Ordinary ethics
Conversation, friendship and democratic possibilities
in Tragic encounters and ordinary ethics
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This chapter foregrounds my approach to ethics as a ‘new’ ethnographic object. I show how an attentive ethnographic sensibility can uncover forms of interpersonal relationality, which diverge from a politics of interminable opposition. Learning from Veena Das’ work, I turn away from the most visible campus ‘events’ and toward a seemingly mundane student meeting in order to address the following question: how, in a politically polarised context, do friendships and alternative sociabilities become possible? I offer an ethnographic account of a small scale gathering of students involved in an ‘Israel-Palestine Forum’ at Redbrick University. Tracing the interpersonal and institutional conditions of this meeting, I show how its participants cultivated practices of speaking and listening, which enabled us to engage with each other as uncertain, ambivalent and fragmented subjects. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s ethics of ‘parrhesia’ and Stanley Cavell’s insights into the pedagogic dimensions of democratic relationships, I explore how risk-taking, trust and singular friendships enabled the tragic histories of Palestine-Israel to be spoken and reflected upon. The chapter concludes with some comparative insights in relation to my three fieldsites, highlighting how the differential impacts of socio-economic changes to higher education can limit these democratic possibilities within campuses.

Tragic encounters and ordinary ethics

Palestine– Israel in British universities

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