What is love? The complex relation between values and practice in Vanuatu
In this article in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Tom Bratrud demonstrates how people may agree on certain core values for living, but that individual stakes can make them interpret different actions to be right when putting those values into action.
The past decade has seen a renewed anthropological interest in values, morality, and ethics. This article engages with this field by demonstrating how values can be strategies as well as ideals, prone to destabilize social order and divide people precisely because they are thought to be shared.
The concept of ‘love’, referring to everyday practices of concern and care for others, is a core value for living on Ahamb Island in Vanuatu. However, adherence to the same core value does not necessarily create an ordered social world. Analysing three ethnographic cases, one of them a dispute with fatal consequences, Tom Bratrud proposes a model for studying values that accommodates ambiguity by uniting the notion of shared social values with individual experience and strategy. A methodological argument is that it is crucial for anthropological studies of values to assess the context for people's shifting interpretations and articulations of value in practice.
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