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Somatosphere Presents

a book forum on

Science, Reason, Modernity

Readings for an Anthropology
of the Contemporary
edited by
Anthony Stavrianakis, Gaymon Bennett, and Lyle Fearnley
Contributions from
Bradley Dunseith
Sean Miller
Antoine Przybylak-Brouillard
Meg Stalcup
University of Ottawa
Cameron Brinitzer
University of Pennsylvania
Monica Greco
University of London
Ferhat Taylan
FNRS / University of Liege

With a response from

Gaymon Bennett
Arizona State University
Lyle Fearnley
Singapore University of Technology and
Anthony Stavrianakis
CNRS, France
Book forum edited by
Todd Meyers
New York University, Shanghai

Somatosphere Presents
A Book Forum on

Science, Reason, Modernity:

Readings for an Anthropology
of the Contemporary
edited by
Anthony Stavrianakis,
Gaymon Bennett, and
Lyle Fearnley
Fordham University Press
2015, 336 pages

Contributions from:
Bradley Dunseith
Sean Miller
Antoine Przybylak-Brouillard
Meg Stalcup
University of Ottawa

Gaymon Bennett
Arizona State University

Lyle Fearnley
Singapore University of Technology and Design

Anthony Stavrianakis
CNRS, France

Cameron Brinitzer
University of Pennsylvania

Monica Greco
University of London

Ferhat Taylan
FNRS / University of Liege

Edited by

Todd Meyers
New York University, Shanghai
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Science, Reason, Modernity: Readings for an Anthropology of the Contemporary is many things a
carefully curated selection of classic texts ranging from Immanuel Kants An Answer to the
Question: What is Enlightenment? and Max Webers Science as a Vocation, to Georges
Canguilhems The Question of Normality in the History of Biological Thought and Paul
Rabinows Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment; a critical intervention
aimed at the core of science studies; an exacting, plowing thesis on the anthropology of the
contemporary; and a pedagogical resource crafted for those seeking paths through the briar
of scientific method and biological thought (and their historical, social, and philosophical
registers). We hope you enjoy a provocative and engaging set of commentaries.

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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity

Mediated Experiences: 1-7

M.A., University of Ottawa

M.A., University of Ottawa

M.A. Candidate, University of Ottawa

Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Ottawa

The question is not only: What are practices of science today? The
question is: How do we become capable of naming anthropological
problems of the sciences today? Vocationally, what work on ourselves
as anthropologists might we need to do in order to be capable of
carrying out this activity? (Stavrianakis, Bennett, Fearnley, 11)

1. I HAVE A DISTINCT MEMORY of my first graduate presentation: a visceral sense of

anxiety felt acutely from my stomach to neck. A fear that Id be unable to articulate
what Id been thinking; that my thoughts werent even worth articulation in the first
place. Learning to engage with the texts (to read, speak about, and think with) was an
experience that was part panic, part excitement. They led me to inhabit a space
where I constantly questioned and reflected on how I understood myself, my
capabilities, and my limitations.
That research methods seminar was organized around many of the same texts as Science,
Reason, Modernity: Readings for an Anthropology of the Contemporary, and we (at the time, three
students starting graduate school and their professor) traced one possible variation on the
genealogical line and pedagogical legacy (p. 33) to which this reader is extended as an
invitation. The spirit of that invitation is, in our understanding, not to a canon that would
replace any number of others, but to a set of equipment. We take this book forum as an
opportunity to reflect on Science, Reason, Modernity through our experiences, exploring how
these texts served as our tools, and to what end.[1]
2. I remember my initial surprise, in the seminar as in this reader, at the relative lack of
texts disciplined into anthropology. Learning to become a subject of truth under the
conditions of modernity requires as much unlearning as it does thinking about new
concepts and ways of conduct.
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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity

The works in the twentieth-century human sciences collected in Science, Reason, Modernity
have brought, in the words of Paul Rabinow, to whom the reader is dedicated as the editors
teacher (and directly or indirectly ours), philosophical learning, diagnostic rigor, and a
practice of inquiry that operates in proximity to concrete situations into a productive
relationship (p. 250). That is, the readers texts demonstrate a mode of inquiry that is
identifiably anthropological in Rabinows sense, and share key characteristics of the
anthropology he has come to conceptualize and practice. Of course, as Rabinow notes in a
different section of Anthropos Today, it is worth forcefully repeating that there are a
multitude of other practices anthropologists might pursue (emphasis in the original, 2003,
3. I often asked myself where do I start? I had a preliminary idea for a research
project that would be part of my Masters thesis, but found it difficult to articulate
what Id been thinking. Confronted by what Stavrianakis, Bennett, and Fearnley
describe as diffuse, if not contradictory, possible approaches (p. 1) toward an object
of study, I found it difficult to make sense of what I was doing in anthropology. Many
of the texts in Science, Reason, Modernity provided the foundations of a seminar in
which I was able to finally conceptualize what it was I wanted to do, identifying the
actual interconnections among things in the world not as ends in themselves, but
in order to grasp the conceptual interconnections among problems (Weber, p. 10).
Rather than provide an overview of widely varying works and a history of
methodology, this assemblage of texts helped the reader, a student beginning his
graduate program, articulate his own position within an ever-changing field.
As the editors, Anthony Stavrianakis, Gaymon Bennett, and Lyle Fearnley, observe, The
modern problematizations of science, those troubled figures illuminated by Dewey and
Weber, Canguilhem and Foucault, are themselves already becoming historical. The
anthropology of science has captured, in French tradition, an anthropology of the
experience of modernity, or as the editors put it, an anthropology of modernities. They
argue that therefore future anthropologists of science must take up, observe, and reflect on
their relationship to these prior problems in order to articulate lines of inquiry neither
bound within nor forgetful of the modern crises of truth and life (p. 33).
4. It was only once I stopped expecting modernity to present itself to me as an easily
digestible concept that I came to see its traces exist almost everywhere. In the reader,
the question of modernity is addressed in terms of both its scientific origins and how
contemporary anthropology has been transformed in thinking through it.
Modernitywhat to a student may appear as an elusive conceptbecomes a
historical event and is put in relation to changes in anthropology. Modernity, for me,

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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity

became a means through which to better comprehend the existence of contemporary

phenomena that include the not-so-distant past.
Yet the need to take up the problem of modernity is not quite, or not only, because of the
empirical history of a given research topic and the way it exists in the contemporary. The
editors tell us that the reader is composed as a guide, a set of texts that has helped them
engage the sciences as matters of truth, power, and ethics (p. 11). While the texts provide
a genealogy of how the human sciences have problematized the hard sciences, the editors
are clear that intentions are pedagogical.We delineate a genealogical pathway, they tell us,
in order to provide some of the equipment that will enable readers, we hope, to constitute
themselves as subjects of a contemporary anthropology of science (p. 11). As Rabinow
wrote in 2003 (excerpted in the reader), the mode of inquiry that he identified in these
readings proceeds through mediated experience. It contributes to what used to be called a
Bildung, a process of self-formation, that today might be called an attitude or an ethos (p.
5. Over the course of our program, the students in my cohort not only critically
reflected on who they were and what they were doing in both superficial and
fundamental ways, but also struggled with emotional stability, relationships, and
even health. In fact, one of the closest bonds I made with another student was after
realizing that we were both excusing ourselves from our communal study room to
break down and cry in private.
This experience was not one of taking ourselves too seriously. Rather, it was part of the
process of developing trust in our abilities and the conviction to take ourselves and our
work seriously. Roland Barthes writes in To the Seminar, just as, for Brecht, Reason is
never anything but the sum total of reasonable people, for us, seminary people, research is
never anything but the sum total of people who, in fact, search (for themselves?) (1989,
341). The need to search for ourselves, however, came in part through our need to become
capable of doing research and the demands that that work, our interlocutors, and our
material, then made on us. One premise of our seminar was that the work we did together
with these texts was as fundamental to becoming an anthropologist as the field and the
Underlying this position, and the editors selection process, is Foucaults work in the
ethics and politics of truth, particularly his lectures concerning practices of the self or
care of the self. In one of the texts Science, Reason, Modernity includes, Foucault writes that
the care of the self had been the framework and justification for knowing oneself in
Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman societies (200). In proposing to guide students towards being a
subject of truth within this modern moment, the editors are not only tracing ways that
the importance of the care of the self became displaced to knowing oneself, they are also
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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity

