Sorcery and the Moral Economy of Agency: An Ethnographic Account

John Taylor

An ethnographic account of sorcery accusation, violence, and subsequent community discussion provides a basis to explore the ‘moral economy of agency’ that shapes expressions and interpretations of personhood in Vanuatu. Mediated historically by transforming social, political, and economic circumstances, agency is demonstrated to be patterned according to culturally specific ontological and moral schemes. Key local categories of embodied personhood – including man ples (man place),man wan(man one), and jelus (jealousy) – are examined to elucidate two relationally entwined analytic categories, referred to as ‘distributive’ and ‘possessive’ agency. Such categories, it is argued, fundamentally shape expressions and interpretations of moral being and doing, including by providing a basis for identifying morally abject expressions of personhood. Taking seriously the important role of spiritual agency within such moral economies, this paper provides new ethnographically grounded insights into the ways in which communities and individuals negotiate moral being within transforming contexts of economic and sacred power.

Research Type(s)
Journal Article
Submitted by Toksave
March 25, 2021
Published in

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