Ars Synthetica:
The Anthropology of the Contemporary

Friday, January 16
University of California, Santa Cruz



Ars Synthetica: The Anthropology of the Contemporary will be a one-day series of seminars, explorations, and discussions aiming to bring into focus actual and potential intersections amongst theoretical scholarship and some of the contemporary practical realities posing problems to thought today. The event takes its title from recent work by Berkeley anthropologist Paul Rabinow whose recent work offers collaboratively-styled interventions taking place at the intersection of the most vigorous forms of contemporary critical theory and the most perplexing moments in our contemporary scientific, political, ethical, and cultural practices.

Rabinow's most recent project, Ars Synthetica, provides a web-based forum for engaging specialists and non-specialists in an informed, ethical, and democratic dialogue on emerging sciences. It proposes developing multiple participatory channels for exploring questions about ethics, security, and how cutting-edge research is organized, governed, funded, and expanded. Another recent project is the just-published Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary, collaboratively authored by Rabinow, George Marcus, and others.

In our keynote session Rabinow will present his recent work and some of its theoretical implications and practical ramifications. We will pursue these matters further in two cross-disciplinary panels on contemporary biosciences and contemporary computer networking technologies and practices.

The intention of this event is not to provide absolute or final answers, but to enable a diverse range of participant responses, perspectives, and concerns. We will explore possibilities for educating and critically engaging various publics about the challenges and opportunities of bringing new entities, practices, and relations into the world.


Paul Rabinow
UC Berkeley
Christopher M. Kelty
Information Studies
Gaymon Bennett
UC Berkeley
Berkeley Graduate Theological Union
Anthony Stavrianakis
UC Berkeley
Colin Koopman
UC Santa Cruz
Center for Cultural Studies
Noah Wardrip-Fruin
UC Santa Cruz
Computer Science
Lyle Fearnley
UC Berkeley
Tom Schilling
UC Berkeley
Materials Science and Engineering

Commentators, Chairs, and Other Participants

Ian Hacking
UC Santa Cruz
University of Toronto
College de France
History of Scientific Concepts
James Clifford
UC Santa Cruz
History of Consciousness
Warren Sack
UC Santa Cruz
Film and Digital Media
Jenny Reardon
UC Santa Cruz
Paul Roth
UC Santa Cruz
Susan Gillman
UC Santa Cruz
Jake Metcalf
UC Santa Cruz

Logistics and Information

This event will be free and open to the public. Registration is not required. All sessions will take place in Humanities Bldg 1 Room 210 (near Cowell College).

This event is is made possible by generous sponsorship from the following UCSC campus units: The Center for Cultural Studies, the Philosophy Department, the Sociology Department, the Literature Department, and the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium.

This event is organized by the Foucault Across the Disciplines Research Cluster at UCSC. You may also view information on and an archive of the March 2008 conference 'Foucault Across the Disciplines' sponsored by the same cluster.

For further information please contact the event organizer, Colin Koopman, at



All events will take place in Humanities Bldg 1, Room 210 (near Cowell College)

Session I: Contemporary Biosciences
Gaymon Bennett, 'Ars Synthetica: Post-Genomics and Human Practices'
Anthony Stavrianakis, 'Collaboratory Life?'
Lyle Fearnley, 'Detecting Epidemic Events'
Tom Schilling, 'Bio-inspired Molecular Self-assembly: Making Materials Make Themselves'
Jenny Reardon (Discussant)
Paul Rabinow (Discussant)
Jake Metcalf (Moderator)

Session II: The Anthropology of the Contemporary
Paul Rabinow, 'Ars Synthetica: Toward an Anthropology of the Near Future'
James Clifford (Discussant)
Ian Hacking (Discussant)
Paul Roth (Moderator)

Session III: Contemporary Networking and Computing
Christopher M. Kelty, 'The 'Recursive Public' and Its Problems'
Colin Koopman, 'Internetworked Publics: The Emerging Political Conditions of the Internet'
Noah Wardrip-Fruin, 'Expressive Processing'
Warren Sack (Discussant)
Paul Rabinow (Discussant)
Susan Gillman (Moderator)