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  • Author or Editor: Maggie FitzGerald x
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Rethinking Global Ethics

A perennial debate in the field of global ethics revolves around the possibility of a universalist ethics, as well as arguments over the nature, and significance, of difference for moral deliberation. Decolonial literature, in particular, increasingly signifies a pluriverse, one with radical ontological and epistemological differences.

This book examines the concept of the pluriverse alongside global ethics and the ethics of care in order to contemplate new ethical horizons for engaging across difference. Offering a challenge to the current state of the field, this book argues for a rethinking of global ethics as it has been conceived thus far.

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Chapter 5 builds on the theoretical groundwork laid in Chapter 4 and begins to draw out partial connections between the pluriverse, care, and ethics. It is argued that when morality is understood in a care ethical sense, the pluriverse can be fruitfully conceived of as a meta-world defined by a co-constitutive relational ontology, situated epistemology, and axiology of partial connections. Further, from this definition, the pluriversal project must then also be fundamentally acknowledged as a normative project, and the moral and ethical dimensions of the pluriverse must be made explicit in thinking about and enacting the pluriverse. In this way, this chapter argues that while the Global Ethics literature needs to contend with the pluriversal challenge, the literature on the pluriverse would likewise benefit from a sustained engagement with moral philosophy, like the ethics of care. This chapter demonstrates further the generative potential of such an engagement by explicating how the ethics of care additionally aligns with, and usefully expands, thinking about the pluriverse as a meta-world defined by a co-constitutive relational ontology, situated epistemology, and axiology of partial relations of care.

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Chapter 6 presents a care ethical meta-theoretical framework for contemplating ethical horizons in the pluriverse. Using the ethics of care, this chapter mobilizes a distinction between vulnerability, understood as an inherent ontological condition of subjects who are embedded in relations of dependency, and precarity, which is defined as intensified vulnerability resulting from unequal distributions of power that render certain subjects more or less vulnerable than others. This chapter then develops and mobilizes this understanding of vulnerability and precarity so as to demonstrate how this lens allows us to consider the explicit effects of global material and ideational hierarchies of power on particular worlds, and the configuration of the pluriverse more generally. This framing, it is suggested, redefines ethics in the image of the pluriverse, and foregrounds the ways in which particular ethical dilemmas in the pluriverse always take place within a broader horizon of precarity, whereby certain worlds are rendered ‘more’ or ‘less’ vulnerable than others in and through the processes of ethical deliberation between and amongst worlds.

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Chapter 7 attends to the political in the context of the pluriverse. It is argued that the political in the context of the pluriverse involves complex layers of socio-symbolic orders (worlds); as such, the political moment may not occur equally for all worlds involved in a conflict between/across worlds. Because of this layered ‘politicality’, this chapter suggests that thinking about the political in the pluriverse requires foregrounding equally the political as associative (a collective coming together) and as dissociative (agonistic and ruptural). The ethics of care, as both a critical and productive ethic, is well positioned to hold these two traits of the political at the fore. It is ultimately argued that care ethics provides us with tools to contemplate the political (rethought in the context of multiple partially connected vulnerable worlds) as (dis)associative, involving relational layers of onto-epistemic rupture and conflict, on the one hand, and onto-epistemic continuity and cooperation, on the other.

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Chapter 8 moves from the preceding meta-ethical discussion (Chapters 5, 6, and 7) and presents a final pluriversal ethical dilemma so as to outline other ways in which the ethics of care can help us deliberate and navigate specific ethical conflicts between/across worlds. Drawing upon an ethnography regarding a conflict over caring for what the modern world calls caribou and the Innu Nation calls atîku (Blaser, 2016; 2018), this chapter first exemplifies how the meta-theory developed in the previous chapters orients us to contemplate this ethical conflict. Second, and by extension, this chapter also draws out other ways in which the ethics of care can help build a pluriversal ethics. Through this example, Chapter 8 brings the argument of the book full circle: by starting with the ethics of care, it becomes clear that the pluriverse is, in fact, constituted by morality. Because of this, a pluriversal ethics does not simply refer to the application of ethics to a new global context; instead, building a pluriversal ethics, and particularly building one using the ethics of care, is the very means by which the pluriverse may flourish.

