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Life: A Critical User's Manual

Life: A Critical User's Manual

Didier Fassin

ISBN: 978-1-509-52668-0

May 2018

150 pages


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How can we think of life in its dual expression, matter and experience, the living and the lived? Philosophers and, more recently, social scientists have offered multiple answers to this question, often privileging one expression or the other – the biological or the biographical. But is it possible to conceive of them together and thus reconcile naturalist and humanist approaches? Using research conducted on three continents and drawing on the ideas of Wittgenstein, Benjamin and Foucault, Didier Fassin attempts to do so by developing three concepts: forms of life, ethics of life and politics of life.

In the conditions of refugees and asylum-seekers, through humanitarian gestures and sacrifices for a cause, in light of mortality statistics and death benefits, and via a genealogical and ethnographical inquiry, the moral economy of life reveals troubling tensions in the way contemporary societies treat human beings. Once the pieces of this anthropological composition are assembled, like in Georges Perec’s jigsaw puzzle, an image appears: that of unequal lives.

Emerging from the prestigious Adorno Lectures delivered by Fassin in 2016, this profound investigation of life in contemporary societies, enriched by ethnographic fieldwork and written by one of the most distinguished anthropologists today, will be of great interest to readers across the humanities and social sciences.

  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preamble: Minima Theoria
  • Chapter I. Forms of Life
  • Chapter II. Ethics of Life
  • Chapter III. Politics of Life
  • Conclusion: Unequal Lives
  • Notes
  • References