Concept: Anthropology of the Contemporary


"the contemporary"

the: definite article
contemporary: evokes the now in a longer when

~ adjacent: close but not touching
~ a moving ratio
~ a shifting lens to mark time
~ making thought part of the world
~ generational epistemology
~ the work to do in a moment 

---------------------Annotated Bibliography---------------------

1. Faubion, James D., Jane I. Guyer, Tom Boellstorff, Marilyn Strathern, Clémentine Deliss, Frédéric Keck, and Terry Smith. 2016. “On the Anthropology of the Contemporary: Addressing Concepts, Designs, and Practices.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6 (1): 371–402.

  • contemporary: “a moving ratio of modernity, moving through the recent past and near future in a (non-linear) space,” through the lens of which both the “traditional” and the “modern” become “historical.” 
  • "An anthropology of the contemporary faces the challenge of finding a means to remain close to diverse current practices producing knowledge, ethics, and politics, while adopting an attitude of discernment and adjacency in regard to them, thereby providing a space for a more precise and better formulation of contemporary problems and risks"
  • "being on the verge"
  • Strathern on Ars Synthetica: "As a mode of working, the anthropologists saw themselves gathering diagnostics appropriate for their inquiry, an open and unfinished orientation to the way problems were encountered, the prospect implying changing one’s habits and dispositions, and which they called Mode 3. Mode 3 was set apart from the multiplicity-of-experts paradigm (Mode 1) to which science-and-society interventions had already been a response (Mode 2)."
  • "Quiet, dogged, orderly, aside from pedagogical aims they amounted to an exposition of the ramifications of actions and processes that make modern lives/ life. These are scholars taking care, with specifiable precision, of the way we make thought part of the world... in his vocabulary diagnostics have a telos in the remediation of ethical problems."
  • "Anthropologists of science, it is argued, cannot for their part do without a notion of the contemporary if their thinking about what is happening, as it is grasped in the here and now, is to have any critical edge"

Allen, Jafari Sinclaire, and Ryan Cecil Jobson. 2016. “The Decolonizing Generation: (Race and) Theory in Anthropology since the Eighties.” Current Anthropology 57 (2): 129–48.

  • generational epistemologies: “Each succeeding generation constructs anew out of its inheritance and its own experience the relation to the formative events of the past that have organized the imagination of the future”
  • movement describes the transit of bodies, capital, and goods—a form of movement that is constitutive of the longue durée of human sociobiological history
  • "To realize the promise of anthropology, then, is to apply robust empirical observation and historical depth to the question of human variation and inequality. This double gesture, in which Firmin strategically occupies the racial taxonomy of Western modernity while denouncing the very existence of race as a biological type, can be understood as the foundational maneuver of a decolonial anthropology."
  • "the decolonizing generation endorsed an affirmation of a Du Boisian double consciousness that destabilized the analytical presumptions on which anthropology is based—distinctions between self and other, center and periphery, sites of data collection and knowledge production—while strategically adopting its signature methods"
  • "While it has become popular of late to denounce the reflexive turn as a passing experiment from which anthropology has triumphantly returned, we argue that the reflexive project was not capacious enough—that is, it was limited to the fieldwork encounter between the anthropologist and her informants"
  • "Our work in this moment must then be to do anthropology and train anthropologists wherever we find ourselves."
  • "what are the core salient features of the discipline that we must retain in any institutional site or under any sign or category?"



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Contributed date

February 20, 2023 - 4:40pm

Critical Commentary

An anthropology of the contemporary asks us to think about what it is that makes the here and the now. Though the phrase is associated with anthropologist Paul Rabinow, and he has certainly developed it rigorously, the call to characterize the here and the now is advanced by marginalized anthropologists in parallel, with a rigorous and political force that not only diagnoses or intervenes or experiments the present, but dares to cast it aside or to refuse it altogether or to take out of the magician's hat something old and forgotten, renewed in the image of the present. 

Cite as

Anonymous, "Concept: Anthropology of the Contemporary ", contributed by Prerna Srigyan, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 20 February 2023, accessed 29 September 2023.