Threads of virtue : the ethical lives of Syrian textile traders
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This thesis is an ethnographic study of ethical concepts and practices among contemporary Muslim textile traders and entrepreneurs in Aleppo, Syria. It draws on Lambek's perspective that ethics is 'ordinary': an inherent and pervasive aspect of exchange transactions, such as visits, hospitality, retail transactions and the negotiations leading up to them. Three ethnographic settings are explored - a textile factory in the north of Aleppo; a wholesale yarn market in the centre of Aleppo's old city markets that is also the site for speculative futures-trading; and a retail fabric shop where young salesmen are employed to get the best price they can from their mainly female customers. The moral processes, concepts and accomplishments that emerge in these different settings include affection and generosity; intention and pure-heartedness; substance and trustworthiness; autonomy, dignity and worth; and obligation and moral reasoning. The thesis describes the different ways that exchanges mediate these processes. This thesis approaches ethics as a function of life lived with others: an aspect of how one should be involved with others, and how one should manage, limit, extend and orient oneself in that involvement. One theme that emerges is how the relationship between autonomy and generosity is managed in these settings, by actors with differential access to resources. Another is what 'sincerity' means: is virtue simply a question of mastering the protocols that govern these exchanges, or is it a matter of the heart? How can social actors tell the difference? Why and when does it matter to them to be able to do so? This thesis also explores the connections between power relationships and ethical practice, arguing that ethics can never be isolated from power, but nor can it be collapsed into it. Moral accomplishments such as generosity, sincerity or affection can be ways of making and organising claims to social status and capital, and of course depend on these things too. However, they also define types of sociality – such as 'intimacy' and 'continuity' - that are seen as having intrinsic worth.