Every person has a life to live. Acting inevitably means giving answers to ethical questions like: What is the right thing to do? How should I interact with others? How do I live a good life? Many aspects of the respective answers are implicit—tacit and embodied—in everyday-life practices. Other aspects of such answers emerge from self-conscious reflection, situations of value-conflict, or moments of existential crisis. Aspects of these answers are often part of larger clusters of practices and ideas about ‘right actions’ and ‘good lives’ (such as Islam or Marxism or Feminism). We try to understand the ethical dimensions of social interactions e.g. by analysing when and how people move between tacit and embodied ways of being and doing things to self-conscious reflections about their actions and lives. This can be done by looking at larger social formations or by focussing explicitly on individuals and the distinct life they (try to) live.
The anthropology of individuals overlaps with the anthropology of ethics, but also goes beyond it by turning human beings, their lives and existence “as such” into its object of inquiry. In order to do so we focus on individuals instead of their shared cultural and social practices. Empirically researching individuals implies joining the individual’s life over a certain period of time. We observe their activities, understand the relationships they maintain with other people, and experience their behavior in different life contexts, we share their lives in moments of high concentration, leisure, casual interaction, joy and fear, in days of sudden clarity and in times spent in illusions. Step by step, we discover these individuals as entities in themselves and how their lives are integrated with their ever-shifting external life circumstances. More than that, we encounter each individual in their individuality. On this basis we open up a more general horizon of questions: What is a (human) individual? Which methods are suitable for researching individuals? How do individuals and their lives differ between different societies, cultures or epochs? What role do individuals play in the production and reproduction of society? To what extent can other disciplines benefit from an anthropology of the individual?