trying to encourage students to ask themselves (ourselves) how we can become capable of
speaking the truth (p. 31).
6. I find this sentiment as inviting and confusing as I did two years ago when I began my
graduate studies. To think about oneself as a subject enmeshed in ethical concerns
and conflicts seems immensely important in upholding some kind of ethnographic
responsibility which goes beyond overly stylized attempts at self-reflexivity in
ethnographic writing, demanding that the researcher critically think about who they
are and what they do. I admit that I am still at a loss to understand how care of the
self can be incorporated in this modern momentespecially in our contemporary
universities and disciplines which do not only prioritize knowledge but monetize it
into result-oriented production.
Through these readings we came to rethink what it means to know: to problematize and
creatively think about how the hard sciences construct knowledge, curiosity, and
objectivity as well as to reflect on our own relationships with truth. Caring for the self, as
Foucault demonstrates in Antiquity, had a positive meaning as well as a generally
recognized importance for being able to know oneself. As subjects seeking new ways to
engage with truth in this contemporary moment it is for us to not just place ourselves along
genealogical lines but to learn to recognize a journey while it is unfolding and undertake it
7. Three main questions remain active for me: how can care of the self can be taught?
What counts as a sacrifice or transformation in order to gain access to the truth? And
what would it mean if students, specifically, are more conscious that what they are
embarking on is changing the kind of subjects they (we) may become?
One question Science, Reason, Modernity poses is what it means to practice anthropology as a
vocation, and, as we engaged these texts as well as our fieldwork, we found that for us this is
experimental, conceptual, and ethical. The empirical situations and material of our projects
compelled us to adapt our methods and develop new concepts. This required
experimentation with the forms, practices, and venues of our anthropological practice, and
with ourselves.
Works Cited
Barthes R. 1989. The Rustle of Language, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Rabinow P. 2003. Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment, Princeton: Princeton
University Press.

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Bradley Dunseith (MA, University of Ottawa) has studied ethics and gun ownership in the American
South. He is currently based in Mumbai, India. Sean Miller (MA, University of Ottawa), has studied
gentrification, community, and corruption in Brooklyn, New York. He is currently preparing for his
PhD and living in Montreal, Canada. Antoine Przybylak-Brouillard is an MA candidate in
Anthropology at the University of Ottawa. His research focuses on right-to-die advocates in Canada
and Belgium and their conceptualization of suffering. Meg Stalcup (PhD, UC Berkeley and San
Francisco) is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Ottawa.

Each of the numbered paragraphs was written independently as a response to the reader
by Dunseith, Miller, and Przybylak-Brouillard. The rest of the text was written by Dunseith,
and Stalcup, who compiled, rewrote, and edited the ensemble.

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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity

Forging Links, Surveying Rifts

PhD student, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

STAVRIANAKIS, BENNETT, AND FEARNLEY offer in Science, Reason, Modernity a selection of

essays, which they dub Readings for an Anthropology of the Contemporary. The anthropology of
the contemporary is a distinct and multifaceted approach to inquiry developed
collaboratively over time by Paul Rabinow and colleagues including the editors of Science,
Reason, Modernity that has been conceptualized and narrated in a series of books and
articles appearing over the last two decades (Rabinow and Stavrianakis 2014: xii). Science,
Reason, Modernity includes texts and thinkers that Rabinow and his collaborators have
worked with recursively in developing their program. Returning again to Blumenberg,
Canguilhem, Dewey, Foucault, Kant, and Weber, Stravrianakis et al. aim to make visible a
genealogical pathway across philosophical and social scientific works in which science has
been problematized in relation to the breakdowns, limitations, and possibilities of
modernity (2015: 2). Avowedly invitational, the editors intent is to make this pedagogical
legacy available to a wider body of students and scholars in anthropology and science
studies (Stavrianakis et al. 2015: 33).
The volume proceeds from Rabinows claim that the human today is a being who suffers
a heterogeneous plurality of reasoned discourses about its being (Stavrianakis et al. 2015:
3). Too many logoi (Rabinow 2003: 6). With this premise, and against the backdrop of a
particularly rapid proliferation and diversification of concepts and methods among those
taking the sciences as objects and domains of study in recent decades, Stavrianakis et al. aim
to mark out a pathway through the cacophonous terrain a student beginning a program
of research into the sciences today must navigate (Stavrianakis et al. 2015: 1-2). As an
anthropologically attuned and trained student of the history and sociology of science, I am
analytically and existentially interested in how one might think with this kind of
anthropology in an adjacent domain of research.
Among historians of science, interest in the anthropology of the contemporary may
pivot to some degree on what is made of the specific meaning given to the contemporary
in this project. Rabinow defines the contemporary as a moving ratio of modernity, moving
through the recent past and near future in a (nonlinear) space that gauges modernity as an
ethos already becoming historical (Rabinow 2008: 2). The anthropology of the
contemporary is cast as a form of inquiry that refers to an actual object domain in the
present whose recent past, near future, and emergent forms can be observed (Rabinow
2008: 5). As their collected and collective works have indeed been carried out with a great
deal of nominalist prudence, it is crucial to note that modernity refers here to an ethos as

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opposed to an epoch, and that the contemporary is likewise oriented toward disciplined
activity (Rabinow and Stavrianakis 2014: vii). A primary aim of their project is to reconnect
the work of inquiry with the conduct of life. The contemporary does not succeed the
modern; it stakes no claim to postmodernity. The contemporary instead furnishes an
orientation that seeks out and takes up practices, terms, concepts, forms, and the like from
traditional sources but seeks to do different things with them (Rabinow 2011: 110). The
question of how older and newer elements are given form and worked together is
foregrounded, with a focus on identifying emergent phenomena (Rabinow 2008: 2-3). The
task for an anthropologist of the contemporary is to make such phenomena available for
thought by curating and giving form to elements of the present, recent past, and potentially
opening futures (Rabinow and Marcus 2008: 58; Rabinow and Stavrianakis 2013: 99).
It is not self-evident that historians of science should consider the present, the recent
past, the near future, or an analytical space wherein aspects of each are put in flux, as
appropriate objects of study. Some historians may be disturbed by the minor role afforded
historical thinking in certain articulations of this projects parameters (Rabinow and
Stavrianakis 2013: 99). Rabinow has even drawn a heuristic contrast between the work of the
historian and that of the contemporary anthropologist, arguing that while the latter signs
with the former on the importance of historical elements in conditioning what takes place,
the anthropologist of the contemporary goes a step further in bringing together the old and
new in a mode of vigorous contemplation of the about-to-be-actual (Rabinow 2009: 28).
And yet, in other formulations, the role of historical labor takes different inflections. For
example, Rabinow claims that the contemporary indicates a mode of historicity in which
many types of objects are made available for analysis (Rabinow and Marcus 2008: 58).
Recently characterizing their project as something like a historical topology of the
contemporary, Rabinow and Stavrianakis place renewed emphasis on the need to account
for the historicity of endeavors into the contemporary and the compositions produced
therein (Rabinow and Stavrianakis 2016: 428).
It is worth noting that in between Stavrianakis et al.s introduction and Rabinows
conclusion, Science, Reason, Modernity contains works not of anthropologists but of historians,
philosophers, and sociologists of science. The volume thus raises intriguing questions
concerning the relations among the anthropology of the contemporary, histories of science
and ideas, and research straddling disciplinary boundaries. Given the centrality of historians
of science both in Science, Reason, Modernity and, more generally in the project to which it
contributes, might this volume occasion reflection on, and clarification of the seemingly
robust part historical thinking plays in the anthropology of the contemporary? Certainly
there are many historians of science interested in the recent past, the present, even the
future; they also experiment with form. This volume gives them an opportunity to engage
with what are likely familiar texts, assembled, however, to facilitate a specific approach to
studying the sciences as forms of life (Stavrianakis et al. 2015: 2). Historians of science are
invited to reflect on the ways in which attention to the present, the recent past, the near
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future, and how elements of each are brought together, may shape their practices. How
might thinking of modernity as an ethos rather than epoch shape historical research?
Finally, Science, Reason, Modernity makes the anthropology of the contemporary itself
available for (historical) thought: can this project not be taken up as an object of inquiry at a
time when historians of science are turning attention to histories of the social sciences and
humanities (Isis Focus Section June 2015)? How might this project be situated in the history of
anthropology or histories of the human sciences more broadly?
Works Cited
Rabinow, P. 2003. Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment. Princeton (NJ): Princeton
University Press.
. 2008. Marking Time: On the Anthropology of the Contemporary. Princeton (NJ): Princeton
University Press.
. 2009. Foucaults Untimely Struggle: Toward a Form of Spirituality. Theory Culture,
Society (26)6: 25-44.
. 2011. The Accompaniment: Assembling the Contemporary. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press.
Rabinow, P., and G. Marcus, with J. Faubion and T. Rees. 2008. Designs for an Anthropology of
the Contemporary. Durham (NC): Duke University Press.
Rabinow, P. and A. Stavrianakis. 2013. Demands of the Day: On the Logic of Anthropological
Inquiry. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
. 2014. Designs on the Contemporary: Anthropological Tests. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press.
. 2016. Movement Space: Putting anthropological theory, concepts, and cases to the
test. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6(1): 403

