The “Moral Optimism” category of Living Anthropologically contains blog-posts related to the idea of anthropology’s moral optimism. The term moral optimism comes from anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s book Global Transformations. See the page on Anthropology & Moral Optimism for elaboration and a free PowerPoint.
At the end of the day, in this age where futures are murky and utopias mere reminders of a lost innocence, we need to fall back on the moral optimism that has been anthropology’s greatest–yet underscored–appeal. But we need to separate that optimism from the naïveté that has been liberalism’s most convenient shield. We need to assume it as a choice–whether we call it moral, philosophical, or aesthetic in the best sense. We need to hang on to it not because we are historically, socially, or politically naïve–indeed, as social scientists we cannot afford such naïveté–but because this is the side of humanity that we choose to prefer, and because this choice is what moved us to anthropology in the first place. We need to assume this optimism because the alternatives are lousy, and because anthropology as a discipline is the best venue through which the West can show an undying faith in the richness and variability of humankind. (Trouillot, 2003, 139)