Paul Rabinow

French DNA: Trouble in Purgatory Translated from the English (United States) by Frédéric Keck. Publication date : November 1, 2000

This book offers some surprising viewpoints: an anthropologist tells the story of the human genome sequencing project; a scholar of the humanities follows the crisis between a French laboratory, the Centre d’Étude du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH), and a U.S. rival; an American intellectual describes the politics within the French scientific community. Paul Rabinow believes that the contemporary world is characterised by the rise of various forms of “biopower”, a term coined by Michel Foucault. Biotechnology, as it is practised today, offers the best illustration of “biopower” and of what it will mean in the future. Rabinow believes that anthropologists should set aside the study of so-called “primitive societies” and examine the new fields of activity, the systems of social organisation and the power games that are in the process of transforming our lives. He traces the early background of research into the human genome in France: the creation of the CEPH, Jean Dausset’s discovery of the HLA system, Daniel Cohen’s efforts to create an industrial centre for gene sequencing , and the financing of genetic research through the Telethon. Rabinow reviews the various research projects that have been undertaken and the scientific methods used. He also describes the conflicts within the scientific community. This exceptional survey of the most recent research trends and of the state of international competition in the field of genetic research gives us a notion of how our future health care is being prepared.

Paul Rabinow teaches anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the co-author, with Hubert Dreyfus, of Michel Foucault: Un Parcours Philosophique, which was published by Gallimard in 1979 and contributed to an important reinterpretation of Foucault’s works. Rabinow is currently editing the complete U.S. edition of the works of Michel Foucault. He is a former student of Clifford Geertz and is regarded as one of the leading contemporary anthropologists. In 2001, he will be a visiting lecturer at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.