Geographies of generosity: beyond the 'moral turn'

Barnett, Clive and Land, David (2007). Geographies of generosity: beyond the 'moral turn'. Geoforum, 38(6) pp. 1065–1075.



This paper questions Geographers debates about 'caring at a distance' and the 'geographies of responsibility', focussing on the treatment of the theme of partiality in ethics and justice. Debates in Geography often present partial commitments as morally or politically problematic on the grounds that they prioritize self-interest, exclusionary, and geographically restricted ways of relating to others. We outline how debates about caring at a distance and the geographies of responsibility frame partiality as a problem to be overcome. We argue that Geography's engagements with moral philosophy are premised on faulty assumptions about the sorts of influences people are liable to act upon (one's that privilege causal knowledge as the primary motivating force), and also flawed assumptions about the sorts of problems that academic reasoning about normative issues is meant to address (the assumption that people are too egoistical and not altruistic enough). We use the theme of generosity as an entry point to argue that partiality and finitude might be the conditions for any ethical–political project that de-centres the motivation of practical action away from the sovereign self towards responsive and attentive relations of encounter with the needs of others. Understanding generosity as a modality of power suggests a revised programme for geographical investigations of the intersection between ethics, morality and politics: one which looks at how opportunities to address normative demands in multiple registers are organized and transformed; at the ways in which dispositions to respond and to be receptive to others are worked up; and how opportunities for acting responsively on these dispositions are organized.

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