Competing Responsibilities: The Ethics and Politics of Contemporary Life.

AuthorQuest, Linda
PositionBook review

Trnka, Susanna, and Catherine Trundle, eds. Competing Responsibilities: The Ethics and Politics of Contemporary Life. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, VI + 273 pages. Paperback, $23.95.

Competing Responsibilities features eleven contributors--anthropologists, with cultural, medical, and sociological credentials who are faculty members at Auckland, Amsterdam, Colorado, King's College, Ontario, Princeton, Sussex, Tufts, Wayne State, and Wellington. They met at workshops, forums, and conferences to collaborate (p. 23). Their stated intent is a book to take a step toward a new direction for scholarly and public understanding of responsibility (p. 22). It would bring readers up-to-date on contemporary life in post-colonial, post-conflict, post-socialist, post-traumatic-stress societies. Intellectual influence of Michel Foucault is evident. Other icons of political theory and history are acknowledged. However, very recent references are most abundant--at least 642 individuals (academics for whose CVs it matters) have single, multiple, or coauthored entries. The intent of the book, as well as responsibility and care for the other in contemporary life, confer an obligation--each of those authors should receive a book announcement and off-prints of articles in which they were references.

Oddly missing from the responsibility project is Garrett Hardin's 1968 Science article "The Tragedy of the Commons" ( It raised our hopes and fears of a post-"gimme," post free-rider, post-greed world. Controversy highlighted its impact as a potent evolutionary catalyst. Hardin's work addresses The Ethics and Politics of Contemporary Life (subtitle of Competing Responsibilities) apropos the anthropologists' concerns with responsibilization, harm reduction, self-care, prudentialism, resilience, the Other, critique involving neoliberalism.

Chapter authors deconstruct urban, civil, industrial, scientific, industrial, commercial, communist, judicial, medical, and environmental commons in Britain, Canada, Christmas Island, Cyprus, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Poland, and Sierra Leone. "Uncertain Times" (Chapter One) bridges from the Introduction to cases (Chapters Two through Ten). Editors and contributors standardized their definition of the key term, responsibility, tied firmly to accountability or answerability when institutional and individual obligations collide, and linked to rational capabilities, legal liabilities, and...

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