The moral guises of injustice
From Bisipara to Aotearoa
in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
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This chapter draws inspiration from F. G. Bailey’s The Witch Hunt (1996, Cornell University Press) to analyse an instance of political conflict from a growing transnational field of epidemiological researcher-advocates who are working to promote Indigenous health equity. While Bailey’s ethnographic focus on the Indian village of Bisipara in the 1950s may seem worlds apart from transnational Indigenous activism at the turn of the 21st century, his attention to how participants in political conflicts regularly reframe what others experience as injustice in morally positive terms, as they attempt to achieve their own agendas, remain timely and relevant. In The Witch Hunt: Or, the Triumph of Morality, Bailey documents how key participants in a conflict in the village of Bisipara ended up framing the persecution of one man as a morally appropriate act in support of the collective good. For comparison, I draw an example from the twists and turns of a political conflict in Aotearoa New Zealand, in which Māori researchers have contended with recurrent political efforts to deny copious evidence that ethnicity patterns health and social inequities, and responded to the ways in which proponents of these denials have attempted to invoke the positive moral rubric of ‘fairness’.

The anthropology of power, agency, and morality

The enduring legacy of F. G. Bailey

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