Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice

Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice

Book Pages: 496 Illustrations: 34 illustrations Published: December 2003

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Science and Technology Studies

Anthropology as Cultural Critique helped redefine cultural anthropology in the 1980s. Now, with Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice, pathbreaking scholar Michael M. J. Fischer moves the discussion to a consideration of the groundwork laid in the 1990s for engagements with the fast-changing worlds of technoscience, telemedia saturation, and the reconstruction of societies after massive trauma. Fischer argues that new methodologies and conceptual tools are necessitated by the fact that cultures of every kind are becoming more complex and differentiated at the same time that globalization and modernization are bringing them into exponentially increased interaction. Anthropology, Fischer explains, now operates in a series of third spaces well beyond the nineteenth- and twentieth-century dualisms of us/them, primitive/civilized, East/West, or North/South. He contends that more useful paradigms—such as informatics, multidimensional scaling, autoimmunity, and visual literacy beyond the frame—derive from the contemporary sciences and media technologies.

A vigorous advocate of the anthropological voice and method, Fischer emphasizes the ethical dimension of cultural anthropology. Ethnography, he suggests, is uniquely situated to gather and convey observations fundamental to the creation of new social institutions for an evolving civil society. In Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice Fischer considers a dazzling array of subjects—among them Iranian and Polish cinema, cyberspace, autobiographical and fictional narrative, and genomic biotechnologies—and, in the process, demonstrates a cultural anthropology for a highly networked world. He lays the groundwork for a renewed and powerful twenty-first-century anthropology characterized by a continued insistence on empirical fieldwork, engagements with other disciplines, and dialogue with interlocutors around the globe.


Emergent Forms of Life is a sprawling, encyclopedic work that attests to Michael Fischer’s impressive erudition, his openness to new modes of thought, his enthusiastic commitment to a critical sociology….” — Vincent Crapanzo, Anthropos

“By positioning contemporary ethnographic work as being in dialogue with the people, politics, and knowledge formations anthropologists both study and live by, Emergent Forms shows how ethics forms a vital domain of anthropological inquiry today.” — Adriana Petryna, American Ethnologist

"[Michael M. J. Fischer] is one of America's most prominent anthropological theorists. . . . [T]his is an optimistic and hopeful book which I think does honor to the anthropological enterprise. . . ." — David Napier, Anthropological Quarterly

"Michael M. J. Fischer's collection of essays exuberantly cuts a wide swath through a vast and labyrinthine literature on cinema, pedagogy, autobiography, computers, molecular biology, museum studies, wood block prints, the AIDS epidemic, and much more. . . Fischer has been navigating adroitly with great force and urgency through a whole set of interlocking discourses and practices; the interest and passion that he brings to his very eclectic approach is tangible. . . The journey is an exhilarating one, and from the outside one must wonder how it worked out. Clearly not everything or everybody was aboard and, the connections made were undoubtedly often no more than partial. The nitty-gritty of the academic politics is glided over in the whirl of metaphoric tripping from topic to topic, field to field, genre to genre, science to science, text to text, image to image, and all the possible combinations one can imagine that hold between and amongst them. Whatever happened at MIT there is much to learn from, and to savor, in Fischer's contributions to that extended moment." — Paul Rabinow, American Anthropologist

“Michael M. J. Fischer’s ‘anthropology outside the frame’ takes on an astounding range of contemporary subjects: Austrian politics, Polish and Iranian films, cyberspace, virtual surgery, xenotransplantation, the autobiographical construction of memory, the technoscientific representation of the social world, and the ethical complexities of fieldwork among tribal peoples. His extension of ethnography beyond its traditional concerns to the investigation of the emerging forms of human consciousness usually vaguely grouped as ‘late-’ or ‘postmodern’ sets out a broad new agenda for cultural description and political critique. An unstandard, adventurous, eye-opening work.” — Clifford Geertz

“True to its title, Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice is about worlds coming into being in technoculture. Attentive especially to the new biologies and biotechnologies, information technologies, and ecological and environmental matters, Michael M. J. Fischer explores what he calls ‘ethical plateaus’ or domains of ethical challenge. This wonderful book neither condemns nor glorifies emergent worlds; instead it gives us deep and intelligent analysis and reflection from a distinctive ethnographic point of view. ‘Culture’ comes alive here. As Fischer reminds us vividly, culture is not a variable. Culture is about relationships, about relating as a verb. Culture is a passage and a topos, and Fischer is a masterful guide.” — Donna Haraway


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael M. J. Fischer is Professor of Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lecturer in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution and coauthor of Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition and Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Prologue: The Third Spaces of Anthropology 1

Emergent Forms of Life

1 Deep Play and Social Responsibility in Vienna 29

2 Emergent Forms of Life: Anthropologies of Late or Post Modernities 37

Critique within Technoscientific Worlds

3 Filmic Judgment and Cultural Critique: Iranian Cinema in a Teletechnological World 61

4 Cultural Critique with a Hammer, Gouge, and Woodblock: Art and Medicine in the Age of Social Retraumatization 90

5 Ethnographic Critique and Technoscientific Narratives: The Old Mole, Ethical Plateaus, and the Governance of Emergent Biosocial Polities 145

Subjectivities in an Age of Global Connectivity

6 Autobiograhpical Voices (1,2,3) and Mosaic Memory: Ethnicity, Religion, Science (An Inquiry into the Nature of Autobiographical Genres and Their Uses in Extending Social Theory) 179

7 Post-Avant-Garde Tasks of Polish Film: Ethnographic Odklamane 225

New Pedagogies and Ethics

8 Worlding Cyperspace: Toward a Critical Ethnography in Space, Time, and Theory 261

9 Calling the Future(s): Delay Call Forwarding 305

I. Las Meninas and Robotic-Virtual Surgical systems: the Visual Thread/Fiber-Optic Carrier 309

II. Modules for a Science, Technology, and Society Curriculum: STS@theTurn_[ ]ooo.mit.edu 333

10 In the Science Zone: The Yanomami and the Fight for Representation 370

Epilogue: On Distinguishing Good and Evil in Emergent Forms of Life (Woodblock Print to Newspaper Illustration) 393

Notes 397

Bibliography 427

Index 463
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Winner, 2005 American Ethnological Society’s Senior Scholar Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3238-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3225-1
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