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Modes of Uncertainty

Anthropological Cases

Modes of Uncertainty offers groundbreaking ways of thinking about danger, risk, and uncertainty from an analytical and anthropological perspective. Our world, the contributors show, is increasingly populated by forms, practices, and events whose uncertainty cannot be reduced to risk—and thus it is vital to distinguish between the two. Drawing the lines between them, they argue that the study of uncertainty should not focus solely on the appearance of new risks and dangers—which no doubt abound—but also on how uncertainty itself should be defined, and what the implications might be for policy and government.
Organizing contributions from various anthropological subfields—including economics, business, security, humanitarianism, health, and environment—Limor Samimian-Darash and Paul Rabinow offer new tools with which to consider uncertainty, its management, and the differing modes of subjectivity appropriate to it. Taking up policies and experiences as objects of research and analysis, the essays here seek a rigorous inquiry into a sound conceptualization of uncertainty in order to better confront contemporary problems. Ultimately, they open the way for a participatory anthropology that asks crucial questions about our contemporary state. 

256 pages | 5 halftones, 6 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Sociology: General Sociology


Modes of Uncertainty gives an impressive view of powerful and original scholarship, precise research, and strong linkages between theorizing and analyzing data, addressing the question of how humans in a variety of settings are dealing in concrete ways with unknown but highly important near futures that are directly linked to, but not controlled by, their actions.”

Reiner Keller, author of Doing Discourse Research

Modes of Uncertainty provides an acute, bracing, and necessary exploration of key contemporary theoretical debates—and assumptions—around risk, insecurity, and uncertainty. Combining a crisp and clarifying analytical framing with a set of textured and revelatory case studies ranging across multiple domains, this volume is—in no uncertain terms—an invaluable contribution.”

Donald Brenneis, University of California, Santa Cruz

Modes of Uncertainty is devoted to addressing a distinctive mode of practical wisdom that has become increasingly integral to the visions and pursuits animating our prevailing institutional orders. Its guiding presumption is that the future is unpredictable, a matter of unforeseen and unforeseeable twists and turns. Its strategies rest not on denying or seeking to dispel our according ignorance of what is to come, but instead to cope with and manage it. The contributors investigate its manifestations from one concrete case to the next. Their results demonstrate with sparkling analytical clarity what anthropology has to teach us about our contemporaneity.”

James Faubion, Rice University

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