Arts and techniques for living – Paul Rabinow experiments

I stumbled across a website for the project Bios Technika, led by Paul Rabinow, a few days ago and have dipped in and out between doing other things. Its not the easiest site to navigate but there are some interesting questions posed and conceptual paths followed. In particular the project concerns ‘synthetic biology’, which appears to be a cause for concern for Rabinow. It resonates with some of the work being conducted at Exeter in our NAMBIO research group, within Geography, and more broadly in the Science Technology and Culture cross-university theme. The project itself is described thus:

Our experiment concerns the relations among and between knowledge, thought, and care, as well as the different forms and venues within which these relations might be brought together and assembled. Our commitment is anthropological, a combination of disciplined conceptual work and empirical inquiry. Our challenge is to produce knowledge in such as way that the work involved enhances us ethically, politically and ontologically. The curve of Western philosophy has been to place more and more emphasis on deciding whether or not something is true while practices of spirituality have been delegated to religion. The challenge of contemporary anthropology is to invent and experiment with new forms of relating truth and spirituality. Said more generally: 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?

There are several sections to the site, which include: ‘concepts‘, ‘diagnostics‘, ‘pathways‘ and ‘cases‘. Each of these is described from the ‘about’ page as different aspects of a mode of ‘inquiry’, which is broadly genealogical. The definition given is quite resonant of Stengers’ articulation of  cosmopolitical ‘mapping into knowledge’:

Inquiry is… experimental in its form giving. Inquiry does not represent a pre-existing situation, nor construct an entirely new one. It consists in reiterated and controlled adjustment.

It is a rich mix of conceptual and pathway-oriented genealogical engagements with various themes around the production of knowledge, particularly concerned with synthetic biology. There are various ways of getting at the ‘experiments’ through the different sections and you sort of have to poke your way around. I would encourage people interested in Rabinow’s Foucault-inspired work; in biopolitics and in STS-type investigations of contemporary biosciences to root around for themselves.

Also: the subheading, at the foot of the page, is ‘discipline and flourish’. Nice pun.

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