Stephen Hawking and the Anthropology of the Knowing Subject
University of Chicago Press 2012
“By error or by chance, I think I have discovered an angel.”
First things first: Hawking Incorporated: Stephen Hawking and the Anthropology of the Knowing Subject (University of Chicago Press, 2012) is a masterful, inspiring book. Rather than producing a biography of Hawking, which this is decidedly not, Helene Mialet‘s book encourages us to question the very possibility of knowing who Hawking is without taking away the agency of the man himself, ultimately helping readers reconsider how we think about individuality, embodiment, and personhood in extremely productive ways. Taking a beautifully cinematic approach, Mialet guides us through a series of chapters that help us understand different aspects of the production of Hawking and HAWKING (the distinction becoming clear in the course of the book and the interview) by looking at the machines, bodies, inscriptions, images, and movements that constitute Stephen Hawking. Together, the chapters explore the productive tensions and co-creations of the collective and the individual. Inspired by Actor-Network Theory but pushing it into new territory, Mialet’s study uses a thick description of Hawking’s “extended body” to allow us a glimpse into the formation, movement, and circulation of identity in general, in the sciences and potentially well beyond. What does it mean to say “he thinks”? What’s the difference between dealing with texts and people? How do we define what is “original” and how does that translate into the archive? Mialet’s work explores these and other questions in a series of ethnographic accounts and stories that are both fascinating to read and extremely helpful to think with. Enjoy!