Cameron Brinitzer is a PhD student in the department of History and Sociology of Science at the
University of Pennsylvania. He holds an M.A in Anthropology from The New School for Social
Research, and an M.A. from The New Schools Graduate Program in International Affairs.

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Canguilhem: the mutual purpose of ethics and science

Reader, Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
Fellow, Alexander Von Humboldt Stiftung

IT IS NO SURPRISE to find two essays by Georges Canguilhem at the centre of Science, Reason,
Modernity given the question that inspires and organizes the volume as a whole the
question, that is, of how we might analyze and diagnose the modern sciences in their
troubled relationships with lived reality (2). Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more direct,
economical and accurate way of characterizing the problematic to which Canguilhem
devoted himself during the course of over forty years of scholarship; it is an explicit theme
in much of his historiographical and philosophical work.
The quality of the relationship between knowledge and life is core to the concerns of
philosophical pragmatism, and the thrust of Canguilhems thought might be considered
pragmatist in this sense, alongside Deweys in this book, for how it seeks to draw ethics and
science into a shared practice and mutual purpose (75). But the ethics that explicitly steers
Canguilhem in his own characteristic knowledge practice that is, in his evaluation of
scientific concepts involves something at once more general and more specific than a
pragmatic imperative to attend to the situated relevance of truth(s). The imperative at play
for Canguilhem stems from what he sees as the ontological distinctiveness of the living: it is
the demand to regard this distinctiveness as a normative vantage point for the purpose of
evaluation. As a recursive historian, in other words, Canguilhem writes from a position that
assumes, first and foremost, the normativity of a biological mode of thought, a mode of
thought informed by an organic conception of the world wherein the task of evaluation
itself appears intrinsic to existence, as a matter of existential security (187). Canguilhem
writes as if this mode of thought had succeeded in affirming its own imperialism against
the classical dominance of physics (1975: 95). The fact that many today even among
biologists would fail to recognize this new imperialism, thereby disproving it by that fact
alone, is precisely what makes this attitude the deliberate expression of an ethics, a choice.
In order to appreciate the full import of this choice as ethical, and of this ethics as an
imperative, it is necessary to refer this term to the etymological root (ethos) that it shares
with the word ethology. Custom, character, disposition, habit (animal) behavior. The
choice is ethical because it reflects the experience and expression of a margin of freedom, a
taking of sides, a philosophical wager in favor of life to defy the claim of science to dissolve
living beings into the anonymity of the mechanical, physical and chemical environment
(189). As we read Canguilhem, however, we cannot but understand the freedom of ethics
simultaneously as an expression the quintessential expression, perhaps of a biological
mode of existence and of life as the art of arts (155). With ethics, in the human animal, the
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artfulness of life culminates in a distillation of freedom, an extension of freedom to the

possibility of transcending the value of biological life per se in favor of immaterial, ideal
values (Whitehead, 1968). In the name of such values new possibilities are imagined, new
worlds are constructed as nothing more, and nothing less, than the routine operations of
an organism structuring its milieu. There is, in this sense, a fundamental continuity between
ethology and ethics: to acknowledge the ontological specificity of life, and of the human
animal in particular, is to become sensitive to ethics as an imperative, as a distinctively
human need. And if a need constitutes, for any living being, an irreducible, and thereby
absolute, system of reference (190), ethics constitutes the expression of an exquisitely
indeterminate yet equally absolute need for a system of reference, in relation to which
new possibilities might be envisaged and evaluated. There is, in other words, a fundamental
continuity between the freedom of the cell and ethics as the conscious practice of freedom
(Foucault, 1994: 284), at the same time as the difference of degree that separates them
constitutes a giant qualitative leap.
In Canguilhem, the drawing of ethics and science into a shared practice and mutual
purpose thus assumes literal, almost tautological connotations. The ethics accounts for the
science while the science accounts for the ethics, in a relationship of mutual reciprocity that
we might be tempted (and possibly justified) to describe as organic. A similar relationship
obtains, I would venture, between the chapters by Canguilhem in Science, Reason, Modernity
and the book as a whole; his thought lives, radiates (184), at the heart of it.
Yet, in other ways, it is remarkable to discover Canguilhem, or at least the problematic
that is so quintessentially, literally his, adopted here as the organizing principle around
which the work of others from Kant to Rabinow via Weber, Dewey, Foucault and
Blumenberg gravitates. For it was not long ago that he was mostly known, at least to
English-speaking readers, as a peripheral figure, foreshadowing Foucault. A precursor,
ironically rendered so by Foucaults own reading of Canguilhems work in his introduction to
The Normal and the Pathological (Goldhammer, 1996) a precursor to be read despite, not
because of his vitalism and all it implies.
That this situation has so fundamentally changed since the mid 1990s says something
important about how our world and the milieu of Canguilhems thought has changed
during this time. It speaks, among other things, of the existential threat that climate change
has come to represent, and of the problem this poses in terms of the concepts we might use
(choose to use) to engage with it. This is the concern, for example, in Isabelle Stengers
dramatization of the difference between Gaia and the Anthropocene as ways of addressing the
planet in the context of this situation. Calling it Gaia, she writes, signifies that it is, and will
remain, a being, existing in its own terms, not in the terms crafted to reliably characterize
it (2015: 137). The relevant point here, for our purposes, is not that Gaia designates a living
being for Stengers it does not but rather that calling it Gaia implies and facilitates a
certain relationship with its reality, an attitude that we might characterize as vitalist in so
far as it affirms the logical and ethical priority of lived reality over its abstraction in
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knowledge. Accepting the reality of Gaia, specifically against the refrain that we need more
research before we can fully believe or engage with it, involves actively discarding the
norms of distance and detachment that act as mattresses protecting us against responseability and that justify inaction (2015: 143). It means constructing the problem of climate
change in terms of what it signifies for us, namely the possibility of brutal extinction
(2015: 135). The alternative attitudes encapsulated by the concepts of Gaia and
Anthropocene illustrate the dilemma Canguilhem attributes to Pascal, who could not or did
not want to choose between the need for existential security and the demands of scientific
knowledge (187) except that in view of the possibility of brutal extinction, a possibility
real enough based on what we already know, there should be no dilemma. In a more general
sense, accepting the reality of Gaia exemplifies what Canguilhem described as the vitality of
vitalism (1975), or the sense in which the reference to life provides a recurring form of
resistance, a corrective, to the tendency for science to produce self-referential forms of
satisfaction, to the dangerous neglect of what really matters.
Works Cited
Canguilhem, G. 1975. La Connaissance de la Vie. Paris: Vrin.
Foucault, M. 1994. The ethics of the concern for the self as a practice of freedom. In P.
Rabinow (ed) Ethics: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984. London: Penguin Books.
Goldhammer, A. 1996. Canguilhem. (accessed on 27 October 2016)
Stengers, I. 2015. Accepting the reality of Gaia: A fundamental shift? In C. Hamilton, C.
Bonneuil and F. Gemenne (eds) The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis:
Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.
Whitehead, A. N. 1968. Modes of Thought. New York: Free Press.

Monica Greco is a Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and a Fellow of the
Alexander Von Humboldt Stiftung. She is the author of Illness as a Work of Thought (Routledge, 1998)
and of numerous articles including On the vitality of vitalism (Theory, Culture and Society, 2005), On
the art of life: A vitalist reading of medical humanities (Sociological Review, 2009).

