Emeritus Professor of Anthropology
Collège de France, Paris

Cosmopolities: before, behind and beyond the state

Lecture I
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
4:10 p.m. – 6:15 p.m., Toll Room, Alumni House

Lecture II
Thursday, April 20, 2023
4:10 p.m. – 6:15 p.m., Toll Room, Alumni House

Seminar and Discussion with the commentators
Friday, April 21, 2023
4:10 p.m. – 6:15 p.m., Toll Room, Alumni House
with commentary by Adom Getachew, Timothy LeCain, and David Wengrow

The lectures and the seminar are free and open to the public. No tickets are required

About Philippe Descola

Philippe Descola is emeritus professor of anthropology at the Collège de France and Director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He initially specialized in the ethnology of Amazonia, focussing on the relations of native societies with nonhumans. Besides his field research with the Achuar of Ecuador, he has published extensively on the comparative approach of the relations between humans and non-humans. He has written or edited over twenty books translated in a dozen languages and has been a visiting professor in
a number of prestigious institutions worldwide. Recipient of the CNRS Gold Medal in 2012, Philippe Descola is a foreign member of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

About the Lectures

The rooting of the descriptive tools of the social sciences in Enlightenment philosophy has blinded us to the fact that what are loosely called ‘societies’ are in fact, for non-moderns, assemblages that, unlike ours, contain and associate much more than just humans, either because their institutions are able to integrate non-humans into collectives, or because non-humans are seen as political subjects acting within their own collectives. In other words, the kinds of beings that result from these assemblages are not those to which philosophy or the social sciences usually pay attention: they are associations of humans and non-humans that take very diverse forms and, in this sense, can also offer food for thought about the transformation of the political and social institutions proper to the Moderns. We could call these assemblages cosmopolities in that they bring under the same regime of cosmic sociability a vast set of components that the ontology of the Moderns has tended to dissociate. By drawing extensively, and in a comparative manner, on ethnographic and historical materials, the lectures will seek to define certain characteristics of these assemblages. The main argument to be developed is that many of these cosmopolities have been misportrayed because they were described with the template of the Westphalian nation-state in mind: i.e. as deriving their specificity from being ‘against’ the state, or because they were seen as being organized according to institutions more clearly identifiable in state societies (behind), as nascent, proto- or would-be states (before); while, conversely, their intrinsic features – taken as they are, independently of any conceptual reference to the form of the state – may offer us a stimulation for thinking entirely different forms of collectives (beyond).

About the Commentators

Adom Getachew

Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Political Science and the College
University of Chicago


Timothy LeCain

Professor of History and Philosophy
Montana State University


David Wengrow

Professor of Comparative Archaeology
Institute of Archaeology, University College, London


Photocredit – Copyright Le Seuil – photographer B. Roscot-Pleutin