II. Auto-Critique 3
Anthony Stavrianakis
Paul Rabinow
Auto-Critique 3: From Fieldwork to a Reconstructive Re-problematization

We learned that attempting both remediation and reconstruction during fieldwork was at a minimum confused. It was also confusing, leading us into discordancies and stultitia. Whilst the distinction between remediation and reconstruction remains trenchant, it is only on having exited the field (studio 6) that we found ourselves in a position such that there was a possibility for the reconstruction of our experience, on which we could  intervene. In this case, remediation during fieldwork necessarily preceded the work of reconstruction.

We thought we could do reconstruction and do fieldwork simultaneously. We were bound by our own 'ethnographic imaginary' . Just leaving the field was not enough to place us in a different situation, as long as the ethnographic imaginary remained intact.  In fact, one has to re-enter the problematization differently after having done the work of remediating Ausgangshaltung (giving a form to the practice of embodying the poise or stance of the one who leaves the field to return to the anthropological problem, see studio 5).

Exiting with the ethnographic imaginary produced and remediated  during fieldwork requires a change of medium in order to become available for the next stage of inquiry. We argue that one's ethnographic object must be remediated relative to a reconstructive anthropological objective. We gave our exit a medium: 'ausgangshaltung'. Unexpectedly , it took us several months to work through the exit and the medium of our exit, such that we could start the next stage of thinking (i.e. reconstructing) the problematization of science and ethics, or perhaps truth and knowledge.

Indetermination & Determination: An exit requires an entrance

In this light, the exit from fieldwork must be paired with an entrance into something else. In our case, we pair fieldwork with anthropology, without equating them and leaving open the question of the anthropological mode. We bring this quandary to attention now because ‘leaving the field’ has been part of our recent experience and we have asked ourselves the questions: what are we leaving? How are we leaving it? What are we entering? With regards the last question, since we know that we want to leave the field to re-enter, in a changed way, the questions of an anthropology of the contemporary, we have to ask what this consists in.

Certainly we are not the first to bring this to attention This entrance may be an ethnographic eternal return (Can’t leave the field, won’t leave the leave the field, field object becomes objective, para-ethnography is one modality, we’re all ethnographers now), a displacement (hermeneutics of suspicion, e.g. Culture is political economy). Another modality accepts the validity of the knowledge produced by ethnography but insists that anthropology requires an emplacement. Two approaches stand out: exemplification, the placing of the example within a schema, and the diagnostic mode of an anthropology of the contemporary.

Based on extensive fieldwork in recent years, Rabinow has become convinced that ethnography is too general a term for fieldwork.  Briefly stated, the ethnic or cultural group is only one class of objects among others. Just as ethnos has been put in question as the unique object of anthropology, so too description (graphia) is not the only form that anthropology should adopt.

In Deweyan terms and in the mode of an anthropology of the contemporary, fieldwork is part of the process of inquiry into cultural formations. The specifically anthropological step follows:  Situating these cultural formations qua objects produced in inquiry within a broader re-problematization. The contemporary mode is to take it up as a challenge of inquiry and reconstruction.

Connectivity & Discordancy

The ethical substance is that which needs to be worked on. Rapport is the oldest ethical substance in ethnography based anthropology. Recently, Faubion has re-cast this relationality as 'connectivity'. He posits it as a sufficiently general candidate for the ethical substance of fieldwork today. We might ask of this general candidate, whether it holds for ethnography and more interestingly what happens when one shifts to anthropology, as Faubion himself advocates?

Classically, Faubion suggests, the anthropologist is “a distinctive subject at once able and authorized to engage certain ends” and these ends, classically, are “knowledge of other cultural formations and the reform of one’s own.” (JDF 147) Or, the return to the self by way of the other, in one alternative formulation. This move constitutes what might be called "an anthropology of the present" in that, it frees up certain taken for granted assumptions of the present situation at home, although it refuses to propose any specific alternatives.

This logic is taken to its farthest point by Marcus with his concept of the para-ethnographic, to-wit experts have already taken this to heart and are freeing themselves from the present through auto-para-analysis.  The ethnographer is there to describe such auto-description. Here too the ethical substance remains connectivity and para-ethnography gives it a form.  This form enables the ethnographer to connect to Alan Greenspan, and can show how everyone is doing ethnography, just like Geertz did for the Balinese where he established the connection that they were doing interpretation just like the ethnographer.

