking to explain how the sisters come to hold their particular beliefs, I move beyond the elucidation of doctrine to show how mundane forms of practice are central to the formation of ethical subjectivity.