UC Berkeley professor emeritus Paul Rabinow dies at age 76

Photo of Paul Rabinow

Paul Rabinow, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of anthropology and world-renowned anthropologist, died April 6 at the age of 76 in his Berkeley home.

Rabinow spent about 41 years at UC Berkeley between 1978 to 2019, serving as the director of anthropology for the Contemporary Research Collaboratory and as the former director of human practices for the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center.

Despite retiring from the department of anthropology in 2019, Rabinow continued to support and advise students while also conducting research, according to Roy Fisher, a former student of Rabinow.

“Prof. Rabinow opened new paths for anthropological inquiry throughout his life,” Fisher said in an email. “His work consistently confronted the challenge of inventing and practicing new forms of inquiry, writing, and reflection on the stakes, conjunctions and disjunctions of ethics with respect to the human sciences.”

Additionally, Fisher noted that Rabinow is most well-known for his commentary on the works of French philosopher Michel Foucault, with whom he worked while Foucault was in Berkeley in the early 1980s.

Rabinow received many academic achievements, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980, a University of Chicago Alumni Association Professional Achievement Award in 2000 and was named a chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1998, according to Fisher.

Charles Hirschkind, campus professor of anthropology, said Rabinow’s inquiries stretched across multiple disciplines including French studies, philosophy, English, urban studies, history and the biological sciences.

“To anthropologists the world over, his name was synonymous with Berkeley Anthropology,” Hirschkind said in an email. “His remains a vital voice calling on us all to meet the demands of the day.”

Rabinow also received honors at many universities outside the United States. He was recognized as a STICERD distinguished visiting professor at the BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society at the London School of Economics. He also gave lectures at a Sir James Frazer Lecture in Cambridge and a Mosse Lecture in Berlin, according to Fisher.

Rabinow’s influence will continue through the lives and work of generations of students mentored by him, Fisher said. Fisher added that Rabinow will always be remembered for his “deep care and advocacy” on behalf of his students.

“Paul’s longtime colleague at Berkeley, Dr. Aihwa Ong, recently recalled a rare throwaway remark he had made many years ago,” Hirschkind said in an email. “He said that though he loved going to Paris, whenever he was there he would find himself missing the fragrant jasmine in his Berkeley backyard. The university was the center of his work and his life.”

Contact Christopher Ying at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ChrisYingg.