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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity


The Rabinowian Program

Postdoctoral Researcher, FNRS / University of Liege
Director of Program, Collge International de Philosophie, Paris

SCIENCE, REASON, AND MODERNITY is, according to its editors introduction, a reader for
students beginning science studies, allowing them to consider modern sciences as forms of
life, connected to lived realities. Without a doubt, this pedagogical aim is brilliantly reached,
especially when it comes to equipping students with a genealogical attention on scientific
practices, which is generally missing in STS readers today. Beyond this first target, the book
also seems to present an anthropological research program about modern sciences, largely
inspired by the work of Paul Rabinow to whom the reader is dedicated. This investigation
deals with the very broad scale of the philosophical and social scientific thinking about
sciences and their integral role in shaping modernities, aiming to problematize scientific
discourse and practices from a larger, anthropological point of view. Rather than discuss the
relevance of the choice of readings, I will try to underline two points which seem to be
problematic in this Rabinowian program of anthropologizing the West, at least as it is
presented by Stavrinakis, Bennett and Fearnley in their introduction. These two points
concern the Rabinowian inversion of the critical character of Canguilhemian history of
science as well as the Foucauldian genealogy, and the limits of a non-comparative
anthropology of the West. My critique is friendly (I am not a crypto-Latourian or Badiousian
attacking Canguilhem or Foucault; on the contrary I think we have still much work to do
following this line), I just wonder if this very broad target (anthropologizing the West) could
be reached today exclusively by such theoretical equipment.
The editors introduction follows Rabinows idea of a massive discursive proliferation
about the human, posing that there is no longer any settled means for reconciling
discordant claims about anthropos in its modernity. And, according to the editors, this is not
for lack of trying. Twentieth-century anthropologists worked to overcome this plurality by
connecting, opposing, and eliding humanitys hetero-logoi through of a series of seemingly
comprehensive and stable terms, such as Man, Culture, Nature and Society. And though
these terms are in disrepair today, it is worth keeping in mind that they have been replaced
by other equally comprehensive terms, such as globalization, the environment, networks,
and neoliberalism. This new conceptual repertoire, like the old, is mobilized as a means of
producing the sense that all of the discursive and practical cacophony in the world today
somehow adds up.
The Rabinowian program finds such efforts of theoretical unification misplaced, and
urges anthropologists to take seriously the reality of humanitys plurality of reasoned
discourses. Although I agree with the editors on the idea that contemporary conceptual
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repertoire, composed of what Balibar calls master words such as globalization, environment
or neoliberalism, calls an effort of research in order to catch multiple sets of realities lying
under them, such claim of recognizing humanitys hetero-logoi seems problematical for
two reasons.
First, I wonder to what extent the critical nature of the Canguilhemian history of science
or Foucauldian genealogy is pursued by the Rabinowian program. Let me be very specific:
the reader includes very fortunately Canguilhems text on the living and its milieu. The
French concept of milieu has a singular place in history of science, because it indicates a nonDarwinian tradition of environmental knowledge and even politics, as Canguilhem and later
Foucault (1978) give us some indications. Compared to our notion of environment, rightly
mentioned in the editors introduction as one of the comprehensive terms adding up to the
discursive cacophony today, this concept of milieu allows both a critical genealogy of the
political program to which it led the modern social sciences and political thinking, and an
alternative way to conceive living beings relationships to their surroundings. Perhaps this
tension between milieu and environment could have been better underlined in the
introduction, guiding the reader towards specific objects (and concepts) of history of
science, to allow for an alternative understanding of our master words, especially in our age
of perpetual environmental crisis. However, Paul Rabinow had already encountered the
concept of milieu in his French Modern (1989, see especially Milieu, pathos and pacification),
reading neo-Lamarckism as a very positive means for the construction of social welfare state
in France (transforming the socio-natural milieu in a healthy and peaceful environment).
Rabinow considers what he calls the techno-cosmopolitism of the French Third Republic
as a tempered modernism, allying joyfully science, technique and social welfare even
the French colonialism is interpreted as a tenable form of social progress. Such optimism
towards French modernism surely inspired by a form of cultural fascination seems to be
the very antipode of the critical enquiry Canguilhem develops in his article on the
mechanical applications of milieu, leading to political interventions aiming to transform the
human to a carrefour of influences. When Foucault, in his 1978 College de France lecture,
studies late 18th century urban planning techniques in France, he considers also that the
notion of milieu appear here as the target of intervention for power (Foucault 2009:37), as a
form of liberal governmentality aiming to govern populations through their environment.
Thus, whereas Canguilhem and Foucault mobilise a critical genealogy of what we could call
an environmental interventionism, Rabinow seems to consider the very same
interventionism as a form of tempered modernism, a techno-cosmopolitism allowing social
progress. Such inversion of the critical perspective, together with the general claim on the
recognition of the hetero-logoi of modernity draws a quite imprecise frame for the
anthropological study of modern sciences, precisely because the multiplicity of discourse is
posed as a value in itself.
Second but I will be even more allusive on this general topic about the very nature of
anthropologic enterprise itself a classical question remains concerning the nonSomatosphere | December 2016

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comparative character of such attempt to anthropologize the West. Of course, as the

editors introduction puts it, rather than a classical anthropological attempt to make the
exotic Other familiar, anthropologists undertook efforts to make the familiar strange
(p.4). No doubt that anthropology of science has a major role to play in a broader
movement toward investigating the rationalities of the moderns. Yet, it would be
delusional to think that the alternative is situated between the exotic Other and the familiar
West, especially when one takes into account comparative anthropology as it is now
exemplified by the masterpiece of Ph. Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture (2005; 2013 for the
English translation). Descolas work is an essential contribution to a decentred anthropology
today, putting Western cosmology (i.e. its naturalism) to a singular and exotic place,
compared to other cosmologies of the ways in which we relate ourselves to the nature.
Hetero-logoi of modernity was perhaps always a very Western one, whereas the comparative
anthropology lead by Descola or Viveiros de Castro underlines a heteronomy of interactions
with non-humans in a much larger scale. In short, could we anthropologize the West
without comparing its cosmology to the others? If we presuppose that the only possible
relation to natural beings is their objectification, we not only miss out on other forms of
relations (analogism, animism or totemism, considered as equally systematic cosmologies as
naturalism rather than being exotic beliefs), but we also lose the opportunity to
understand the very specificity of our relational cosmology which could only become
graspable in comparison to others. Thus, the anthropological claim of plurality (or heterologoi) seems to be stuck in a closed Western circuit without the comparative perspective.
To put it in an other way, it is perhaps not enough to conclude on the disrepair of
modern categories of Nature, Culture, Society (or Environment, Globalization,
Neoliberalism), because an anthropology of the contemporary is also expected to explain
why, and at what cost, modern natural and social sciences in the West have come to invent
such categories as opposed to other collectives who have elaborated other concepts or
relations -, and why, and at what cost, we should abandon or re-elaborate them today, in
light of our pressing issues as living beings.
Works Cited
Descola, P. 2013 [2015]. Beyond Nature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Foucault, M. 2009. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977-78.
London: Palgrave.
Rabinow, P. 1989. French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment. Cambridge: MIT
Ferhat Taylan is a postdoctoral researcher at FNRS / University of Liege and a director of program at
the Collge International de Philosophie in Paris. He is preparing two books to be published this year:
Mesopolitique. Connaissance et gouvernement des milieux de vie (1750-1900); Concepts et Rationalits.
Lhritage de lpistmologie historique.
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In the Folds of the Contemporary

Assistant Professor, Religion, Science, and Technology, Arizona State University

Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Singapore University of Technology and Design

