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Hélène Mialet

Hélène Mialet is a philosopher and an anthropologist of science and technology. 

She is currently a faculty member in the Department of  Science and Technology Studies at York University (Toronto).  She has held positions at Cornell University, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Harvard University and Oxford University (where she ran the program in Science Studies at the Maison Française of Oxford University); she has also held post-doctoral fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University (under the auspices of the Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, sponsored by the European Union for extremely promising young scholars).  She has published widely on subjectivity, agency, innovation and cognition. She is presently concerned with issues having to do with lay and expert knowledge in the management of chronic disease, the use of prosthetics, computer driven monitoring devices, algorithms and extended medical networks involving assemblages of caregivers, patients, and machines, and on questions of management and control and their relationship to experience, sensation, and expertise.  



 See also: helenemialet.weebly.com


Contact:  h[email protected]

Hawking Incorporated: Stephen Hawking and the Anthropology of the Knowing Subject 

(University of Chicago Press, 2012)

These days, the idea of the cyborg is less the stuff of science fiction and more a reality, as we are all, in one way or another, constantly connected, extended, wired, and dispersed in and through technology. One wonders where the individual, the person, the human, and the body are—or, alternatively, where they stop. These are the kinds of questions Hélène Mialet explores in this fascinating volume, as she focuses on a man who is permanently attached to assemblages of machines, devices, and collectivities of people: Stephen Hawking. 

Drawing on an extensive and in-depth series of interviews with Hawking, his assistants and colleagues, physicists, engineers, writers, journalists, archivists, and artists, Mialet reconstructs the human, material, and machine-based networks that enable Hawking to live and work. She reveals how Hawking—who is often portrayed as the most singular, individual, rational, and bodiless of all—is in fact not only incorporated, materialized, and distributed in a complex nexus of machines and human beings  like everyone else, but even more so. Each chapter focuses on a description of the functioning and coordination of different elements or media that create his presence, agency, identity, and competencies. Attentive to Hawking’s daily activities, including his lecturing and scientific writing, Mialet’s ethnographic analysis powerfully reassesses the notion of scientific genius and its associations with human singularity. This book will fascinate anyone interested in Stephen Hawking or an extraordinary life in science.

—Bruno Latour, Sciences Po Paris

“On a terribly risky topic, Hélène Mialet manages with a delicate and caring touch to approach one of the most vexing questions of science studies: how to give a concrete description of the material network able to generate abstraction? By connecting disability studies, distributed cognition, and the ethnography of formalism, she also manages to write a moving portrait of an embodied mind at work.”

—Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley

“Hélène Mialet has offered a brilliant and provocative book, taking the example of Stephen Hawking to probe the contemporary articulation of ‘man.’ What we discover is the anthropos radically rethought as an assemblage of body, machine, media event and image, object, and industrial effect. Indeed, the human body turns out to be a series of interrelated connections, and this book persuades us to rethink our most basic ideas of human form and the tasks of science itself.”

—Stefan Helmreich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hawking Incorporated provides a social anatomy of how Stephen Hawking—as a physicist, person, and cyborgian collective—lives and breathes in human space-time, even as his theories reach toward a cosmic elsewhere. Hélène Mialet takes the reader on an anthropological odyssey through the worlds of those assistants, machines, students, and TV documentary teams that have helped to conjure Hawking as the singular figure he has become. When Mialet finally meets Hawking in person, the results are riveting and revelatory.”

—Simon Schaffer, University of Cambridge

Hawking Incorporated offers a new analysis of the ways in which the scientist Stephen Hawking’s persona is produced and used in an astonishingly wide range of spheres. Using materials from interviews, film and audio records, correspondence and informal documents, Hélène Mialet offers nothing less than a new anthropology of the contemporary scientist. This is a story with a fascinating cast: assistants, students, secretaries, archivists, physicians, engineers, journalists, and filmmakers all figure as key participants in the enormous work of sustaining and distributing Hawking’s projects. Mialet’s tactful and astute inquiry addresses the intimate details of the modern scientific world: its artful use of ingenious software, computational diagrams, and calculating aids; its ceremonial system of lectures and conferences; its career structure of disciplinary training and public mastery. The book will be of inestimable value both as a highly original biography of a fascinating intellectual presence and a broad study of one of the most important themes in the culture of modern sciences.”