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Finally, Chapter 9 returns to the field of Global Ethics and offers some concluding thoughts on what the preceding discussion means for researching and doing global ethics in and for the pluriverse. Specifically, this chapter reiterates that binary thinking is an insufficient theoretical space from which to contemplate and build pluriversal ethics. Instead, the pluriverse pulls us into an alternative conceptual space, a space of complex relations upon relations, which enact (sometimes radically) different knowings/beings while paradoxically tying them together. Further, research, theories, and various practices – as implicated in the reproduction of worlds – will produce and sustain unique relations and distinct forms of moral life. Scholars and practitioners in the field of Global Ethics must therefore take responsibility for that which our theorizing alternatively (re)produces and disrupts. More simply, we must care about the consequences, that is, the worlding effects, of the ways in which we think and do global ethics.

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This chapter introduces the concept of the pluriverse and, through a discussion of various ethnographies, demonstrates the types of onto-epistemic differences that constitute this world of multiple worlds. It also discusses the ways in which the pluriverse challenges the field of Global Ethics as it has been conceived of thus far. That is, this chapter argues that Global Ethics can be characterized by a debate regarding the (im)possibility of universality. On the one hand, rationalist approaches purport a thick universality, while alternative approaches – via various critiques – question the very possibility of a universal ethics at all. The pluriverse ruptures this bifurcation and puts forth a compelling normative claim: every world has the right to claim its own universality. This claim points to the central question of the book: How can we rethink global ethics in the pluriverse, where differences are at their most deep and pervasive?

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The argument of this book departs from the premise that the central obstacle to rethinking global ethics in the context of the pluriverse (or to put it differently, the central obstacle which prevents much of the field of Global Ethics from thinking pluriversally) is modernity. The purpose of this chapter is to delineate the understanding of modernity mobilized in the book, building particularly upon postcolonial and decolonial schools of thought, and to demonstrate why modernity is an obstacle to building a pluriversal ethics. In short, this book argues that modernity is a world, a collective thinking/being/doing, an onto-epistemology; it is an ideology and political philosophy, an understanding of subjectivity and the world, and then a normative commitment to ordering the world according to these premises. Modernity is therefore also a set of practices and social relations; it is a continual enactment and reproduction of a particular order. Importantly, this enactment and reproduction does not occur within a vacuum. As such, modernity, as a world, is also always implicated with and in other worlds. It is demarcated by other worlds, and it interacts with other worlds in various material and symbolic ways. Understanding modernity as connected to other worlds foreshadows why this particular definition of modernity is useful in the context of the pluriverse, that is, a matrix of worlds connected through/by relations of power.

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Chapter 3 continues the broader discussion about modernity (Chapter 2) by linking the Global Ethics literature to the modern world. This chapter argues that this literature has been complicit in reproducing the binaries and hierarchies that underpin modernity; more exactly, modernity and the Global Ethics literature are co-constitutive. As a result, this chapter contends that much of the Global Ethics literature is premised on the same assumptions and binaries as modernity. Because of these theoretical underpinnings, this literature is often not equipped to contemplate ethical horizons in the pluriverse. In demonstrating this, this chapter also illuminates that the challenge for building an ethics for the pluriverse is characterized by a distinct combination of (1) the need to attend to our shared material existence while simultaneously (2) foregrounding the multiple and actually existing ‘universals’ or onto-epistemologies which comprise the pluriverse. Furthermore, pluriversal ethics must also be able to navigate (3) the problem of incommensurability across difference, and the limits of knowing that arise when differences are at their deepest and most pervasive, or onto-epistemic.

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