Nicolas Langlitz

I'm an anthropologist and historian of science who takes philosophical questions out of the armchair to the field. My field are the behavioral sciences where I look for interlocutors who share my curiosity about Homo sapiens as an animal that has changed beyond recognition and, for better and worse, shows no signs of settling down. At present, I’m especially interested in our predicament as a species of moralistic apes and in research approaches that cut across the disciplinary divide between social research, humanities scholarship, and the natural sciences.

It is in this borderland between very different knowledge cultures where I have been socialized. During my training as a physician at Freie Universität Berlin, I contributed to research in biological psychiatry, followed the local anti-psychiatric movement, and wrote a book about an obscure practice in French psychoanalysis (Die Zeit der Psychoanalyse: Lacan und das Problem der Sitzungsdauer, Suhrkamp, 2005). By the time, I graduated from medical school, I was sufficiently alienated from Lacanian analysts, anti-psychiatric activists, and biological psychiatrists alike to continue pursuing such endeavors from a scholarly distance. Lacking the patience necessary for archival research, I became an anthropologist.  

From cultural anthropology and the history of science and medicine, I learned to attend to competing and changing conceptual schemes, knowledge practices, material cultures, and institutional organizations that inform diverse and often incongruent conceptions of who we are. I work from the assumption that the possibility of multiple perspectives on human life does not just reflect back on the people who study it but often tells us something important about human life itself. As my focus shifted from psychoanalytic to neuroscientific and evolutionary frameworks, my research followed the historical transition from understanding and acting upon the mind in psychological terms to the current predominance of biological approaches. As anthropologist of science, I have written two more books, Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain (University of California Press, 2012) and Chimpanzee Culture Wars: Rethinking Human Nature alongside Japanese, European, and American Cultural Primatologists (Princeton University Press, 2020). Regionally, my inquiries trail the cosmopolitan geographies of the scientific fields I study and have taken me from Germany to Switzerland, the United States, Japan, Guinea, and Ivory Coast.

I also conduct participant observation of Homo academicus as Associate Professor at the Department of      Anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York.

What’s new?

I'm currently setting up a Psychedelic Humanities Lab.

My new book Chimpanzee Culture Wars came out in 2020.

Here are some articles and essays I have recently published:

A book review of Chris Letheby's Philosophy of Psychedelics titled "What is Philosophical about the Philosophy of Psychedelics?"

We Need a Less Moralistic Humanities.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 January 2022.

“If Only There Was a Department of Fieldwork in Philosophy.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 11:2 (2021), 748-753. [Full text]

"Natural relativism in lieu of moral absolutism: On the making of a philosophical anthropologist.” Review of Lorraine Daston's Against Nature. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 11:2 (2021), 833-837. [Full text]

Nicolas Langlitz,  Erika Dyck, Milan Scheidegger,  Dimitris Repantis, "Moral Psychopharmacology Needs Moral Inquiry: The Case of Psychedelics." Frontiers in Psychiatry 12 (2021), pp. 1-6. [Full text]

"Devil’s advocate: Sketch of an amoral anthropology" and "Warning against and experimenting with morality". Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 10(3), 2020, pp. 989-1004 and 1030-1035.

For further updates, follow me on Twitter @NicolasLanglitz.