The difference with a problematization: “Problematization doesn’t mean the representation of a pre-existent object.” There are no pre-existing objects, there may be things out there, but only once they are given form through inquiry do they become objects. Then the objects help you direct further inquiry. The possible solutions to a problematization are not all ethnographic.  The problem for Marcus/Geertz is for everyone to become an ethnographer. In our view ethnography has a certain privilege as a narrative mode, not a scientific or ethical or political mode.

For an anthropology of the present in a para-ethnographic mode the re-presentation of self-description is of interest in part because of the positionality of those being described (Greenspan, financial markets, scientists and engineers) whose self-descriptions ramify through the very power networks they invent, operate, communicate within and describe para-ethnographically.

For an anthropology of the contemporary hereinlies the distinction between fieldwork and anthropology. Connectivity in the former, is a technique not an end. In the latter a central problem is to think through connectivity and discordancy as regards the truth and seriousness of the self-descriptions and activities of these actors.

Remediation is not reproblematization

Reconstructive inquiry is in a field of reproblematizations.

Remediation is not reproblematization, the difference is the transformation of an object into an objective. The object has something to do with knowledge produced by the previous inquiry, which in accord with Dewey would always be some form of participant-observation. The entry into re-problematizations is best approached after a stage of remediation. Such remediation takes as its object the experiences collected under the term fieldwork. Specific particular knowledge to produce an object is necessary both logically and ethically and from that practice one can begin again with another inquiry directed toward a different objective (truth and the good). 

Our “double game” involved a slippage between remediation and reconstruction. It is also, apparently, a "double game" of knowledge and truth. Once we understood this it took work to leave the field. This work of leaving the field was a work of remediation.

We came to understand that in order to undertake the exit from the field and to enter an anthropological reproblematization whose objective was reconstruction, we would need equipment capable of operating in a contemporary mode. The problematization's temporality is contemporary. Hence the equipment needs to be contemporary, it needs an openness, facility of use, collaborative use, a refusal that it's status is one of knowledge and that it might facilitate another mode of governance of the self and others, "we knowers", unknown to ourselves.  The point is not that we need knowledge of ourselves, but to know what we are doing and why we are doing it.


The knowledge provided in this case a determination, which was a partial solution to the indeterminacy of fieldwork. We determined that apparatuses are not going to be the site of solving discordancy. That determinative knowledge indicated that we should exit and allowed us to begin what we discovered to be the work of exiting.

Why was the situation discomforting? Why did it produce such reaction within these organizations, both for us and for our interlocutors, bio-scientific and within the human and social sciences.

It turned out that there are good reasons for this discomfort which we only gradually became clear about conceptually. However, in terms of Haltung, we embodied these tensions- accumulation of knowledge and attempting to participate in a veridictional and ethical register  (see auto-critique 1) -  and produced reactions without knowing why at the time.

Our confusion over the relation of remediation and reconstruction was embodied. It was this embodiment that was productive of our discordancy and of our continual dissatisfaction with merely producing knowledge.  Knowledge of what is actual is important but not determinative. It contributes to the conditions of a re-problematization that is taking place, but not the significance (or truth) of what is emerging.

If we didn't have a discordant Haltung, where would we exit to? We'd be lost, or we'd be done i.e. nothing left to do except write up the monograph. However, given our project, we know we would have continued to be stultified if all we were doing is producing knowledge, since that was precisely the deficiency that we observed in the field. So, in fact discordancy was generative and generated, producing second-order reflection, it provided us with a transition to the challenge of inquiry into the re-problematization of ethics and truth.

Remediation's Limits

In our work in SynBERC , only remediative inquiry took place, even though we had thought reconstruction might be possible in the field. What was possible in the field was the inclusion of metrics which would be a crucial part in orienting us toward an effort of reconstruction.  We used the term flourishing to diagnose that there were other metrics involved, this kept us second-order as participants and facilitated the observation of the metrics that were at play for our  natives: prosperity and amelioration. This is ethnographic data. This  data became the basis for the knowledge produced while equally helping us to diagnose  what is going on in the field and why we experienced discdorancy with it. Such discordancy was a constant reminder to pursue our anthropological objective and not just our object.