Webb Keane | The Semiotics of Stance in Everyday Ethics

6:30–8:30 pm


Ethical vocabularies objectify self-awareness, social interaction and people’s effects on one another.  Terms take on meaning within larger constellations of ethical and psychological concepts, practices and institutions.  Objectifications facilitate reflexivity, which in turn gives ethical life a public history.  Explicit concepts are more subject to criticism than tacit intuitions and habits, so they enter into the domain of politics and history.  Tracing the emergence of such concepts, this talk examines some ethical reform movements to develop the idea of first, second and third person stance.

About the Speaker

Webb Keane is the George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.  He grew up in New York City and studied studio art and philosophy at Yale College. After working as a ranch hand, waiter, file clerk and cafe manager, he ended up in Peru as an archaeological draftsman.

Having discovered cultural and linguistic anthropology along the way, he went on to receive the PhD from the University of Chicago, after which he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, before moving to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

His most extensive fieldwork has been on the island of Sumba, in eastern Indonesia. His wide-ranging interests have also taken him to the debates about language politics in Jakarta, discussions of evidence for Neolithic religion in Turkey, and rummagings in the Dutch colonial archives.