Talia Dan-Cohen

Talia Dan-Cohen

​Assistant Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology
research interests:
  • Sociocultural Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Knowledge
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Social Theory
  • Economic Anthropology

contact info:

office hours:

  • ​Friday 1:00 - 3:00 pm
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mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1114
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

Talia Dan-Cohen's research interests center around the anthropology of knowledge, science and technology studies, social theory and epistemology. Her work has tracked institutional and epistemological aspects of the biosciences and biotech industry.

Her current book project follows two labs that conduct research in synthetic biology, and looks at how research in these labs articulates with entrenched institutional forms. Responding to the tendency of anthropology of emergent stuff to replicate the breathy futurism of purportedly revolutionary domains, the book highlights some of the difficulties involved in making technoscience produce results in registers legible to the more plodding institutional contexts in which such efforts are undertaken. 

Her work on synthetic biology has spawned a new project on the notion of "complexity." The premise of the project is that "complexity" is a strange analytic that plays a role in both positivist and poststructural/postmodern discourses. She explores complexity from a number of vantage points, including synthetic biology, feminist science studies, and anthropology. The next phase of this project will involve fieldwork among cancer geneticists. She hopes to grasp something of the way complexity gets caught between ontological and epistemological concerns.

recent courses

Economies as Cultural System (L48 3391)

Many contemporary approaches to economics downplay or bracket the importance of culture in the workings of economic systems. In this class we will focus on approaches to distribution and exchange in which culture and social institutions figure prominently, if not pre-eminently. We will sample a diverse array of economies, from gift exchange to the ceremonial destruction of wealth, from Melanesia to Wall Street, in order to evaluate some of the assumptions that undergird market capitalism. These assumptions include the perception of market actors exclusively as calculative, maximizing individuals. Topics to be covered include the Industrial Revolution; utilitarianism; economic anthropology; the formal vs. substantivist debates; ethnography of finance, and Marxist sociology.

    Culture, Power, Knowledge (L48 4367)

    We often think of knowledge as universal and objective. But anthropologists have long studied ways in which knowledge varies in different cultural settings. In this course, we will ask: What is knowledge, how does it arise, and what does it do? Is there such a thing as universal validity or is knowledge always tied to specific cultural practices? What happens when knowledge travels and how does knowledge figure in relations of power? We will approach these questions through works in anthropology, philosophy, and science studies.

      Selected Publications

      In press “Epistemic Artifacts: On the Uses of Complexity in Anthropology.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

      2016 “Ignoring Complexity: Epistemic Wagers and Knowledge Practices Among Synthetic Biologists.” Science, Technology and Human Values 41(5): 899-921

      2005 A Machine to Make A Future: Biotech Chronicles, with Paul Rabinow. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press