Prior to fieldwork, Rabinow and Bennett had identified two figures of anthropos. This identification demonstrated that in any present multiple figures of anthropos could co-exist. The question therefore was not what was the figure of anthropos at a particular historical moment but rather what were the figures of anthropos in the present and what were the relations among and between them.
The existing figures in the present function to make possible specified interventions. The original intention of participation in SynBERC was to make a different intervention possible. The goal of the synthetic biologists was to invent a new practice that would enable timely, regulated and efficient interventions into living beings at the level of their biology. Their claim was that they were bringing a new figure of living beings, including anthropos, into existence. It seemed to that claimed was worth monitoring as it turned into a practice.
Had such a figure been brought into existence, our challenge would have been to observe the resultant reconfigurations as well as forming judgments on their ramifications. Over the course of five years of fieldwork, such a figure was not made actual but retained a virtual place in the present. Consequently, the question of figuration is retained as well as its possible ramifications. The problem of figuration is actual to the re-problematization of anthropos.
Our fieldwork focused with a certain regularity on the question of science as a vocation in the present. The bioscientists with whom we were attempting to collaborate gave a range of responses to the worth and justification for synthetic biology and their participation in it. These converged either in justifications by pointing to projects purportedly designed to ameliorate the health of people and their environments. During the fieldwork such a justification was frequently invoked although few such projects were brought to completion.
We name a second justificatory metric, prosperity. This metric, we observed, operates both tacitly and explicitly. Explicitly, the organizational obligations of SynBERC from the NSF were to commercialize their research and to become entirely supported by industry within ten years. There was little if any controversy as to the worth of this mandate or the compromises in scientific integrity it might entail. Quite the opposite, we observed general enthusiasm about start-ups and venture capitalist funding with its strictures.
When we raised the question of whether prosperity and amelioration were sufficient in and of themselves for science as a vocation understood as an ethical practice, we received responses ranging from indifference to hostility. These responses contributed to a discordant situation.
Our fieldwork was designed explicitly as an experiment in collaboration. We distinguish collaboration from cooperation: the later consists in bringing interdisciplinary experts together to contribute their expertise in the hope that more experts will produce richer solutions. In cooperation the problem is pre-established and divided into specialty areas. In collaboration, a central premise of the need for such a mode of participation is that no existing specializations in their current configuration are adequate to a domain of practice and its emerging problems. Such problems need to be formulated and worked over through a division of labor, but this division of labor is not pre-existing. Consequently self-transformation of the experts and their knowledge is an essential focus of collaboration.
We name such self-transformation Bildung recognizing that its older meanings and the problem spaces from which they emerged are not the same as those present today. Given the close links of Bildung to collaboration in this situation and given that our attempts to introduce collaboration were ignored or blocked, the only domain n which we were capable of experimenting with practices of Bildung was within our group. These partial experiments affirmed to us the worth of this challenge as well as the need for further experimentation under different conditions.
Given the initial goal of reconstruction and given that reconstruction requires the invention of and experimentation with what John Dewey calls intellectual instrumentalities and given that such experimentation was unsuccessful to the degree it was allowed to be attempted at all -- we had to conclude that reconstruction at this stage and under these conditions only contributed to further discordancy.
The second curation of the artifacts produced configured discordancies (figures, metrics, modes of participant-observation). These re-curated discordancies specify domains in which the themes and artifacts are present, for further inquiry. This makes them actual. It also makes them appropriately transformed such that they can be taken up as objectives of inquiry.
The challenge is to identify the ergon appropriate to the configuration of discordancies. We need a practice to do this that can produce effects. We need a metaleptic practice towards the future which is capable of taking up the configuration of discordances understood as variants of the general themes of ethics, governance and the relation of truth and knowledge.