Research Fellow (charg de recherch), CNRS, France

Let us consider this process of disenchantment that has been at work

in Western culture for thousands of years and, in general, let us
consider progress, to which science belongs both as an integral part
and a driving force. Can we say that it has any meaning over and
above its practical and technical implications?
Max Weber, Science as a Vocation
It seems, as one becomes older / That the past has another pattern,
and ceases to be a mere sequence.
T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
WE ARE GRATEFUL for the chance to revisit the pathway of readings we assembled in Science,
Reason, Modernity: Readings for an Anthropology of the Contemporary. We take it as an occasion to
pick up a number of themes to which we could only give brief attention in our introduction
to the text, as well as to reply to the questions raised in each of these four thoughtful and
critical responses, generously arranged by Todd Meyers.
Before doing so, it is worth, we think, revisiting the stakes for assembling such a volume
in the first place, stakes which we named in our introduction to the volume as primarily
equipmental. The book aspires to bring together conceptual and methodological tools for
an inventive, collaborative practice of anthropology, one which draws on and contributes to
a legacy of anthropological and philosophical reflection on the troubled relation of truth
practices and ethical conduct. Our goal was to do this in a mood and mode we qualify as
contemporary, as we explain in detail below.
What this means, contrastively, is that we did not set out to proffer a manifesto for an
Anthropology of the Contemporary whether Rabinowian or otherwise. We are not
interested in advancing a school of thought that could be reduced to a single method, a
single conceptual repertoire, a single object, or a single ethics or politics. One need only take
a cursory glance over the breadth of our recent works (which we will describe) to see that
we are not in the business of selling a novel program for anthropology. We have sought
rather to generate a common space and shared tools for collaborative inquiry. To this end,
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we concur strongly with the Ottawa collectives suggestion that what is required today is a
practice of care indexed to the hard work of inventing new forms for a mediated
experience of the contemporary.
Reflection on the problem of truth and conduct did not, of course, begin with Kant,
though the pathway traced out in our Reader begins with his programmatic statement What
is Enlightenment? Kants call to enlightenment brings to sharp relief the questions of
science, reason, and modernity with which we are concerned in the Reader and our own
ongoing research. Indeed, all the readings in the book can be approached as following from
this call and thereby as offering modes and models for taking up those questions. In this
way, they also provide a mode and model for how to connect forms of living to modes of
thinking (including modes of critique) and to practices of inquiry. It is in the name of such
interconnections that we likewise seek to take up Kants call, believing it to be at once timely
and untimelynecessary in and for our present, and yet increasingly difficult to put into
In what follows we will engage three themes pertinent for the exploration of such a form
of inquiry, within the larger problem space of science, reason, and modernity, drawing on
the assembled responses and our own recent work, hoping these reflections will open up
further discussion:
(1) The first theme concerns the use of non-anthropological texts (in the disciplinary
sense of anthropology) for practicing anthropology. Here we will discuss the
limits to a conceptual orientation of the West (and hence by logical
consequence the non-West) and the question of what forms of comparison
might be invented beyond the imperial gaze of a structuralist project that seeks
to englobe and characterize (all known) forms of human being. We will argue for
a mode of comparison that draws on a more pragmatic anthropology, later
specifying its contemporary intent.
(2) The second theme is one of truth practices, ethics and forms of life, priming the
problem of collaboration. We will here address the specific question of which
forms and modes of critique we think are made visible in the sequence of readings
we have assembled, and what shared practices of conceptual testing and judgment
are rendered possible (in both a Kantian sense of bringing an object under a
particular concept and in Deweyan sense of the attribution of a mode of being to a
determined situation).
(3) The third theme is the endeavor to make visible ratios of modernity and
contemporaneity and the challenge of the invention of an anthropological ethos
appropriate to such ratios. Otherwise put, given a broad historical
problematization within modernity, in particular specific problems pertaining to
practices of sciences (practices of logos broadly speaking), how, on the basis of
our inquiries, can we grasp the historicity of breakdown, change, and trans-

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formations of those problems and with what ethos? This is the challenge of the
(1) After Comparison
Taylan raises a crucial question about the character and function of comparison in
anthropology, and we are grateful for the opportunity to set out our own views. Taylan
suggests that a classical question remains concerning the non-comparative character of
[attempts] to anthropologize the West. His argument is that our effort to replace universal
masterwords like Culture, Society or globalization with focused inquiry into the plurality of
reasoned discourses by and about human being necessarily fails because it does not
compare the cosmology of the West with those of the others. Rather more implicitly, he
seems to be suggesting that the very idea of a plurality of reasoned discourses is itself part
of what he considers a Western relation to natural beings that he calls objectification.
Therefore, such a project not only fails to understand the others, but also fails to
understand the very specificity of our relational cosmology, remaining stuck in a closed
Western circuit without the comparative perspective.
First, to be clear, the proposal for an anthropology of the West, or more accurately put,
an anthropology of the moderns, was never imagined as an exclusive project in either time
or space. The idea was to extend anthropological inquiry to places previously considered
beyond the pale of such inquiry into scientific laboratories, for instance. It was not to say
that only modern places held anthropological significance. Against a frontal mode of
comparison (Candea 2016) that leaves the West as an implicit, understudied hinterland
to the explicit reports of fieldwork in some non-Western site, the anthropology of the
moderns proposed that it was just as important to actually observe what goes on in, for
example, biotech labs in California as in villages on other continents. A critique of modern
science could no longer be presumed to follow from a description of an others practices
as, for example, for many years ethnographic descriptions of other healing practices were
presumed to function as a critique of biomedicine. Rather, the premise was that to develop a
critique of modern science, you actually needed to study it anthropologically. Labs, hospital
clinics, government bureaus and the offices of anthropologists became field sites.
Indeed, such an approach precisely denied what seem to be the terms of Taylans
prompt, namely the anachronistic idea that there is in fact a reified and singular cosmology
of the West, whose closure and self-identity allows for a juxtaposition to that which lies
beyond it. The anthropology of the moderns was possible only to the extent that it rejected
such a reification and opened up spaces of difference within those modern zones of living
otherwise presumed to be integrated by a master culture and a master imaginary. After all,
as works such as Paul Rabinows French Modern have detailed, the presumption of a uniform
modernity was not only dangerous for life in the colonies but for life in the metropole as
well. Whilst it is easy to identify the stark forms of violence in colonialism, such violence was
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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity


always in a reciprocal exchange with forms of violence in the modernization of (i.e. making
of) the West. Colonial settings, midst the violence to which they were subjected, were also
experimental settings for the invention of elements of what would become modern welfare
society, critical elements of which France is on the verge of dismantling as it faces an
electoral choice next year. A critique that lumps all of these modernizing projects under a
single sign of the West is not only nave, but in fact reiterates the ideological frameworks
that characterized some of the most violent colonial projects (Mamdani 1996). Hence the
ongoing need, in our view, to particularize the so-called West, and to find in it the
lineaments of multiple forms of living. One might think of the classic works of Favret-Saada
or De Certeau in this regard. Our inclusion of Blumenberg in the Reader signals our own
commitment to refusing the closures implied in the presumption of a modern uniformity.
Second, we should also make clear that we position Science, Reason, Modernity, as well as
our own work, in the aftermath of the anthropology of the moderns, rather than within it.
The anthropology of the moderns did enable us to exit the 19th century project of
discovering the truth of Man (lHomme) in the empirical details of human practices, but it
also left us with a largely unordered plurality of forms of anthrpos, a fact of heterogeneity
which in itself cannot be our objective or end. We assume Taylan will agree with us that the
proliferation of singular ethnographies which reflects the anthropological status quo is
hardly satisfactory. Where we differ with Taylan is how and in what way anthropology
should address this heterogeneity, what modes of comparison are adequate to it, and indeed
whether comparison, as traditionally understood, is the only, or best, way of composing the
heterogeneity of forms of anthrpos.
Taylan proposes a model of comparison drawn from the so-called ontological turn,
highlighting in particular the comparative work of Phillipe Descola. The presumption is that
by constructing a homogenous and systematic set of possible forms of relation, the West
or modernity refigured by Descola as naturalism becomes equally exotic or equally
familiar as other ontological configurations. We see several limitations to this approach.
First, whereas the anthropology of modernity worked to pluralize modernity and take apart
the discursive unity of the West, Descola reinscribes modernity in geographical termsthe
naturalist ontology is indisociable from the expansion of modern Europe (Salmon and
Charbonnier 2014: 570). Second, and frankly troubling, the terms of comparison are set in
advance by the fourfold logical system, and every group or collective must be fit into
one of them. As a platform for future inquiry, this is stultifying all that is left for others
(researchers) is to provide empirical studies of more and more groups (Others), showing
how they fit into one or another of the four ontologies. And indeed, while philosophical
debate has proliferated around the so-called ontological turn, anthropological inquiries into
actual groups following upon Descolas schema are few and rarely featured in the debate.
We aim to move beyond the anthropology of modernity toward new engagements with
the heterogeneity of the contemporary. The genealogy of readings assembled in Science,
Reason, Modernity aims not so much to represent an anthropology of the moderns this
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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity


