Paul M. Rabinow

Paul M. Rabinow

311 Kroeber
Office Hours
Thurs. 8 - 10:30 am
Sign up sheet outside door

Current/Future Courses

Special Interests

Cultural anthropology, philosophy of human and life sciences, modernity, the contemporary; France.


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) 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.

We are experimenting with ways to invent twenty-first century modes of inquiry cast in a contemporary ethos. Our experiment concerns the relation among and between knowledge, thought, and care, as well as the different forms and venues within which these relations might best be brought together and assembled. Our commitment is anthropological, a combination of disciplined conceptual work and participant-observation based inquiry.

Our challenge is to produce knowledge in such a way that the work enhances us ethically, scientifically, politically, and ontologically. What concepts, venues, and forms are most pertinent for building a reflective relation to the present? How should a comparative study (logos) of present forms of life, labor and language (anthropos) be mediated? How should they be curated? We ask: What are the reflected modes and forms for conducting life: the bios technika – the arts and techniques of living? In short: what is a worthwhile philosophic and anthropological practice today?

This new iteration of a long-standing project is based at UC Berkeley although increasingly its practitioners are located worldwide. The conceptual and ethical core grows out of the work of Paul Rabinow and a long line of students as well as the major thinkers—Max Weber, John Dewey, Michel Foucault—whose writings and lives help us to orient ourselves to a remediated, reflective relation to the present.

Ongoing work may be found online at: ARC | Athropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory and Lacuna Stories | The Contemporary


Paul Rabinow received his B.A.(1965), M.A.(1967), and Ph.D.(1970) in anthropology from the University of Chicago. He studied at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris (1965-66). He is currently Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley where he has taught since 1978. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1980); was a visiting Fulbright Professor at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro (1987); taught at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris (1986) as well as the École Normale Supérieure (1997), was a visiting Fulbright Professor at the University of Iceland (1999). He has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Science Foundation Professional Development Fellowships (for training in molecular biology). He is co-founder of the Berkeley Program in French Cultural Studies. He was named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 1998. He received the University of Chicago Alumni Association Professional Achievement Award in 2000. He was awarded the visiting Chaire Internationale de Recherche Blaise Pascal at the École Normale Supérieure for 2001-2.  STICERD Distinguished Visiting Professor- BIOS Centre for the study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society, London School of Economics (2004), Sir James Frazer Lecturer (Cambridge) 2008, Mosse Distinguished Lecture (Berlin) 2010.

Representative Publications

Modes of Uncertainty: Anthropological Cases, edited with Limor Samimian-Darash, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Designs on the Contemporary, Anthopological Tests(with Anthony Stavrianakis), University of Chicago Press, 2014. 

Demands of the Day: On the Logic of Anthropological Inquiry(with Anthony Stavrianakis) University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Designing Human Practices: An Experiment with Synthetic Biology, (with Gaymon Bennett) University of Chicago Press, 2012.

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

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

Marking 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, 2007.(Chinese, Polish)

A Machine to Make a Future: Biotech Chronicles, with Talia Dan-Cohen – 2nd revised edition, Princeton University Press, 2006. (orig. 2004)

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

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

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

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

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, 1997.

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

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

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

The Foucault Reader, Pantheon Books, 1984.

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

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

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

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


Designs on the Contemporary pursues the challenge of how to design and put into practice strategies for inquiring into the intersections of philosophy and anthropology.
Demands of the Day asks about the logical standards and forms that should guide ethical and experimental anthropology in the twenty-first century.
In 2006 anthropologists Paul Rabinow and Gaymon Bennett set out to rethink the role that human sciences play in biological research, creating the Human Practices division of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center—a facility established to create design standards for the engineering of new enzymes, genetic circuits, cells, and other biological entities—to formulate a new