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Designs on the Contemporary

Anthropological Tests

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. Drawing on the conceptual repertoires of Max Weber, Michel Foucault, and John Dewey, among others, Paul Rabinow and Anthony Stavrianakis reflect on and experiment with how to give form to anthropological inquiry and its aftermath, with special attention to the ethical formation and ramifications of this mode of engagement. 
The authors continue their prior explorations of the contemporary in past works: How to conceptualize, test, and give form to breakdowns of truth and conduct, as well as how to open up possibilities for the remediation of such breakdowns. They offer a surprising and contrasting pair of case studies of two figures who engaged with contemporary breakdowns: Salman Rushdie and Gerhard Richter. Approaching Richter’s artistic struggles with form and technique in the long wake of modernism and Rushdie’s struggles to find a narrative form—as well as a form for living—to respond to the Iranian fatwa issued against him, they show how both men formulated different new approaches to anthropology for the twenty-first century.

180 pages | 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Philosophy: Ethics, General Philosophy


“In a world where concepts are so often deployed in an ad hoc fashion, half explored before being displaced by others, it is immensely refreshing to encounter such serious and sustained attention to the building blocks of inquiry—and to the responsibilities thereby incurred. Designs on the Contemporary is a work of profound importance to the philosophy of anthropology. In conjunction with Rabinow’s other works, it creates a nonpareil, a configuration of thought with no equal.”

Marilyn Strathern, University of Cambridge

Designs on the Contemporary is the narration of a quest, and the quest is double. In one part, it seeks to formulate the means by which and the criteria according to which the anthropologist can legitimately claim to be a diagnostician of our contemporary forms of life—forms marked, among other things, by their irreducible indeterminacy. In another part, it seeks to identify just those forms of contemporary life for whose adequate diagnosis anthropological fieldwork is a necessary point of departure. The latter aim proves constantly to impose itself on the former, and the former aim constantly to have to be reformulated in the face not merely of the recalcitrance but also the inspiration that its encounters yield. There’s an epistemological, ontological, and ethical moral to this story: that collaborative inquiry is essential to coming anthropologically to terms with who we aren’t any longer, who we are, and who we might be. Were anthropologists to take this seriously, anthropology would be a very different discipline than the discipline it is today—all the calls for collaboration notwithstanding. Let’s hope they take it seriously.”

James D. Faubion, Rice University

Table of Contents


Part One: After the Actual


One. Problematization of the Modern: Bios

Two. Logic

Three. Forms

Part Two: Toward the Contemporary


Four. The Rushdie Affair: Truth and Conduct

Five. Gerhard Richter’s Pathos

Conclusion: Checking the Contemporary

Terms of Engagement




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