work is already well done by the several existing STS readers but rather to provide the
philosophical and conceptual equipment for recomposing contemporary anthropology after
the modern moment in this history of truth. By marking a pathway of thought along
which science and modernity have been questioned in terms of their relations to lived
realities, we hope to build axes of relation that can bring diverse anthropological objects
into a contemporary problem-space. Drawing on Kant, Rabinow and Stavrianakis have
recently emphasized that a single answer [to the problem of human being] betrays the
anthropological demonstration of the empirical heterogeneity of responses to such a core
problem (2016). As a result, comparison remains a necessary tool for an anthropology of
the contemporary. But in what mode and in what form?
We take up Fearnleys fieldwork on the avian and pandemic influenza crisis in
contemporary China as an instance to think with (Fearnley 2015). His inquiry was oriented
toward the discrepancy between the way pandemic fears infuse international flu researchers
with visions of reforming rural Chinas agricultural landscapes through biosecurity
programs, and the distinct ways in which free-grazing duck farmers in southern China deal
with the problem of poultry diseases in their flocks. Existing anthropological accounts of
this or similar topics have largely adopted a frontal mode of comparison (Candea 2016)
that contrasts biosecurity discourses (the hinterland) with political, cultural and socioeconomic realities of the societies that have come to be associated with the virus.
(Kleinman, et al 2008) In doing so, they attempt to elucidate the disconnection between the
anticipatory discourses about the origins of future pandemics and the realities of politics,
culture and economy in southern China.
Fearnley shifts this frontal mode of comparison toward what we could call, both drawing
on and remediating Candeas proposal (2016), a form of lateral comparison. This entails
concrete comparisons of the two formations of discursive and nondiscursive practice (that
of flu researchers; and that of duck farmers)--and specifically, comparison of the modes of
uncertainty through which futures are engaged and managed (Samimian-Darash and
Rabinow 2015). Within such a topology it is not simply that flu researchers and duck farmers
have different points of view on flu, health and farming. The challenge rather is the
invention of an anthropological standpoint from which to grasp the significance of the
problems, the interconnection of problems which arises from within and between the
practices of researchers and farmers. Such topological composition contributes to the kind
of experimentation with anthropological topology that we have been curious about, one
which assembles variables that have been pertinent in our various inquiries, but which are
absolutely not variables of society, structures (social or mental) or culture (Rabinow and
Stavrianakis 2016: 428).
For flu researchers, the free-grazing of ducks in fields or waterways is a potential source
of influenza viruses that threaten to cause a global pandemic. These claims about freegrazing ducks are configured in a mode of potential uncertainty visions of future global
catastrophe exhort urgent action in the present, including most notably calls for increased
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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity


agricultural biosecurity, although actual dangers in the present are minimal. Duck farmers,
on the other hand, observe free-grazing ducks in terms of their production uncertainty. With
household wealth invested in the growing bodies of the ducks, disease threatens the
turnover of money into more money, posing the uncertainty of kuiben, or losing everything.
Both flu researchers and duck farmers can look at the same diseases in the same ducks
and both see a problem. The problem is not the same but also the significance of naming
these problems does not stem from the fact that they are different. Significance, in this
mode of comparison, comes from the creation of shared space in which interconnection and
breakdown can be identified. As such, what is crucial in Fearnleys work is to grasp the
distances and points of contact between distinct modes of uncertainty, which inhabit, from
the conceptual standpoint of the anthropologist, a shared problem space.
Comparison thus becomes a tactical move because these problems can be interconnected
in such a way as to show how they interact in ways that are not ameliorative, but rather
intensifying. First, responses to the veridictional claims about potential future pandemics
culling of poultry, closure of markets, and consumers who refuse to purchase poultry
amplifies the production uncertainty for duck farmers. Second, duck farmers increase the
free-grazing of ducks in order to ameliorate this uncertainty (free-grazing reduces the outlay
of cash needed for commercial feeds) thereby expanding the practice that, flu experts
prognosticate, may lead to a potential future pandemic. A positive feedback loop is
developing as a consequence of the interaction of these two problems.
This is not the disconnection often attributed to the encounter between Global health
and Local (realities, experiences, contexts, bodies). The objective is not to discover once
again that reality is more complex than global plans had planned for. The objective is to
reveal through the juxtaposition, configuration, resonance or dissonance of two objects of
inquiry much like the juxtaposition of two artworks produces a distinctive effect
irreducible to the individual works a dynamic of movement that is itself problematic, one
for which amelioration and rectification cannot come from denouncing local traditions or
denouncing global plans and programs. And certainly, if one hopes to invent and
encourage new modes of conciliation across the heterogeneity of anthrpos (Descola 2013:
405), shouldnt these compositional dynamics be an urgent task for inquiry?
(2) Forms of life, and of judgment: on collaboration and its limits
Our second theme draws on a consistent thread through the Reader: viz. the problematic,
which is to say, indeterminate and sometimes discordant, relation between truth and ethics.
If the admonition dare to know is our Kantian starting point, we carry this forward by way
of Canguilhems dictum that the observer of science, reason, and modernity must take from
the living the thought of the living. That dictum entails both a scientific and ethical
demand: to look to the living for ones concept of life, and in doing so contribute to a way of
life that takes living things seriously in their normativity. Both Kants and Canguilhems
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maxims constitute permanently unresolved tasks, requiring a vigilant labor of selfformation (hence our approach of the texts in the Reader as equipment) and an ongoing
commitment to the openness of inquiry (hence the need to shift from equipmental
preparations to anthropological research).
Given this double commitment on the one side to the conjunction of truth and ethics,
and on the other to the open-ended labor required of that conjunction we cannot agree
with Grecos assessment that in the work of Canguilhem there is an almost tautological
connotation of science and ethics. Whilst we agree with Grecos insight that in Canguilhems
thought the distinctiveness of the living provides a normative vantage point for the
purpose of evaluation, and whilst this vantage point brings into view the profound
continuities between the normativity of living things per se and the normative tasks of
human ethics, we worry that Greco overstates the case and thus risks obfuscating one of the
most important characteristics of Canguilhems work.
The crucial point turns on the difference between continuity and tautology. Greco is
right to highlight the fact that Canguilhems vitalism points us to the fact of continuities
between the needs and freedoms of a living cell and the needs and freedoms of human
communities which might otherwise get overlooked. The continuities, in our view, turn on
an irreducible but inescapable relation between life as concept (understood in the
Aristotelian tradition of life as the bearer of a logos or anima) and life as experience (in the
tradition of Spinozas natura naturans). As Aristotle insisted, in the former, life grasps itself
in itself, and thus is the author of its own normativity. Yet in the latter life must constantly
recover from the errors produced by the demands of a milieu and of modulations; it therein
elaborates itself in new ways, and becomes a source of its own renormalization. All of this, as
Canguilhem argued, points to the fact of living beings as centered beings who discern the
world and respond to it in a normative fashion. This means that the difference between the
ethics practiced by humans and the science practiced by humans is a linked one in which the
human is a living being alongside other living beings. In Canguilhem, in other words, the
living being qua bios and the living being qua ethos is much closer than one might imagine.
And this proximity is as true for the human as it is for any other animal.
But there is a crucial and critical twist in all of this. And the twist concerns the difference
between normativity as indexed to the demands of an environment and normativity as
indexed to the aspirations of excellence. In the 1955 published lecture The problem of
regulation in the organism and in society (2015), Canguilhem argued that, in the order of
the organism, we commonly see the whole world debate the nature of ills [mal], and no one
debate the ideal of the good (648), for the simple reason that the ideal of the organism is
the organism itself. By contrast, the existence of societies, of their disorders and unrests,
brings forth a wholly different relation between ills and reforms, because for society, what
we debate is how to know its ideal state or norm (Canguilhem 2015: 648). As such, (though
one might resist the category of society as the key term) the point here is to underscore
that while science and ethics are conjoined they are far from tautological. It is, rather, the
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core problem, a problem relative to which one cannot simply index the claim that life is
normative: the question, the open question, is the form that can be given to living, to
manners of living (bios), given the situation, the limits, the anticipations and judgments
made. Or, as Deleuze, channeling Nietzsche, wrote: evaluations, in essence, are not values
but ways of being, modes of existence of those who judge and evaluate, serving as principles
for the values on the basis of which they judge. This is why we always have the beliefs,
feelings and thoughts that we deserve given our way of being or our style of life. Greco
indexes recent work on accepting the reality of Gaia as demonstrating the possibility of
life as a resistance to a mode of scientific self-satisfaction; and yet, precisely the problem, a
problem which should be grasped as such, is that, following Blumenberg (who reshapes the
problem itself inherited from Kant, and Weber), talk about science, including such claims
as Grecos regarding resistance, only begets further science (Stavrianakis, Bennett,
Fearnley 2015: 115). We fear that Grecos text in praise of resistance against science, in which
resistance is figured as a good in itself, ultimately transforms the domain of strife over truth
claims into a domain of struggle where only relations of force matter. Our Reader is
composed as a counterpoint to this vision.
Otherwise said, if Greco wishes to index the resistance of forms of life to the capacity to
undo or baffle modes of veridiction, there is then an open and serious question of the status
of a mode of veridiction for those forms of life, and for herself as a writer who seeks to
valorize such forms of life. Whilst we agree that there are forms of life which push back
against modes of veridiction that endeavor to reduce life forms to their mechanics, physics,
and chemistry, it should be acknowledged that there are scientific practices which do the
same (and vice versa, i.e. reductionist vitalisms). What matters to us is that as
anthropologists we attend to the parameter of veridiction in the relations of strife, contest
and criticism.
Canguilhems problematic of knowledge and life may be quintessentially his own, as
Greco suggests. It is not, however, the secret heart of the Reader, to which our configuration
of thinkers has been bootstrapped. Such an enterprise would be out of step with
Canguilhems own mode of historical epistemology; a mode which we should remember is
kindred to that of the German tradition of Begriffsgeschischte, a tradition instantiated by
Blumenberg, in which the historical afterlives and transformations of problems and
concepts can be tracked. The Reader cannot be reduced to Canguilhem and certainly not to a
uniquely ontological reading of his work, precisely because we attend to the manner in
which problems of science and ethics have been raised and given form in a historical
In a series of interconnected projects we have been precisely concerned with the critical
limitations / externalities of scientific practice with respect to ethical questions which
emerge from but which cannot be solved by those technical activities (Stavrianakis 2015;
Bennett 2015; Rabinow and Bennett 2012; Rabinow and Stavrianakis 2013). These projects
have primarily concerned ethics and bioengineeiring, although they have been interSomatosphere | December 2016

