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Critique Essay Humanities Nonfiction

‘The calculus of pain’: Violence, anthropological ethics, and the category transgender

By David Valentine, 2003

In addressing Nancy Scheper-Hughes’s (1995) call for ‘the primacy of the ethical’ in anthropological research, this paper complicates anthropologists’ ethical position by exploring a range of practices seen as harmful or violent by transgender identified people. I argue that an ethical stance on the violence experienced by one’s study participants is deeply complicated by what comes to count for participants as harm and violence. By investigating a range of social contexts and practices – political activism, social service support groups, and ethnographic practices – I argue that detailed ethnography which queries the ontological assumptions of those who claim to have experienced violence is the most effective route to acting ethically.

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