Apologia: Curating anthrōpos
“It is not the ‘actual’ interconnections of ‘things’ but the conceptual interconnections of problems which define the scope of the various sciences. A new ‘science’ emerges when new problems are pursued by new methods and truths are thereby discovered which open up significant new points of view.” ~ Max Weber
Our goal is to open up significant new points of view so as to give form to a reflective relation to the present, to invoke Michel Foucault’s re-casting of the task of enlightenment. In order to do so, we are committed to inventing and conceptualizing modes of collaborative inquiry understood as a remediated version of John Dewey’s logic. To the extent we are successful; such modes of collaborative inquiry might well make possible a renewed practice of science as a vocation. As opposed to Weber’s modernist understanding of the relation of science and ethics as calling for a heroic acknowledgment of their inherent and unbridgeable separation; we strive to bring them into a tighter adjacency in a contemporary mode.
In order to proceed with this experiment, it has become clear that we require twenty-first century equipment. We are convinced that we should strive to invent means of working at a second-order level, to use the terms of Niklas Luhmann. Working at a second-order level here means that there must be cases available to be taken up and worked over. These cases are arrayed on the website. We respect the need to undertake individual work both for reasons of career as well as for the diversity of style and temperament it encourages.
The website itself, and the exciting and rigorous work that our colleagues at Stanford have been doing to make this platform possible, is designed to enable specified conceptual operations on these cases. An initial goal is to experiment with a range of concepts that might help clarify the interconnections of problems through their application to the cases, themselves products of sustained inquiry undertaken, broadly speaking, in an anthropological mode of participant-observation.
Our aim in arraying these cases and in conceptually interconnecting problems is to invent an anthropology of the contemporary. We intend our anthropology of the contemporary to be pragmatic insofar as it is marked by two features:
(1) The centrality of ethical practices and problems as an object for anthropology; by this we intend not simply moral codes but rather the practices that inform a form of life. This website platform provides equipment designed to bring together and to facilitate the characterization of heterogeneous sets of observations about the ethical, governmental and conceptual practices of anthrōpos today (anthrōpos + logos). Such observations can thus be rendered as artifacts and problems, enabling them to be worked over and put into relation with one another.
(2) This arrangement entails collaborative work that facilitates an anthropological exploration of assemblages of the ethical, governmental and conceptual practices and problems of anthrōpos, taken up at a second order of reflection. We are eschewing theory; consequently such assemblages are taken up as partial and in the process of formation. Our core site of inquiry—our problem-space—is the heterogeneous relations of what anthrōpos “can and should” make of itself, to use Kant’s phrase.
As anthropologists of the contemporary, we are particularly attentive not only to the fact that “something new” is emerging today in the ethical lives of anthrōpos, in diverse domains of practice, but more importantly that older forms have broken down and have been reconfigured: such attention primes our mode of inquiry and our specific cases. In our collaborative endeavor to interconnect problems of anthrōpos conceptually, we are also attentive to the historicity of how older forms have broken down and have endured—their afterlife (Nachleben)—in their reconfigurations across cases and objects.
In pursuing a collaborative assemblage of second-order observations of diverse objects of ethical life of anthrōpos we are seeking neither to historicize (history of the present) nor to classify. We leave behind comparativism in both historicist and classificatory guises as an essentially modernist invention, used for articulating and delimiting forms and terms of culture, language and society.
A contemporary anthropology is curated rather than comparative. That is to say, curated inquiry produces motion in which the terms of the inquiry change with the inquiry and inquirers. Opening up a significant contemporary point of view—an ethos—requires rigorous inquiry and the art of curation.