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connected with projects such as those on global pandemics, disease expertise, biosecurity, a
plurality of ecological and farming practices, surveillance and police practices (e.g. C. Caduff,
S. Collier, L. Fearnley, F. Keck, A. Lakoff, L. Samimian-Darash, M. Stalcup). One of the core
problems was precisely to invent forms for the interconnection of problems that would open
up and remediate the relationships between assemblages of scientific practice and their
milieu. The challenge was to show the significance of problems observed as emerging from
within scientific practice, and for which scientists themselves were ill-equipped to respond.
The goal was to invent and set into motion a collaborative practice for identifying and
thinking about those problems (e.g. biosecurity in the case of synthetic biology studied by
Rabinow, Bennett and Stavrianakis.)
In a similar vein, Stavrianakis recent work (2016) on assisted suicide in Switzerland
draws on our line of thinkers for whom the interconnection of truth claims and conduct is
far from obvious in showing how doctors, patients and their families are confronted with
the limits to medicines capacities to both cure and heal, posing the open normative
question of what to do? The project seeks to make sense of the ways in which an ensemble of
physicians, lawyers, nurses, accompaniers, clinics and advocacy groups accompany those
who want to inhabit the grey zones of Swiss law concerning assisted suicide. The question of
how judgments are made such that this zone becomes inhabitable workable, manageable
requires (on the one hand) that the anthropologists be able to trace and assemble the
fragments of ethical discourse and practice spun out of multiple disjunctive moral
communities and stitched together in these grey spaces as though they were self-consistent
and self-evident. At the same time (and on the other hand) the anthropologist must be able
to inhabit the seriousness of those moral communities, the discontents of those who form
them, and the uncertainties connected to the judgments they must make. Amidst these
fragments, in short, the anthropologist must make warranted judgments about the manner
in which people are trying to make warranted judgments about what counts as a good life
and a good death as part of that life (bios) without the aid of settled institutional norms but
nevertheless with an ethos.
Far from being reduced to a language of resistance against science, or medical
knowledge, the anthropologist is obliged to grasp the manners in which modes of
veridiction, forms of justification and normative embodiment of conduct are configured
together, in an open terrain of both collaboration, care and strife.
(3) An Ethos of the Contemporary: Anthropos, Bios, Theos
The Reader as Dunseith, Pryzbylack-Brouillard, and Stalcup nicely put it was indeed
composed in the spirit of an invitation. It is indeed an invitation not to a canon that would
replace any number of others, but to a set of equipment. The Reader is composed of texts to
be used as tools for work on underspecified ends. But if those ends are underspecified, they
are not unspecified. A defining feature of our collaborative work one which we sought to
Somatosphere | December 2016

Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity


lift up and advance through the Reader has been a sharp move away from the epochal
thinking, which characterized a good deal of work in the anthropology of modernity, and
toward engagement with the problem of ethos.
Prime among the tools that have facilitated this shift is Foucaults reconsideration of
Kants What is Enlightenment?, an essay which he published under Kants original title
and which we include in the Reader. Those familiar with the text will recall that Foucault
signals in Kant what he (Foucault) calls a modern attitude, one which Foucault takes as
definitive for his own project (albeit in a reworked form). This modern attitude is calibrated
by and to the question what difference does today make with regard to yesterday? The
modern, taken up as an attitude, can be said to have temporal connotations but not
necessarily historical ones (cf. Rabinow 2007). The modern is no longer taken to be a term
that specifies a period of time whether a series of dates on a calendar, an age with
defining features such as a uniform cosmology, or a distinctive epoch which could be said
to have a pre and a post. The term designates, rather, an ethos, taking ethos in the
double sense of a collective way of being in the world (i.e. a zone of habituation), as well as
the clarifications and techniques needed to put that collective life to the test and, where
necessary, move beyond it (i.e. an ethical practice).
Exactly how this distinction of epoch and ethos in the modern attitude might have
played out in Foucaults work will never be known, given his untimely death. But it clearly
signaled a certain distance from much of his earlier work, which had been dedicated to
specifying the forms and contents of modernity as an epoch. In our work, we have sought to
further elaborate Foucaults distinction and to carry it forward. Our aim in this has not been
to complete a Foucauldian program, nor has it been to search the world for examples of a
Foucauldian theory of modernity. Our aim, rather, has been to make Kants (and Foucaults)
question our own: what attitude does one need to specify and adopt in order to account for
and critically assess the ethos in which we find ourselves today? That is to say, how does one
bring the task of thinking into alignment with an ethic adequate to the demands of the day
(Rabinow and Stavrianakis 2013)?
To this end, and following a further distinction honed by Rabinow, we have worked
together to think about the contemporary. Taken as a term of art, the contemporary
names a particular style of cultural formation one which is not just sitting there in the
world awaiting apprehension, but one which can be grasped through a particular analytic.
Rabinow proposes that the modern, taken as an ethos, can be thought of as a moving ratio of
the new and the old in which the new is valorized against the old unless and until it can be
shown that the new is not yet sufficient. An Apple product release can be thought of as a
pure play in a ratio of the modern. In a connected fashion, one can take the traditional as
a ratio as well, a moving ratio of the old and the new in which the old is valorized against the
new unless and until the new can show that the old is no longer sufficient. The Catholic
Churchs judicial body the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can be thought of as a
pure play in the traditional.
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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity


