Competing Responsibilities

The Ethics and Politics of Contemporary Life

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 4 illustrations Published: March 2017

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology

Noting the pervasiveness of the adoption of "responsibility" as a core ideal of neoliberal governance, the contributors to Competing Responsibilities challenge contemporary understandings and critiques of that concept in political, social, and ethical life. They reveal that neoliberalism's reification of the responsible subject masks the myriad forms of individual and collective responsibility that people engage with in their everyday lives, from accountability, self-sufficiency, and prudence to care, obligation, and culpability. The essays—which combine social theory with ethnographic research from Europe, North America, Africa, and New Zealand—address a wide range of topics, including critiques of corporate social responsibility practices; the relationships between public and private responsibilities in the context of state violence; the tension between calls on individuals and imperatives to groups to prevent the transmission of HIV; audit culture; and how health is cast as a citizenship issue. Competing Responsibilities allows for the examination of modes of responsibility that extend, challenge, or coexist with the neoliberal focus on the individual cultivation of the self. 

Barry D. Adam, Elizabeth Anne Davis, Filippa Lentzos, Jessica Robbins-Ruszkowski, Nikolas Rose, Rosalind Shaw, Cris Shore, Jessica M. Smith, Susanna Trnka, Catherine Trundle, Jarrett Zigon


Competing Responsibilities makes a valuable theoretical and empirical contribution to social scientific understandings of responsibility at a key moment in the world’s unfolding. . . . This is an accomplished collection with a sustained argument running through it, thus offering substantive and always eloquent interpretations of responsibility and creating a text that has broad-ranging value to the academy and indeed, beyond.” — Fiona Murphy, Social Anthropology

"Competing Responsibilities builds on the centrality of ‘responsibilization’ in neoliberal technologies of governance. . . . This insightful collection will provide food for thought for both researchers and advanced students." — John Gledhill, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"This volume's concern with responsibility captures a range of facets of neoliberal policies in a focused and novel way. An absorbing and compelling read, Competing Responsibilities makes an original contribution to the continuing delineation of neoliberal policy and practice as the subject and grounding of contemporary anthropological research." — George E. Marcus, coauthor of Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary

"At this moment, when the concept of responsibility seems irretrievably tarnished by its long association with neoliberalism and individualistic ideals of 'personal responsibility,' these essays offer surprising evidence that 'responsibility' is being reactivated and reimagined around the globe for collective life, for caring and social inclusion, and world-building. Together, the essays attest to the importance of contesting 'responsibility,' rather than abandoning the concept, by combining theoretical, ethnographic, and political research that wrestles 'responsibility' out of its moribund association with neoliberalism and back into the lifeblood of public life." — Barbara Cruikshank, author of The Will to Empower: Democratic Citizens and Other Subjects


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Susanna Trnka is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Auckland and coeditor of Senses and Citizenships: Embodying Political Life.

Catherine Trundle is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington and coeditor of Detachment: Essays on the Limits of Relational Thinking.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction. Competing Responsibilities: Reckoning Personal Responsibility, Care for the Other, and the Social Contract in Contemporary Life / Susanna Trnka and Catherine Trundle  1
Part I. Theoretical Departures
1. Making Us Resilient: Responsible Citizens for Uncertain Times / Nikolas Rose and Filippa Lentzos  27
2. Attunement: Rethinking Responsibility / Jarrett Zigon  49
Part II. States, Companies, and Communities
3. Reciprocal Responsibilities: Struggles over (New and Old) Social Contracts, Environmental Pollution, and Childhood Asthma in the Czech Republic / Susanna Trnka  71
4. Audit Culture and the Politics of Responsibility: Beyond Neoliberal Responsibilization? / Cris Shore  96
5. From Corporate Social Responsibility to Creating Shared Value: Contesting Responsibilization and the Mining Industry / Jessica M. Smith  118
Part III. Violence
6. "The Information Is Out There": Transparency, Responsibility, and the Missing in Cyprus / Elizabeth Anne Davis  135
7. Justice and Its Doubles: Producing Postwar Responsibilities in Sierra Leone / Rosalind Shaw  156
Part IV. Intimate Ties
8. The Politics of Responsibility in HIV / Barry D. Adam  181
9. Responsibilities of the Third Age and the Intimate Politics of Sociality in Poland / Jessica Robbins-Ruszowski  193
10. Genetic Bystanders: Familial Responsibility and the State's Accountability to Veterans of Nuclear Tests / Catherine Trundle  213
References  233
Contributors  263
Index  267
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6375-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6360-6
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