Anecdotes, situations, histories: varieties and uses of cases in thinking about ethics and development practice

Research output: Working paperAcademic


Anecdotes of development practice help to give us questions. Philosophers proceed with reflections on simplified abstracted situations of moral tension and choice,
which serve to sharpen and organize concepts. Anthropologists amongst others provide
extended histories of policies, projects, organizations or individuals, which may go
deeper than anecdotes and abstraction, and which rely on yet can enrich their heritage
of questions and concepts. Referring to a number of case studies, anecdotes and abstracted choice situations, the paper considers the range and roles of different types of
cases in trying to better understand tensions, conflicts and choices in development. Diversity of purposes as well as of philosophies underlies the variety of recourse to cases.
Since various purposes are legitimate and complementary (such as sensitization, theorization, informing decision-making) so too are various styles and uses of cases, including some thick (including a lot) and some thin (leaving out a lot). While thick description can provide peculiarly instructive and even inspiring exemplars, it is not always
helpful in moral argument. Ideas about conditional relevance are synthesized into a
picture of distinct stages in work in ethics and practical reasoning.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDen Haag
PublisherInternational Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
Number of pages56
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1999

Publication series

SeriesISS working papers. General series


  • ISS Working Paper-General Series


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