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Paul Rabinow: 2014 Colloquium Abstract

Contemporary Inquiries: Ecologies of Assemblages

How should one conduct inquiry—today—into problems of broad scope and historical depth? How should one give form to participant-observation into problem spaces in which the specific site must be understood to be connected with multiple other sites and formations? In sum, how should one conduct contemporary inquiry? 

In this keynote address, Paul Rabinow will argue that traditional modes of comparison have assumed that the parameters of comparison are known and/or stable. It follows that given that inquiry is focused on specific cases or examples. However, whilst terms such as culture or society or politics or history have functioned as the stable comparison units in the past (and continue to do so in much of the social sciences today), their status has come under sustained scrutiny in recent decades. 

The challenge, then, is to conceptualize, narrate and give form to a mode of inquiry that would bring together diverse cases by Rabinow and his students and collaborators, such as: post-genomic forays into designing living organisms and systems; emergent forms of curatorial practices in the trans-national art market; the rise of right wing Hindu nationalist movements in India and the politics and representation of the border disputes in South Sudan. New modes of contemporary inquiry require conceptual innovation as well as a remediated practice of participant-observation that confronts and values the singularity of dimensions of such cases whilst refusing to abandon more general claims.



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."


Paul Rabinow's bio page

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