We began this work intending to produce a diagnosis of a new "problematization" or "rationality" taking shape in the world. Although the contours of what seemed to be emerging were vague, we had a strong sense arising from a great deal of discussion, analysis, seminar work, and reading, that whatever was taking shape could not be sufficiently characterized by reigning analytic doxa.
The term Synthetic Anthropos is a placeholder. It draws attention to the ways in which real-world problems are being taken up through the redesign and reconfiguration of pathways so as to produce significant new forms. Examples of this work include synthetic biology, bio-complexity, and bio-security, to name three sites where re-assemblage of elements is underway.
Whatever the terms "biopower" and "biopolitics" might mean - and they are being used in a growing number of ways, most of which seemed to us misleading and misguided - they are clearly not sufficient for understanding contemporary reality. Furthermore, we knew that Michel Foucault never had intended them to serve the undisciplined and heterogeneous uses to which they are currently being put. Foucault's focus had been historical and conceptual.
We oriented our efforts toward diagnosing what we took to be an emergent assemblage, approached from the vantage point of two stable apparatuses. The two apparatuses we designated "biopower" and "human dignity." Our aim was to characterize zones, such as bio-security and bio-ethics, in which elements of the two apparatuses were being destabilized and recombined. We resisted the familiar proposals that these apparatuses were either epochs, or reducible to one another. Rather, we understood "biopower" and "human dignity" as consisting of quite specific, if heterogeneous elements, such as objects and practices, elements in flux and in the course of re-assemblage.
After sustained work we concluded that it is currently premature to diagnose a new "problematization" or "rationality." We decided to move from characterizing a rationality to attempting to distinguish the contours of the problematization to which it was presumably a response. Even there, however, after two semesters' travail with multiple empirical projects laid out and discussed, it gradually began to seem likely that even the task of attempting to distinguish and characterize the parameters of an emergent problematization in anything like a comprehensive manner was premature. Unlike the question of what problematization comes "after" biopower, however, the challenge of specifying the vectors and contours of an emergent problem-space remains, in our view, a valid one. Consequently, we decided to return to the concrete: our site of inquiry and the actual practices being elaborated.
Our correction of course proved to be serendipitous, providing the means of rectification that we lacked. It led us to conclude that what we needed currently was a diagnostic of equipment. Said another way, following Max Weber, we shifted our attention from the attempt to characterize the "actual interconnections of things," to an attempt to distinguish "the conceptual interconnections of problems" with the hope that we would be "opening up significant new points of view." Such points of view, we came to think, would be significant to the degree that we could transform these perspectives into actual practices. The production of actual practices, after all, is what equipment, as we understand it, is all about.
We decided that the next critical step was to construct a diagnostic. This diagnostic work should assist us in experimenting with and adjusting practices in our particular project, but should leave open the broader issue of whether or not a distinctive figure is emerging within and along side of existing figures, as responses to and factors in shifts in a larger problematization.
The diagnostic that we have developed is composed of three figures and their equipmental correlates. The purpose of the diagnostic is to distinguish, designate, characterize, and fashion the third figure and its equipmental correlates. The three figures in our diagnostic include two well recognized if often misinterpreted figures, Biopower and Human Dignity, and an emerging constellation of elements that are being brought into relation to one another and may well be coalescing into a third figure. Provisionally, we name this emergent configuration Synthetic Anthropos.