Demands of the Day: On the Logic of Anthropological Inquiry


Demands of the Day asks about the logical standards and forms that should guide ethical and experimental anthropology in the twenty-first century. Anthropologists Paul Rabinow and Anthony Stavrianakis do so by taking up Max Weber’s notion of the “demands of the day.” Just as the demand of the day for anthropology decades ago consisted of thinking about fieldwork, today, they argue, the demand is to examine what happens after, how the experiences of fieldwork are gathered, curated, narrated, and ultimately made ...
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Demands of the Day asks about the logical standards and forms that should guide ethical and experimental anthropology in the twenty-first century. Anthropologists Paul Rabinow and Anthony Stavrianakis do so by taking up Max Weber’s notion of the “demands of the day.” Just as the demand of the day for anthropology decades ago consisted of thinking about fieldwork, today, they argue, the demand is to examine what happens after, how the experiences of fieldwork are gathered, curated, narrated, and ultimately made available for an anthropological practice that moves beyond mere ethnographic description.
Rabinow and Stavrianakis draw on experiences from an innovative set of anthropological experiments that investigated how and whether the human and biological sciences could be brought into a mutually enriching relationship. Conceptualizing the anthropological and philosophic ramifications of these inquiries, they offer a bold challenge to contemporary anthropology to undertake a more rigorous examination of its own practices, blind spots, and capacities, in order to meet the demands of our day.
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Editorial Reviews

George Marcus

“This short volume is another installment—perhaps the capstone—of what, without doubt, has been the most important effort during the first decade of the new century to experiment with recasting the emblematic research paradigm at the heart of  modern anthropology’s identity. Fieldwork remains, with its basic forms and values intact, but without its regulative mythologies. We have here instead, under the primary influences of  Max Weber and John Dewey, a different way of thinking and doing anthropological research reflexively engaged, through working collaborations of variable success inside, alongside, and outside ambitious techno-scientific  assemblages that are rooted in regimes of truth and modernity with which anthropology must ever contend in kinship.”
James Laidlaw

“Scholars in the field will find here a cornucopia of ideas to use in addressing problems of their own. The question of what it might mean for anthropological research to be a form of ethical practice has been raised by a number of authors recently, and this is a highly sophisticated and distinctive response.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226036915
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2013
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Rabinow is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author or coauthor of many books, most recently The Accompaniment and Designing Human Practices, both published by the University of Chicago Press. Anthony Stavrianakis received his PhD in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Demands of the Day

On the Logic of Anthropological Inquiry

By Paul Rabinow, Anthony Stavrianakis


Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-03688-5



Collaborative Fieldwork

The goal was to see whether it was possible to demonstrate a different kind of relationship between knowing and caring. Paul Rabinow

In 2004, while a visiting professor at the then recently opened BIOS Center of the London School of Economics, Paul Rabinow gave a lecture titled "Genome, Risk, Care: On the Legitimacy of the Contemporary." The lecture was a catalyst for Anthony Stavrianakis, then an undergraduate at the LSE, relative to two stultifying aspects of the research and study he had been pursuing in the UK: the seeming impossibility of posing questions of ethics within a social science institution, in anything more than the narrow sense of bioethics (focused on limits), and the lack of a space in which to do common conceptual work on the intensification of relations between science, ethics, and politics.

Rabinow was addressing both problems. He had at that time recently begun an endeavor called the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory (ARC) with several former graduate students. Their endeavor was in response to a timely challenge: how to study complexity in the human sciences with the assumptions that the significance of a problem exceeds any single project and that its significance cannot rest solely on the fetish and authority of field experience. The suggestion was that problems for anthropological participant-observation could be confronted better jointly even subsequent to fieldwork.

The motivation for ARC was dissatisfaction with the individual project model in anthropology. As Collier, Lakoff, and Rabinow wrote in 2006,

The individual project model assumes that interpretive and authorial virtuosity is the mainspring of good work. At its best, it produces genuinely innovative and original scholarship. At its worst, it results in workshops, conference papers, collected volumes and monographs in which the emphasis is placed on individual performance, and in which there is not much discussion or debate about what the key problems for the field are, and how to best approach them, nor is there evidence of shared norms that lead to better understanding of significant phenomena.

Otherwise said, it was a question of science, ethics, and the relation of these terms to anthropology as one among the human sciences. For Collier, Lakoff, and Rabinow, as they framed it, the question to which the Collaboratory was a response was the postfieldwork question of what the relation is between individually produced knowledge and a broader set of problems pertinent to a more general field of knowledge. These are distinct from, although to a degree require, fieldwork.

In anthropology, as in many other disciplines, scholars research and write together. The impetus for ARC, however, was an insight into the need for an organizational practice in which two things could be facilitated, which are not currently supported by the structure and experience of graduate student and professorial subject positions. First, there was a recognition of the need for collective concept formation for use in orientation to, and decomposition and recomposition of, data. Second, there was reflection on a need for the formation of shared standards of judgment. The central methodological drive behind this effort was to develop ways of submitting anthropological research (and the subjectivation of anthropologists) to minimal "tests" so as to be capable of discussing criteria of significance for knowledge sought or produced.

