Webb Keane

Webb Keane

'The Semiotics of Stance in Everyday Ethics'

The propensity for evaluation saturates everyday life, but cannot be fully captured by the dictates of explicit moral precepts. Nor can ordinary ethics be reduced to psychological foundations, although it draws on their affordances. This talk looks at one crucial site for the emergence of ethics, in social interaction. For it is in social interaction that people are summoned to account for themselves to one another. In the process, the affordances of first person experience and the third person perspective of morality systems are brought into articulation.

The lecture was co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and held on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at the University of Notre Dame. It was made possible by support from the John Templeton Foundation.


Webb Keane is the George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. His writings cover a range of topics in social and cultural theory and the philosophical foundations of social thought and the human sciences. In particular, he is interested in semiotics and language; material culture; gift exchange, commodities, and money; religion, morality, and ethics; media and public cultures. His latest book, Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories, addresses morality, ethics, and virtue as special, even constitutive, problems for social science, exploring the points of intersection and divergence between ethnography and its borderlands with psychology, on the one hand, and social history, on the other.