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Cover for The Accompaniment

The Accompaniment

Assembling the Contemporary

Paul Rabinow


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In this culmination of his search for anthropological concepts and practices appropriate to the twenty-first century, Paul Rabinow contends that to make sense of the contemporary anthropologists must invent new forms of inquiry. He begins with an extended rumination on what he gained from two of his formative mentors: Michel Foucault and Clifford Geertz. Reflecting on their lives as teachers and thinkers, as well as human beings, he poses questions about their critical limitations, unfulfilled hopes, and the lessons he learned from and with them. This spirit of collaboration animates The Accompaniment, as Rabinow assesses the last ten years of his career, largely spent engaging in a series of intensive experiments in collaborative research and often focused on cutting-edge work in synthetic biology. He candidly details the successes and failures of shifting his teaching practice away from individual projects, placing greater emphasis on participation over observation in research, and designing and using websites as a venue for collaboration. Analyzing these endeavors alongside his efforts to apply an anthropological lens to the natural sciences, Rabinow lays the foundation for an ethically grounded anthropology ready and able to face the challenges of our contemporary world.

Praise For The Accompaniment: Assembling the Contemporary

“One of our most vividly original thinkers, Paul Rabinow has produced a richly informed meditation on collaboration.  It is, in its own terms, an ‘untimely’ book in the best sense, immersed in history, focused on the present, and dedicated to the ‘demands of the day.’  With reflections on art, music, philosophy, biology, as well as on his teachers, mentors, and collaborators, The Accompaniment is the culminating book of an extraordinary career, and secures Rabinow’s place as our leading anthropologist of knowledge.”

— Geoffrey Harpham, director, National Humanities Center

“Sophisticated, historically and philosophically grounded, and engaging, Rabinow’s vision of what anthropology might be provides food for thought and deserves careful consideration and debate.”

— Richard Price, College of William and Mary

University of Chicago Press, 9780226701691, 248pp.

Publication Date: November 15, 2011

About the Author

Paul Rabinow (1944-2021) was a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.