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Justice, Morality, and the State in Amazonia

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - JUSTAM (Justice, Morality, and the State in Amazonia)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-03-31

Justice, Morality, and the State in Amazonia (JUSTAM) is a five-year research project that will investigate the social, cultural and cognitive bases of justice, or the morally correct assignment of goods and evils. How, why and when do people make moral judgements about what is right or just? How are such judgements influenced by social and cultural factors, such as early childcare practices, local theories of mind, or the relative presence or absence of markets and the state? The project will address such questions with an empirical focus on the indigenous peoples of Western Amazonia, using ethnographic as well as experimental research methods to develop an analysis of issues ranging from emotions, fairness, entitlement and equality in contexts of resource distribution, to punishment, vengeance, and attributions of responsibility. This will enlarge our understanding of how and why patterns of moral judgement vary across cultures, with particular attention paid to the role played by cultural constructions of personhood. The current situation of rapid social change in Amazonia, driven largely by the increased presence of the state in everyday life, provides a unique opportunity for assessing how morality and ethics are shaped by social conditions such as the size of networks of cooperation, processes for generating consensus, and the management of conflicts and disputes. This will be used to address longstanding questions concerning the evolution of morality, including how fairness is linked to cooperation within ever larger groups. As the same time, the project will seek to articulate a sophisticated and distinctively Amazonian theory of justice, grounded in emotional responsiveness to others and respect for personal autonomy, that is capable of entering into critical dialogue with mainstream Western theories and understandings, while also challenging a number of dominant stereotypes of small-scale, non-state societies. The results will further be used to formulate a general framework for development projects and policy interventions with indigenous peoples, which we hope could improve their success rate and potentially be adapted for use in a range of global contexts.
"The project team (two postdoctoral researchers, a PhD student and a co-investigator) were recruited and commenced work in mid-late 2017. Regular project meetings were held through 2017-18, sometimes with visiting scholars, to critically analyse selected readings and problems in the literature, in order to refine project objectives and hypotheses. Two interdisciplinary workshops were held at the LSE, on ‘responsibility’ and ‘fairness’, for which detailed discussion papers were circulated as a way of further refining the scope of research. Two moral psychological experiments were designed and implemented in two fieldsites in Western Amazonia, one in Ecuador with the Shuar; and the other in Peru with the Urarina. The first was designed to probe the effects of state integration on moral judgements; the second used priming to explore how nucleated communities prompt recognisable styles of moral reasoning. Preliminary analysis of the results suggests points to the importance of age, gender and religion as significant variables with at least as a significant influence on moral judgements as state or market integration. During the field trips, participant observation was also carried out on indigenous justice and appropriations of formal law; on community assemblies and the creation of consensus; and on gossip and rumour, among other topics. After carrying out basic training in video production, we completed two weeks of filming in July 2018, among the Peruvian Urarina, and are currently editing the footage into a short documentary. We also held a number of collaborate events in South America, including the following:
1. A series of one-to-one interviews with indigenous activists and intellectuals, constitutional judges, indigenous lawyers, and Ecuadorian academics in Quito, Riobamba and Puyo. These helped to map out the current state of legal pluralism and the different dimensions of state integration in relation to indigenous justice.
2. A workshop entitled ""Legal pluralism, community jurisprudence and indigenous jurisdictions' at the Latin American Social Sciences Institute of Quito (FLACSO), which brought together Ecuadorian legal scholars, practicing lawyers and judges, activists and anthropologists to explore current problems and opportunities with regards to indigenous justice today.
3. A focus group event with indigenous Shuar participants, ""Well-being, community regulations, and traditional management of conflicts in Shuar territory"", to promote reflection on forms of justice in everyday life and on changes related to sedentarization and neo-colonization.
4. Project members co-organized an international and collaborative congress of anthropology entitled ""Citizen dialogue: Voices of research in the Upper Ecuadorian Amazon - Yapankam"", which resulted in a series of resolutions regarding the ways in which anthropological research can contribute locally and how indigenous people can use our findings or do anthropological research.

We are currently in the process of preparing a series of publications which we anticipate will open up new pathways for research in moral and political anthropology through an ethnographic analysis of Amazonian concepts of justice, while also speaking to neighboring disciplines such as political philosophy and moral psychology."
While the project is still in a research phase, with the key results still in the process of being written up and analysed, the mixed-methods approach we have employed with the moral psychological experiment pushes beyond the state of the art by incorporating ethnographic nuance, based on the long-term fieldwork experience of the researchers, into the experimental design itself, in order to come up with moral dilemmas with far greater cultural or ecological validity than is generally the case in cross-cultural psychological research, especially among small-scale non-literate peoples such as those in Western Amazonia.