I. Auto-Critique 1
Anthony Stavrianakis
Paul Rabinow
Auto-Critique 1: Neglect of Communication and Networks
We are committed to a form of practice that requires self-criticism, i.e. is directed toward remediation and reconstruction of specific situations and practices.   We note also that many friendly and not so friendly observers of our recent experiment in Human Practices have also demanded this of us, regardless of their motivation and their own practices, this request is perfectly valid. The form and the mode  that constitutes this self-criticism is what now needs to be worked through.
 In 2007, the Human Practices experiment was designed to establish a collaborative practice. Clearly this did not happen in the way it had been designed. We were naive to the degree that we proceeded largely in terms of veridictional and ethical registers; to this degree we were  Deweyan.  So Bourdieu, Latour or Foucault would have reminded us that without pragmatic attention to the power relations and networks which structured the situation  one would be extremely unlikely to be able to increase capacities without intensifying the existing power relations which needed to be overcome or transformed to implement our design.
Critical Limitation: Collaboration Withers

Attention to power would have entailed much more extensive networking, travel, exchange of debt and credit, extensive attention to simplification and vulgarization etc. Organizing this labor fell to Rabinow who neglected with a certain degree of consciousness, these obligations. One can see this either as a simple characterological failing or a functional deficit in the collaboratory.

Minimally the network established through the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory and our nascent interactions with the ASU Center for Nanotechnology in Society, were intended to perform some of these functions of communication, networking, critical feedback and a broader scope of inquiries.

We were insufficiently aware that our colleagues were not going along with us in this program. This was part of the bind because if these alliances had functioned as we had hoped, we would have been able to establish the kinds of networks that would facilitate and protect our enterprise.  We weren't sufficiently attentive to the reality of the situation, because we were busy with the original commitment; this commitment is what further isolated us, both from SynBERC and from other supposed friends in the human sciences. This double isolation exacerbated the bind. Insufficient attention to cultivating exterior relations combined with a blindness of the difficulty of collaboration internal to SynBERC.


What was the nature of the associational bond in this form of participant-observation that we were looking for? The available positions were the classic critic (external denunciatory etc.), the classic sociological (clear division of labor, meta-suggestions), science policy analyst (proximate and dependent, first-order criticism plus meta-discourse to other audiences), science studies (proximate but no identification, norms from within the sub-discipline, e.g. relativizing irony).

Our position is none of these and hence it has been hard to make alliances. These were all existing and occupied positions when we began our work. Sociologically it is not surprising that they were not eager to share their space and saw us as potential competitors.

Another self-criticism is that on our part we proceeded as if  conceptual contributions and their structural rewards would be welcomed. The response was uniformly to re-inscribe our efforts into the same which in a neo-liberal entrepreneurial setting is the kiss of death ('you're conservatives', 'not actually innovators' etc.) What we thought the stakes were was inquiry, conceptual work and truth-speaking about the form of life being made through and within this developing bio-scientific and bio-ethical (biosocial, biopolitical, biovalue) constellation.

Our limitation was thinking that conceptual links could be the basis for association and coordinated political action between and among the existing players in the human sciences. Given that we were the novitiates, our failure was to neglect the work of networking, accruing the relevant debts that could be called in when the intensification of power relations closed off our capacities to work in close proximity to the biosciences.

Refusal: Communication

We refused two forms of communication, one philosophically based (Habermas) and the other much more ethically based (Public Relations).

We failed to communicate the philosophic reasons for refusing a communicative rationality approach to that small audience who might have appreciated such argumentation.  As to the audience that was performing listening, their demands for communication were well formed. Our job in their assessment was to praise  or defend (depending on whether political or forensic rhetoric was at stake) their endeavor.  We failed to develop a rhetoric that would justify our refusal to accept communication as meaning either public relations in industry or for that matter a rhetoric of participation (as equal to democracy, focused on issues and values) or civic amelioration.

The failure was that we were in a situation structured such that two forms of rhetoric would have counted as valid: we refused them both tacitly and did not develop our own mode of moving audiences.

Meter for Measured Criticism

The metric of this self-criticism cannot be 'successful' intervention on the bioscientists with whom we worked within the extant parameters of their field. Such a metric rests on a diagnosis that achieving this goal failed. It follows that with such a metric the parameters of the failure are personalistic and conjunctural. A self-criticism in such a mode turns on psychology or social psychology and failure becomes a question of the dynamics of these fields. For example, using Bourdieu language it has been proposed that the dispositional habitus of the bioscientist and the human scientist makes it impossible for a project like ours to have any hope of success. Hence, attempting such a project is naive, foolish or simply masochistic. It follows that one should look therefore for the sadists around who are our potential collaborators. The antidote, it has been suggested, is to acquiesce to the dominant habitus and lexicon of the bio-scientific field: let's be realistic.

We have a different diagnosis of our experiment which from the start was conducted on different grounds. The purpose of the experiment was to find a collaborative, experimental and problematizing mode of work for both the human and bioscientists. It seems to us that there are examples of such collaborative work leading to flourishing of a second-order, i.e. a flourishing form of life which is capable of making itself an object of reflection and work.  For instance, collaborations between environmental activists and bioscientists and specific milieux which they care about and which can be brought into a flourishing relation.

We think we conducted an experiment which produced results and to that degree was successful qua experiment. What did we learn? How would this help us to design a next experiment?

We have concluded that the fundamental dynamics were not psychologistic but ones in terms of macro-power relations and their inscription at the micro-level. We believe it is more accurate to introduce the dispositional habitus at this level.