L'entreprise créatrice: 
le rôle des récits, des objets et de l'acteur dans l'invention (Hermes, 2008)

A finalist for the Prix ADVANCIA for the best book published in French on Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2008

In L’Entreprise Créatrice Hélène Mialet uses the tools of the sociologist, the ethnographer, and the ethnomethodologist to study innovation in an applied research laboratory of a major international corporation. Though there have been a number of prominent ethnographic studies of scientific laboratories in recent years, the world of industrial research is still not very well documented. L’Entreprise Créatrice offers a detailed description of the collective practices constitutive of invention. At the same time, it also presents a picture of how a single research scientist (considered by both his peers, and the institution for which he works, as the pre-eminent expert behind the discovery of ground breaking new techniques) emerges within these collective operations and distinguishes himself through the creative skills he applies in formulating working instruments, organizational structures and human relations. More specifically, through the emergence of an object considered as new (in this case, a new way of computer modeling oil fluids), Mialet was able to chart the processes by which an innovation came into being. She described how this object modified practices, how it changed the modes of research, how it altered the behavior of actors, and ultimately how it came to redistribute competencies between machines, tools, techniques, colleagues, organizational hierarchies, and the environment. Moreover, as she followed the object as it was used, Mialet could see how the particular competencies associated with its inventor came to be articulated with increasing precision.  This enabled her to show how the mechanisms of acknowledgement, linked partially to the company's criteria of novelty assessment, came to qualify the inventor and his inventions. In this sense, in trying to define the practice of invention, she sought to put into relief the kinds of competencies the individual inventor deploys to invent.  At the same time, she also explained how this individual inventor was able to transfer his know-how to his colleagues, and the strategies he used to convince these colleagues, as well as his external partners (universities, industrial companies, research laboratories), that his invention was important. Mialet thus showed both that the invention is distributed throughout this collective process while, at the same time, that it is through this collective process, (this addition of mediations) that the creative individual actually comes into being.  


“Stephen Hawking, Hawking Incorporated, And The Myth Of The Lone Genius,” Guest Blog:  Scientific American

"The Pugilist and the Cosmologist: A Response to Homines in Extremis: What Fighting Scholars Teach Us about Habitus by Loic Wacquant,” Body and Society, 20/2 (2014): 91-99.

“On Stephen Hawking, Vader and Being More Machine than Human,” Wired (January, 2013).

“The Extended Body of Hawking” in a special issue of the Interdisciplinary Science Review 37/4 (2012): 354-371.

“Where STS Would Be Without Latour? What Would Be Missing?” Social Studies of Science 42/3 (2012): 456-461. 


“Stephen Hawking: L’étude ethnographique d’une statue,” in Olivier Thiery (eds.), Penser la société et faire des sciences sociales au risque des non-humains (Paris: La Découverte, 2011), 244-254.

“Réflexion sur une pensée diagrammatique,” in Christian Jacob (ed.), Les lieux de savoir, volume 2 (Paris: Albin Michel, 2011), 922-944.

“Making a Difference by Becoming the Same,” The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 10/4 (2009): 257–265.

“Reincarnating the Knowing Subject: Scientific Rationality and The Situated Body” Qui Parle? 18/1 (2009):  53-73.

“William X & Mr. H: Repenser l’Acteur de l’Invention,” Documents pour l’histoire des techniques, 17 (2009): 134-148.

“Stephen Hawking,” Encyclopedia of American Disability History (New York: Facts On File, 2009).

“Do Angels Have Bodies: Two Stories About Subjectivity in Science, The Cases of William X and Mr. H,” in E. Selinger and R. P. Crease (eds.), The Philosophy of Expertise (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 246-279.

“Reading Hawking’s Presence: An Interview with a Self-Effacing Man,” Critical Inquiry 29 (2003): 571-598.

“The ‘Righteous Wrath’ of Pierre Bourdieu,” Essay Review of Pierre Bourdieu’s Science de la science et réflexivité, Social Studies of Science 33/4 (2003): 613-621.

“Is the End in Sight for the Lucasian Chair?Stephen Hawking as Millenium Professor,” in K. Knox and R. Noakes (eds), From Newton to Hawking: A History of Cambridge University's Lucasian Professorships of Mathematics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 425-459.

“A Propos d'Invention: Reconfiguration d'un Sujet Philosophique Saisi dans ses Pratiques?” Rue Descartes, Official Journal of The Collège International de Philosophie, Special Issue: “Rationalités de la Science” 31 (Paris: PUF, Mars 2001): 87-103.

“We Have Always Been Mixed Up: Aristotle at the Heart of the Composite Age,” Essay Review of Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent’s Eloge du mixte: Matériaux nouveaux et philosophie ancienne, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 32/1 (2001): 193-202.

“Do Angels Have Bodies: Two Stories About Subjectivity in Science, The Cases of William X and Mr. H,” Social Studies of Science 29/4 (1999): 551-582.

“The Brain of Hawking,” Actes de colloques, La Lettre de la Maison Française 9 (1998): 5-8.

“William X & Mr. H: Deux Sujets Re-matérialisés,” La Lettre de la Maison Française 9 (1998): 140-170.

“Le Phénomène Hawking,” Numéro Spécial: “Mythes et Légendes de la Science,” Science et Avenir (Juillet-Août 1997): 80-83.

“Les Pratiques de l'Invention,” in Robert Prost (ed), Concevoir, Créer, Inventer (Paris, 1995), 283-300.

“Etude de la Culture Pastorienne,” European Commission Report (1995) .