ب. Present, Actual, Contemporary
Anthony Stavrianakis
Paul Rabinow
Present, Actual, Contemporary: A modal ontological series
In order to be capable of practicing an anthropology of the contemporary one has to move through a series of curated states each of which has its own form of objectivity. We have identified this  series as one of modal states; present, actual and contemporary.
The first curation consists in initiating a process of  remediation. The fieldwork form of participant-observation initiates the process of inquiry, but is itself not naive (in the Hegelian sense) as the observer enters into situations of the present already formed by experiences, knowledge etc. The first step in remediation toward curation is to  identify discordancies in the present into which one wishes to inquire.  

This first curation of a situation involves a change of  medium. It is first a move from immediate experience in the present to a conceptualization of discordancies and or determinations. This step of remediation is designed to enable a series of objects of knowledge about the present to be rendered as  actual configurations of discordancy. Given that the determinations, objects and configurations are the product of inquiry, it is appropriate to claim that they are warrantably assertable (to use Dewey's phrase). 

Problematizing modernity's theorists' assumptions

Given the conditions of existence for a scientific object and its assertability, these objects are neither Hegelian objects waiting to unfold, nor modernist constructs stemming from the subject. Rather, Deweyan inquiry is a middle ground to which we have added a modal series of ontological states arising out of a series of inquiries.

This logic of inquiry is not Hegelian since the actual is not already present in and unfolding from that which is potential in the present. Rather, we start with the Weberian diagnosis of the problem of the separation of truth and meaning. From this starting point, the ontological work is to construct domains of knowledge in which the ontological status of the objects of knowledge is inseparable from the inquiry into them. This is not constructivsm since it takes inquiry and warranted assertability seriously as mediating steps but not ultimate determinations.

We accept the Weberian imperative to move from things to concepts and problems, but not his claim of the irrevocable separation of the production of knowledge about things and the connection of problems from the anthropological significance of the interconnection of these problems.

What are we attempting to move beyond? We are attempting to move beyond the following paradox: (a) The Weberian idea that truth and significance cannot be reconciled in modernity; (b) Dewey's claim that they can be reconciled through inquiry and reconstruction is itself problematic.

Distinguish the actual as a step toward the contemporary

If one does not make a distinction between actual configurations of discordancy produced through fieldwork and conceptual curation, then one might think that the anthropologist's work is finished with the identification of such actual configurations. In fact, in order to get toward the anthropological and contemporary significance of those actual configurations of discordance, a  second remediation and curation is necessary.

How to make configurations contemporary?

The next step is to ask what work needs to be done to these curated configurations to make them contemporary. This work is the stylization of these curated configurations relative to a recent past and a near future. This is an enlargement of the actual and its determinations. A second remediation consists in the work of the anthropologist to identify and  introduce those appropriate ethoi and logoi which have been excluded from the actual for whatever reasons. Once they have been identified and curated then the challenge,  for the anthropologist,  is stylization.

Future Horizons

We have presented the actual interconnection of things as products of fieldwork inquiry, that is to say, with specific warrantable determinations. Each of the actual configurations contains a determined and curated discordancy. The challenge, we agree with Weber, is to conceptually interconnect these configurations.

We think there are two further steps: first, following Michel Foucault, one needs to place these configurations into a frame of problematization; the second step is the work of making aspects of this problematization contemporary.  This modal change involves  situating each configuration in a longer durational frame and then showing how their  interconnections are being re-problematized today.

There have been previous historical problematizations similar to but not identical with the configurations we have curated. Raised to a level of generality these have involved the interconnections of truth, ethics and governance. The interconnection of the actual configurations is re-problematizating one of the older forms. Said another way, the interconnections between modes of intervention, metrics and figures are today being re-problematized once again. This process has taken place in the past, for example during the time of Max Weber, and will, we are sure, take place again in the future.

Our metaleptic challenge is to perform yet another round of remediation that would consist in a stylization that might inflect the form of their future interconnections. By so doing, we are on the threshold of the anthropology of the contemporary. 

Problem, Problem-Space, Problematization

In the present, breakdown and trouble signal that a problem exists which requires inquiry or thought.  Identifying the interconnection of things is a diagnostic step toward identifying such problems.

The conceptualization of the things, as elements for inquiry and objects of knowledge makes them actual. The conceptual interconnection of these things is the problem space.

The mode of articulation of the conceptual interconnections in a problem space is ‘contemporary’ when it attends to the history of that problem space as part of a problematization. Although this problematization does exist prior to inquiry in the present, however it is this inquiry which connects  actual objects of knowledge to this problematization.

Toward Problematization

Problematization “does not mean the representation of a pre-existent object nor the creation through discourse of an object that did not exist. It is the ensemble of discursive and non-discursive practices that make something enter into the play of true and false and constitute it as an object of thought (whether in the form of moral reflection, scientific knowledge, political analysis, etc).”

Foucault's quotation contains an ambiguity and a tension in that he seems to be making "discursive and non-discursive practices" into an active subject that makes something enter into the play of true and false etc. This seems to equate the present as fully formed and active.

We are adopting a more Deweyan approach in which the present may well be the topological site of problematization but the active site in which form giving takes place. We argue, again with Weber, that the things themselves in the present is not the proper locus of inquiry. Rather, as we have said, a double remediation (with the appropriare series of curations) is required from the present to the actual and the actual to the contemporary.

The reason for pairing problematization with the work of the anthropology of the contemporary is that it is the anthropological work after the curation of actual objects of knowledge, ethical reflection etc.  which takes up the challenge of articulating figuration, form giving, metaleptic narration and assemblage production where appropriate.

Toward the Contemporary: a distinct mode of participation and observation

The contemporary is the challenge and practice of a further stage of remediation. This remediation, taken up in a distinct mode of participant-observation, has as its task bringing  the artifacts of  the actual and a more amorphous topological problematization into a more determinate relationship.

The further challenge is giving form to a practice of participation-observation that contributes to the articulation of the sought after more determinate relationship.

It is at this point that the "why?" question re-enters in a determinate manner. That is to say, it is the first time that this question can be taken up as a legitimate objective of inquiry. Further, such work entails the invention and conceptualization of distinct form of participant-observation.