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Position Pieces

Vol. 10 No. 1: April issue

“I’m Trapped Here”: Ethnography, Structural Violence, and Moral Injury

February 13, 2022


In scenes of deep poverty and precarity, intimate relationships are shaped by the moral aftermath of a life of surviving scarcity. These moral histories are riddled with interpersonal harm, experiences of harming others and being seriously harmed oneself. As intimacy deepens, so does the prospect of harm, mistrust, and humiliation. These relational experiences can erode moral agency, or the sense that one is deserving of love and has the capacity to be seen as a ‘good’ person (Myers 2019; Blacksher 2002). Within the hermeneutic of moral injury—a concept largely defined by and elaborated in clinical settings—this Position Piece explores the messy relational life of scarcity in the context of conducting ethnography. Further, it examines the ethnographer’s responsibility to respond to such lives with an attention to moral injury and moral agency (Carpenter-Song 2019). This journey, guided by personal commitment, can lead to engagements that do not feel like care, yet are. This essay explores this reformulation of care as moral labour while concluding with the political stakes of this mode of intimate work.