This thread has been reopened to allow further commentary arising from Ted Fischer's seminar.
The OAC seminar by Prof. Edward Fischer, University of Vanderbilt provided a chance for readers to discuss with him his paper The Good Life, Values, Markets and Wellbeing. To visit the Seminar click HERE.
The idea and impetus for this event came from John McCreery and a thread he opened a while ago. We are glad to bring the dialogue there to fruition here as a new working paper and as an open seminar discussion beginning soon. The seminar will begin on the 24th September and will run for two weeks all things being equal. A new thread will be opened here in the forum on that date.
Ted Fischer's paper takes us directly into a topic of increasing importance in development studies and which should be important to anthropologists too. It seems hard to doubt that in every human community there circulate ideas and images of what a good life means. Notions of the good life clearly vary from society to society, from individual to individual and even from moment to moment. Whatever the good life may consist in situationally we can hardly doubt that it is and has always been an object of sustained human thought and aspiration and that what people imagine about it will affect how they act in the world. For a complex and thought provoking discussion of one community's mythological principles for the good life readers may want to return to our last OAC seminar paper by Joanna Overing.
Based on our ethnographic knowledge anthropologists should all be able to comment on the variety of models for what (might) constitute a good life. So here there can be a meeting point between the ethnographer's engagement with diversity and developmentalist concerns with social change that people would have reason to value. Ted Fischer brings together both the specific and the general here. He looks at the mounting evidence that a purely economistic view grossly distorts basic notions of dignity and equitability that human beings largely share in different forms. His paper contains a striking and helpful critique of the 'cash value' view of morality that tells us that decisions at point of sale - 'revealed preferences' - are the true indicators of human morality. He reinstates social imagination as a crucial aspect of why people act in certain ways - why, for example, they make what economists have referred to as 'irrational' choices.
The seminar itself is now closed for comment but please feel free to leave comments and questions here.