Didier Fassin

Life - A Critical User’s Manual

Frankfurt Adorno Lectures 2016
(German title: Das Leben)
ca. 191 pages
Didier Fassin
Foto: Didier Fassin
© Jürgen Bauer

Didier Fassin, born in 1955, is James D. Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He was previously vice president of Doctors Without Borders and is presently president of Comité Médical pour les Exilés (COMEDE). He has received numerous prizes and awards for his work, and in 2016 the gold medal of the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography.


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English world rights (Polity), Chinese simplex rights (East China Normal UP), Italy (Feltrinelli), Turkey (Everest)

A philosophical ethnography of life


Since antiquity, life, in Adorno’s words, has been the true field of philosophy asking about what the right and good life was. For a little more than a century, however, life has also become a subject of the social sciences. The renowned French physician, anthropologist, and sociologist Didier Fassin proposes a critical dialogue between philosophy and social research.

The debate has to do with three concepts: in »Forms of Life« Fassin examines the contradictory interpretations of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s same phrase. In »Ethics of Life« he is concerned with Walter Benjamin’s idea of the sanctity of life as the highest good. And in »Politics of Life« Didier Fassin follows up on Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics. Based on numerous ethnographic case studies showing how life is viewed and experienced in various cultural and historical contexts, Fassin develops a critical ethnology of contemporary societies.