What distinguishes this mode from a formal method is that the aim was not a fixed criterion relative to which the status of all knowledge produced by participant-observation could be judged. Rather the aim was to subject the form of life devoted to knowledge about anthropos and knowledge about this creature's logoi to examination. The purpose of such examination was to connect thought, as a practice, to an ethos of thinking.

Collaborative Fieldwork

Rabinow and Bennett began with discussions over the limits of the concept of biopower relative to the emerging biosciences and what an outside to biopolitical approaches might be, if one were oriented to their ethical stakes. Given Bennett's prior experience and their shared concerns, Rabinow invited him to be the associate director of Human Practices and to enroll in the graduate program in anthropology. It was an opportunity to try out a project both within the human sciences—since as a principal investigator (PI) Rabinow would have funds to support students—and between the human and biosciences.

From Stavrianakis's position, as novitiate participant and observer, there were two important aspects to this starting point between Rabinow and Bennett. The first was that the project was problem oriented and experimental. The second was that this experimentation was oriented to an ethical end, which Rabinow and Bennett had named from the start as flourishing.

Flourishing was a term we used to posit the reason for our mode of participant-observation. We used the term to ask how the ethical outsides to the instrumental rationality of the sciences could be reactivated and reconnected to new types of scientific research. This is not to say that flourishing is per se opposed to instrumental goals; rather, we used the term to ask how metrics, or shared standards of judgment, broader than justifications by instrumentality could be introduced into seemingly emergent spaces in the biosciences. Relative to our interconnected projects, flourishing was an end toward which we were trying to move, through the activity of anthropological and ethical inquiry on the ramifications of bioscience and engineering. Moving toward this end required first a rethinking of the conditions under which we could take such an end as our own.

All ancient Greek reflection on human goods were eudaemonistic, that is, concerned with what a good life is, however, it was Aristotle who gave the most thorough account and whose basic terms we used as our orientation. In Aristotle's conception, eudaemonia is an objective state. This state is not only good for the particular person but is also reflective of what is good about humans understood as rational animals. In order for Aristotle to have such an account of ethics, he had to have an anthropology; his anthropology is structured through his understanding of the relation of the nature of the political community, the polis, to the nature of anthropos. If one takes up both the nature of the political community and the nature of anthropos as cultural-anthropological problems (from a pragmatic point of view) requiring inquiry, rather than a settled ontological claim about human beings, then there is a simultaneous inquiry into both what kind of objects of knowledge human beings are and what the goods for this creature can be.

Collaborative Equipment

From the start of our endeavor we posed the question of what concepts and pedagogical activity we would need. Cooperative fieldwork in our field sites would have meant from the beginning that we knew precisely what needed to be done and that all that was required was a division of labor in multiple sites to collect data, which would then rely on certain technologies of coordination. By contrast, we established an ongoing practice such that field experiences in connected but differentiated settings could contribute to a temporally shifting articulation of the challenge of participant-observation.

The preparatory stage in which we asked how we would conduct our project in SynBERC was undertaken on the basis of an agreement with the NSF and the leadership of SynBERC, as well as with the intention that Human Practices would have ramifications for collaboration within ARC and perhaps on those adjacent groups engaging broadly with themes of the ethics and politics of science.

What is the problem relative to which such initial preparations were oriented? A commonplace in 2006, articulated from funders as well as researchers, was that there was a need for new types of connection between science and ethics. This is true for all the projects we were involved in. In each project, the indetermination was how to collaborate productively between the human and natural sciences. We thought, in 2006, that our project would focus on indeterminations both ethical and scientific: how do you invent a post-ELSI ethical assemblage? What are the current unknowns? What is it that is being made? What is indeterminate about the ontology and the modality of such biological construction? We raised the challenge from the beginning of how to develop regular exchange on these questions within these institutions.

Initially, as observer and neophyte, Stavrianakis was aware of the need to reflect on the relation of collaborative inquiry to the objects that it presupposed. This was not simply an awareness that inquiry is embodied or that the inquirer is always situated relative to the objects of study, lessons that have been taught and learned previously. Rather it was an observation that inquiry, relative to the object in question, requires reflection on the manner in which one does it, the problem relative to which one does it, and the question of which capacities and venues one would need in order to be capable of approaching the problem in the manner sought.

Analytic reflection on these questions was aided through the use of a technical term, equipment, a translation from the Greek paraskeue, initially taken from Foucault's 1981–82 lectures at the Collège de France. The term was honed as a concept that could assist us in reflecting on how we were conducting our research. Foucault's discussion of paraskeue in these lectures asks, "How can the subject act as he ought, not only inasmuch as he knows the truth, but inasmuch as he says it, practices it, exercises it?" Equipment is not merely a supply of true propositions, but in Foucault's terms "statements with a material existence." For the production of paraskeue, statements that have logos, which are justified by reason, must be turned into ethos.

Rabinow and Bennett defined the concept as,

a set of truth claims, affects and ethical orientations designed and composed into a practice. Equipment, which has historically taken different forms, enables practical responses to changing conditions brought about by specific problems, events and general reconfigurations. Today there is a rather inchoate, if insistent, demand for new equipment to reconfigure and reconstruct the relations between and among the life sciences, the human sciences, and diverse citizenries both national and global.