Alongside both of these, we have oriented our attention to the contemporary,

understood as experiments in assembling elements of the old and the new in in a manner
that allows the concerned actors involved to deal with situations of breakdown situations
of indeterminacy or discordancy, to use Deweys classic terms. The contemporary can thus
also be framed as a ratio. It can be thought of as a moving ratio of the modern, and the
traditional as part of modern formations, in which both the modern and the traditional are
already becoming historical. The twist is that the artefacts, the remains, of those two th are
(not surprisingly) still among us. As such, one of the difficulties one must attend to in
thinking about an ethos of the contemporary are the ways in which elements of the modern
and the traditional exist in the present, and assert themselves therein precisely as modern
or as traditional a phenomenon we have referred to in our work as Nachleben, the afterlife
of the modern in the contemporary (c.f. Rabinow and Stavrianakis 2014). The challenge is to
then grasp these afterlives with a distinct ethos capable of discerning the significance of
such assemblage. Therein lies the stakes of the contemporary.
Taken up as an analytic that orients inquiry, the contemporary has been flexible enough
to move across and between our various empirical projects, allowing us to pursue the
collective work of trying to discover interconnections among those projects in a
conceptually robust manner. The subtlety is that the contemporary does not overdetermine those conceptual interconnections, but only facilitates the work of crafting them
out of materials immanent to the projects themselves. The contemporary, to put it
differently, is a concept (as well as a search for a mode, a mood, an affect) to be used to open
things up and not a theory to be used for explanation. What this means is that the answer to
the question what is happening in the world today and our relation to it such that our
various projects can be felt to be mutually resonant is not they are all examples of the
contemporary. Rather, conceived as an ethos, and thus as a style of being in the world, the
contemporary allows us to grasp our respective materials in such a way that we can
subsequently bring them into relation and test them against one anothers work an
agonism of collaboration which helps us specific convergences, illuminations, and
Crucial to all of this, and what might seem to go without saying, is that the contemporary
names not only a manner of taking up the objects which we study but a relation to a reality
within which (at least in part) we live and move as we conduct our work. It is, to put it
differently, an experimental ethos whose indeterminacies and discordances makes as many
demands of us and our work as we make of it.
Take as an instance one of Bennetts projects, which examines the making of new
technologies as a salvational practice. It tries to make sense of how it is that, over the past
four decades, the mid-peninsula tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area has made
manifest and mobilized a mlange of sensibilities and anticipations characteristic, at once, of
the secessionist Protestantism of the American West and the political spiritualities, heavily
informed by religious traditions of South Asia, which were so vital to the counter-cultural
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Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity


experiments of the 1950s and 60s. In a fashion similar to the project on assisted suicide, this
project moves across multiple registers, entailing multiple demands. In one register, it must
sort out how the making of technologies, and thus the making of the institutions of
technology-making, are calibrated to what one might call a this-worldly eschatology: a
religious feel for a salvational future imagined as accessible through material
transformations. Yet the project must do this in a manner that highlights how those
religious sensibilities were transmuted into technological practice without resorting to a
hermeneutics of suspicion which simply tries to unearth the secretly religious character of a
putatively secular ambition. This means moving in another direction that the
anthropologist cannot rely on tools and techniques which take for granted a secular distance
between the scientific observer and the scientist being observed. After all, if the making of
technology renders actual an ensemble of religious sensibilities, and if such making thereby
obviates an otherwise secular imagination of technology, then the anthropologist must find
a way to give form to the contemporary in a manner that does not simply re-inscribe a
disenchanted distance between the secular practices of the technicians and their religious
legacies that animate those practices. Nor for that matter can the anthropologist appeal to a
thin re-enchantment of practices that might otherwise be presumed to be mundane, as if
technologists simply did not grasp the significance of what they are doing.
Its in light of the demands of our projects and their conceptual interconnections that we
can agree with Cameron Brintzer that the contemporary, understood as an ethos,
constitutes a task and a challenge not only for the anthropologist, but also for the historian
and the sociologist. At the heart of the Reader, after all, is a call to collaboration, one in
which labor on shared problems will always outstrip the disciplinary apparatuses that have
been built up around particular projects. Or, to put it in Weberian terms, we agree that the
demand of the day is not only to discover the actual interconnections among things, but the
conceptual interconnection among problems.
Havens of movement and connection
At the heart of each of our inquiries is a search for an ethos that can give form to the pathos
of practices of reason, of sciences, midst the institutions and breakdowns of modernity. Let
us merely note, with appreciation, Brinitzers suggestion that our collaborative endeavor
has indeed been oriented to the introduction of a difference, and a different manner of
practice within the human sciences. Inquiry into such a historical difference and its
contours might well be for others to take up. Minimally we can say offer an orientation to
the historicity of the endeavor, beginning from a literary topos, that of Eliots modernism, as
indexed by the epigram. Eliots modernism, among other modernisms, anthropological ones
included, has pointed to the stakes of temporal breakdown and the primacy of the invention
of forms. The contemporary problem, for anthropologists and others, however, is precisely
one of composition, when the past, and the present cease to be mere sequence in the search
Somatosphere | December 2016

Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity


to move beyond the grasping of the presents ruptures. Given such a search for ethos, and
such a mode of composition, the Ottowa collective is right to refer to Roland Barthes text,
To the Seminar, and their own practice. They offer a crucial reminder that such a search
cannot be done alone. Let us then add to Barthes definition of Reason a supplement, from
Deleuzes Spinoza, the art of organizing good encounters.
Works Cited
Bennett, G. 2015. The moral economy of biotechnical facility. Journal of Responsible
Innovation 2.1: 128-132.
Candea, M. 2016. De deux modalits de comparaison en anthropologie sociale lHomme,
2016/2 N 218 | pages 183 218.
Canguilhem, G. 2015. uvres compltes: Tome IV, Rsistance, Philosophie, Biologie et Histoire des
Sciences 19401965. Paris: Vrin.
Canguilhem, G. and Delaporte, F., Ed. 1994. A Vital Rationalist: Selected Writings from Georges
Canguilhem . New York: Zone Books.
Descola, P. 2013. Beyond nature and culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fearnley, L. 2015. Wild Goose Chase: The Displacement of Influenza Research in the Fields of
Poyang Lake, China. Cultural Anthropology 30.1: 12-35.
Kleinman, A. M., et al. 2008. Asian flus in ethnographic and political context: A biosocial
approach. Anthropology and Medicine 15.1: 1-5.
Korsby, T. M. and A. Stavrianakis. 2016. Moments in Collaboration: Experiments in Concept
Work, with Trine Mygind Korsby, Ethnos. Published online, 16 March.
Mamdani, M. 1996. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and and the Legacy of Late
Colonialism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Rabinow, P. (1995). French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Rabinow, P. 2007. Marking Time: On the Anthropology of the Contemporary. New Jersey: Princeton
University Press.
Rabinow, P., and G. Bennett. 2012. Designing Human Practices: An Experiment with Synthetic
Biology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rabinow, P. and A. Stavrianakis. 2013. Demands of the Day: On the Logic of Anthropological
Inquiry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
. 2014. Designs on the Contemporary: Anthropological Tests. Chicago: University of Chicago
. 2016. Movement space: Putting anthropological theory, concepts, and cases to the
test. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6.1: 403-431
Salmon, G., and P. Charbonnier. 2014. The two ontological pluralisms of French
anthropology. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20.3: 567-573.

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Samimian-Darash, L., and P. Rabinow, eds. 2015. Modes of Uncertainty: Anthropological Cases.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Stavrianakis, A. 2015. From Anthropologist to Actant (and back to Anthropology): Position,
Impasse and Observation in Socio-Technical Collaboration, Cultural Anthropology 30 no 1:
Stavrianakis, A. 2016. Obstinacy and Suicide: Rethinking Durkheims Vices. HAU: Journal of
Ethnographic Theory.6 (1): 163-188.
[i] See, for example our exchange and disagreement (our post here: with Callard and Fitzgerald (their post here: on Somatosphere.

Gaymon Bennett is Assistant Professor of Religion, Science, and Technology at Arizona State
University. He works on the problem of modernity in contemporary religion and biotechnology: its
shifting moral economies, contested power relations, and uncertain modes of subjectivity.
Lyle Fearnley is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Singapore University of Technology and
Design. His work explores the assemblages of science and rural life in contemporary China, where
agricultural modernization projects are giving rise to new environmental and health risks.
Anthony Stavrianakis is a Research Fellow (charg de recherche) at the CNRS, France. His work
focuses on forms and practices of ethical judgment in science and medicine, and is currently
conducting a field inquiry into assisted suicide in Switzerland.

Somatosphere | December 2016

Book Forum: Science, Reason, Modernity