Paul M. Rabinow

Paul M. Rabinow

311 Kroeber

Current/Future Courses

Anthropology of the Contemporary

Spring 2015 |Undergraduate

Special Interests

Cultural anthropology, social thought, modernity, biotechnology, global genomics; France.


Paul Rabinow's work has consistently centered on modernity as a problem: problem for those seeking to live with its diverse forms, a problem for those seeking to advance or resist modern projects of power and knowledge. This work has ranged from descendants of a Moroccan saint coping with the changes wrought by colonial and post-colonial regimes, to the wide array of knowledges and power relations entailed in the great assemblage of social planning in France, to my work of the last decade on molecular biology and genomics. His current research centers on developments in post-genomics and molecular diagnostics. It seeks to invent an analytic framework to understand the issues of bio-politics and bio-security. A related research interest is the contemporary moral terrain with special attention to "affect."


If anthropology is understood as being composed of anthropos + logos, then anthropology can be taken up as a practice of studying how the mutually productive relations of knowledge, thought, and care are given form within shifting relations of power. I have developed a distinctive approach to an _anthropology of the contemporary_ that moves methodologically beyond modernity as an object of study or as a metric to order all inquiries.

My work has consistently confronted the challenge of inventing and practicing new forms of inquiry, writing, and ethics for the human sciences. I argue that currently the dominant knowledge production practices, institutions, and venues for understanding things human in the 21st century are inadequate institutionally and epistemologically. In response, I have designed modes of experimentation and collaboration consisting in focused concept work and the explorations of new forms of case-based inquiry. The equipment for such inquiry is presented at:

I have also devoted a great deal of energy to the invention of new venues, adjacent to the existing university structures, diagnosing the university_s disciplinary organization and career patterns as among the major impediment to 21st century thought. We need venues that are adjacent to, but more flexible than, the university and the existing disciplinary structure. The Anthropology Research on the Contemporary (ARC), (ARC) was founded by as part of an effort to create new forms of inquiry in the human sciences. Its aspiration is to create models for new infrastructures, tools of collaboration, and practices of inquiry.

Representative Publications

2011. The Accompaniment: Assembling the Contemporary, University of Chicago Press.

2008. Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary, with G. Marcus, Duke University Press.

2007. Making Time: On the Anthropology of the Contemporary, Princeton University Press.

2007. Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco – 30th Anniversary Edition with a new preface. University of California Press (Chinese, Polish).

2007. “Concept Work,” in Genetics and the Social Sciences: Making Biosociality, Routledge.

2005. “The Iceland Controversy: Reflections on the Transnational Market of Civic Virtue,” in Global Assemblages. Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems, Blackwell.

2005. “Life Sciences: Discontents and Consolations,” in Is Human Nature Obsolete? Genetics, Bioengineering, and the Future of the Human Condition, MIT Press.

2004. A Machine to Make a Future: Biotech Chronicles, with Talia Dan-Cohen, Princeton University Press.

2003. Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment, Princeton University Press. [German 2004].

2003. The Essential Foucault, (with Nikolas Rose), New York: The New Press.

1999. French DNA, Trouble in Purgatory, University of Chicago Press. [French 2000].

1997. Essays in the Anthropology of Reason, Princeton University Press. [Portugese 1999, German 2004].

1997. Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth, Vol. 1 of The Essential Works of Michel Foucault 1954-1984. Series editor and editor of Vol. 1. The New Press.

1996. Making PCR, A Story of Biotechnology, University of Chicago Press. [French, Japanese, Chinese, Italian].

1989. French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment, MIT Press. (University of Chicago Press, 1995). [French, 2004].

1987. Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look (with W. Sullivan), University of California Press.

1984. The Foucault Reader, Pantheon Books.

1983. Michel Foucault, Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (with Hubert Dreyfus) University of Chicago Press. (2nd edition). [French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Russian.]

1978. Interpretive Social Science: A Reader, (with W. Sullivan) University of California Press.

1977. Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco, University of California Press. [French, Spanish, Japanese].

1975. Symbolic Domination: Cultural Form and Historical Change in Morocco, University of Chicago Press.


A Machine to Make a Future represents a remarkably original look at the present and possible future of biotechnology research in the wake of the mapping of the human genome.
In 1993, an American biotechnology company and a French genetics lab developed a collaborative research plan to search for diabetes genes. But just as the project was to begin, the French government called it to a halt, barring the laboratory from sharing something never previously thought of as a commodity unto itself: French DNA. REVIEW QUOTES
In this culmination of his search for anthropological concepts and practices appropriate to the twenty-first century, Paul Rabinow contends that to make sense of the contemporary anthropologists must invent new forms of inquiry. He begins with an extended rumination on what he gained from two of his formative mentors: Michel Foucault and Clifford Geertz.