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The central intervention of this article concerns the contingency of the relationship between ethics and politics. The empirical focus is Second World War Britain, where the refusal to fight was often framed as a conscientious objection. More broadly, one of the central propositions in the anthropology of ethics has been that ethics is ubiquitous. However, ethical practices—such as conscience—are not always prioritized in public life. It is not simply, for example, that we might have different ways of answering “how ought I to live?”, but that the question itself is not always thought to be socially significant. We therefore need to pay attention to how and why the question is posed, and what this means for who can speak and about what issues. As such, the paper argues that the valorization of conscience can reproduce forms of privilege.
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