Equipment is a practice in the moral philosopher Alisdair Macintyre's sense of the term and not merely a technology.

By practice I am going to mean ... activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to reach those standards of excellence which are appropriate to and partially definitive of that form of activity with the result that human powers to achieve excellence and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved are systematically extended.

A technology is a particular relation of means to ends, whereby means and ends can be adequately defined without reference to each other. A practice of inquiry is a means of acting in which the ends are internal to it and in which the standards and forms are generated internally.

Thinking in Situations

Thinking, following Dewey, occurs in a situation of trouble and situations of trouble are not individual. The "only way out" from a troubled situation, Dewey observes,

is through careful inspection of the situation, involving resolution into elements, and a going out beyond what is found upon such inspection to be given, to something else to get a leverage for understanding it. That is we have (a) to locate the difficulty, and (b) to devise a method for coping with it. Any such way of looking at thinking demands moreover that the difficulty be located in the situation in question.

The orientation in Human Practices was explicitly pragmatic in its approach in this Deweyan sense. This orientation took up Dewey's demand to use "intellectual instrumentalities" in situations that had been diagnosed as problematic. One difficulty is that Dewey is vague on what he means when he says that inquiry takes place in "situations," and another is how one would be able to diagnose that there is in fact a situation in need of reconstruction.

Dewey is, however, clear on one indeterminate situation in particular, which he names in his 1948 introduction to Reconstruction in Philosophy:

the entrance into the conduct of the everyday affairs of life of processes, materials and interests whose origin lies in the work done by physical inquirers in the relatively aloof and remote technical workshops known as laboratories.

The indetermination, for Dewey, comes from the incapacity to inquire into and reflect on the effects of the increase in technical means. For Dewey the consequence of this incapacity to develop an adequate practice is "a compromise taking the form of a division of fields and jurisdictions." This division is between the material and the ethical. The problem of those situations in which this division is instantiated is the failure to submit our common institutions, which involve ever more elaborate technical control of matter, and the habits and morals underlying them, to inquiry. If one were to do this, Dewey explains, one would see both logically and morally that the invention of new means does more than alter the ease of achieving the ends we think we know.

What follows here is a series of temporally ordered objects arising during the process of experimentation, in which our experience could be raised to a level of conceptualization such that we could attempt to remediate our experiment within Human Practices and between these anthropologists and other groups with whom we were trying to engage. As Dewey instructs us,

The name objects will be reserved for subject-matter so far as it has been produced and ordered in settled form by means of inquiry; proleptically, objects are the objectives of inquiry.

Object 1: The Conceptualization of Power Relations

Rabinow and Bennett developed a diagnostic engagement with SynBERC. The initial diagnostic objective was the observation and remediation of ethical problems. One of our starting points was that claims to expertise on what the ramifications of synthetic biology might be were premature, since it was unclear what the capabilities of the domain of practices were, or could be, relative to which problems and with which effects.

Our engagement with the bioscientists was impeded owing to constant demands to justify our participation. This was particularly problematic relative to our stated goal. In these projects we observed these bioscientists' appeals to the commercialization of science and the amelioration of health as the dominant justifications for the worth of scientific activity. This was problematic since while worthwhile and necessary goals to a degree, the bioscientists' focus on commercialization as a goal and their inflated rhetoric around amelioration of health stymied adequate reflection on their activities. Their hyperbole blocked discussion of the positive and negative ramifications of the bioscientific research. Furthermore, it had as a consequence that our participation was evaluated by the institution relative to our capacity to contribute to first-order measures of prosperity and amelioration.

This delimitation of the worth of science by these metrics was part of a broader incapacity to pose questions of how norms, excesses, and deficiencies functioned within these scientific institutions. Two key factors in this narrow delimitation of the worth of science are the subject-formation of bioscientists and institutional norms, including the training, academic reward structures, and career trajectories, which shut out attention to ethical and political concerns when put in terms other than those of "opinion" and "values."

Soon after beginning these projects, we found ourselves subject to two of the three forms of power relations identified by Foucault: domination and subjectivation, but not exploitation. We were not exploited insofar as we were funded to proceed as long as we did not make any subjectivational demands on those with whom we were trying to engage. Subjectivation was in play, however, in that we took mutual pedagogy between scientists and their forms of knowledge to be a central part of our project. To the extent that we tried to fulfill our mandate, which demanded a change of habits on the part of the bioscientists, the technologies of domination were activated to silence us.

Excerpted from Demands of the Day by Paul Rabinow. Copyright © 2013 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Preface....................     vii     

Acknowledgments....................     ix     

Introduction....................     1     

1 Collaborative Fieldwork....................     13     

2 On Leaving the Field: Ausgangshaltung....................     31     

3 Recuperate and Curate....................     47     

4 On Publicity....................     61     

5 Configurations of Actual Discordancy....................     81     

Conclusion: Demands of the Day....................     97     

Notes....................     113     

Bibliography....................     123     

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