If only there was a Department of Fieldwork in Philosophy

Nicolas Langlitz


Fieldwork in philosophy amounts to a second-order philosophical anthropology. It examines contemporary forms of the human by attending to lower-level concepts and practices. It departs from Michel Foucault’s gray and meticulous approach to the history of the present, which understands the transformation of high-level organizing concepts such as “Man” or “the subject” through an inquiry into scientific discourses, clinical practices, disciplinary institutions, etc. However, fieldwork in philosophy doesn’t approach the present by writing its history but by conducting anthropological fieldwork. This essay reconstructs Paul Rabinow’s conception of fieldwork in philosophy as it inspired the author’s work on the perennial philosophy of the psychedelic renaissance, a case study of neurophilosophers in a sleep laboratory, as well as research on cultural primatologists who took the Enlightenment question of human nature to the African rainforest. The essay ends with a plea for reimagining anthropology as fieldwork in philosophy.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/716845