“Intimate Uncertainties” is a social anthropological research project that focuses on aspects of precarity and morality involved in the intimate relations of people who cross borders and transgress boundaries, to satisfy their craving for a “better life”. This is the case for three intimate encounters – characterized by inequalities –, which are the focus of the individual case studies: The first ethnography addresses migratory death in the Spanish-Moroccan borderlands by exploring a deadly shipwreck of 2003. The second sub-project sheds light on moral ambivalences in Germany’s transplant system by examining how intimate experiences of alcohol (ab)use and medico-structural regulations constrain and facilitate each other. The third case study investigates “fertility travel“ from the EU to Russia and Ukraine, scrutinizing the ways morality is negotiated within the contested sphere of surrogacy.

The endeavors of the actors involved – however disparate – all encompass radical decisions against the backdrop of what we call intimate uncertainties. We argue that intimacies are contested sites of power – a power that manifests itself through the control and exposure of these intimacies, be it on a bodily or emotional level. They play out shifting tensions and encompass dichotomous spheres: security and freedom, life and death, private and public, local and global. Following Zygmunt Bauman, Judith Butler and Didier Fassin, we argue that these fluctuating intimate relations are deeply entangled with global moral obligations. In a globalized world, precarity, as both inherent to our human condition as well as politically and economically defined, creates new social inequalities and urgently calls for a growing moral responsibility.

By means of the three ethnographic studies, we investigate how new technologies of power and governance engender new moralities – understood as emotional and moral justifications of social practices in intimate encounters, and trace how the actors we are interested in negotiate, facilitate and constrain intimate desires, anxieties and values in new ways.

The research project is supported and financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern.


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