Giorgio Agamben, University of Paris VIII
The Archaeology of the Work of Art
Starting with the nineteenth century avant-garde, the work of art has undergone a process of crisis which has led to its disappearance from the sphere of art with the result that today the performance and the living praxis of the artist have tended to replace what we were accustomed to consider as a “work”. My lecture attempts to provide a genealogy for this phenomenon.
Pau Alsina, Open University of Catalonia
Tactical Biopolitics in Art Practices: Case Studies at the Crossroads between Activism and Technoscience
As if we were dealing with a new ecosystem to be produced through biotechnology chimeras, life now becomes reduced to geneticised information that can be manipulated, broken down, and wholly transformed. Some might look at it as the logical product of human evolution, others as the loss of the essence of human nature. But biotechnologies are less about denaturing nature than about producing a particular nature because, as Keller says, “what we see when we look at the secret of life is life already transformed by the technology of our gaze”. Every socio-historical context has its own way of conceiving and confronting life, because to talk about life today is to talk about the different narratives that are used to define life through its history. In this sense, the production of nature will continue to be political because it continuously weaves power relationships among the agents who are part of the network. Life sciences are political sciences and geneticized life is bio-power, the result of matter and semiosis that are interwoven within power relationships that try to confer a life that is presented to us as natural, although, in reality, it is just the result of a complex socio-historic process with a long history. In this presentation we will analyze the Tactical Biopolitics inserted in several Bioart practices confronting Technoscience not just as neutral knowledge of reality; but as a mechanism for producing social and natural reality.
Kathryn Bird, University of Leeds
Poor Things, Poor Creatures: Bare Life, Public Health and Autoimmunity in Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go
Frankenstein’s representation of artificial, technologically-created life is often viewed as one of the shaping myths for contemporary attitudes to biotechnologies. I want to suggest that Frankenstein’s legacy in such debates is due to the novel’s implicit reflections on the relation between sovereign power and bare life. Victor Frankenstein’s decision to create life (a life which would ‘owe its being’ to him) and then to abandon this life resonates with Giorgio Agamben’s formulation of the sovereign ban, which simultaneously excludes bare life from and yet forever ties it to the polis, where, as the monster learns, human beings occupy themselves with ‘governing or massacring their species’. This paper will examine the legacy of Mary Shelley’s text in two contemporary novels: Gray’s Poor Things and Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. These texts not only depict the abandonment of artificially-created lives, but connect these artificial bodies to discourses of public health, thereby emphasising the other role of Shelley’s artificial man: that of a Leviathan-like incarnation of the body politic, which Jacques Derrida refers to as a ‘prosthstatic body’. I want to explore Gray’s satire of the neo-conservative return to ‘Victorian values’ of social reform and Ishiguro’s depiction of the bare lives of ‘neomort’ clones grown as organ donors in relation to Roberto Esposito’s work on immunity and Derrida’s work on autoimmunity, in order to examine what might be killed off in the name of protecting and sustaining the body politic. I will also explore the representation of compassion for ‘poor things’ and ‘poor creatures’ in these novels and its ethical possibilities, particularly as regards the questions both novels raise about the role of the artist – not least that of the bio-artist, likewise engaged in the production of artificial life – in both establishing and challenging the standards by which a life is judged to have value.
Alan Boardman, NCAD and Graduate School of Creative Arts and Media, Dublin
Reformatting the Biopolitical through an Aesthetics of Emergence
This paper will attempt to reformat the biopolitical through a reading of Manuel DeLanda’s neo-materialism and Graham Harman’s claim of aesthetics as first philosophy. Situated within the ontological context of a flat ontology, I will claim ‘an aesthetics of emergence’ can retrieve the biopolitical from the discursive realm and integrate it with a dynamic material reality. In Harman’s ontology all entites are objects that withdraw from human perception as well as from one another, form relations via sensual qualities and metaphoric allure, from which a nonanthropomorphic aesthetics of relations emerges. Drawing from Manuel DeLanda’s reconstruction of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari, I argue that aesthetics as first philosophy can draw on the context of scientific discourse and can re-engage the biopolitical in neo-materialist terms. DeLanda’s ontology shows how non-linear dynamics is the force that drives the abstract machine that actualizes emergent assemblages in geological, biological and linguistic systems. Through employing key concepts such as intensivity, non-organic life and the metaphor of ‘flows’ within an aesthetic context, I will show how a dynamic material reality and a return to the mind independent objects and processes immanent to matter / energy can liberate the biopolitical from the discursive and re-insert it into a non-discursive, non-anthropocentric realm.
Rosi Braidotti, University of Utrecht
What Is ‘Human’ about the Humanities Today?
This lecture starts from the assumption that we need to sharpen the academic awareness of the public perception of the Humanities in society today. My aim is to compare notes on different and new concepts of ‘the Human’, developed both within disciplinary and interdisciplinary academic scientific research and in broader social practices. The main focus will be on the shifting relationship between the ‘two cultures’ of the Humanities and Science in the light of contemporary developments, such as the sophisticated forms of interdisciplinary research that have emerged in the fields of bio-technologies, neural sciences, environmental and climate change research and Information and Communication Technologies. These rapid changes affect the very definitions of the human and of human evolution. The question is how and to what an extent they have an impact on both the practice of the Humanities and on their self-representation. Is Humanism challenged or strengthened by these developments? To what an extent is anthropocentrism called to task by what is becoming known as post human theory?
Besides tracking these new developments in the relationship between the Humanities and the exact sciences in the twenty-first century, the lecture will also interrogate some of the ways in which ‘the human’ is being debated in society at large, in issues related to the construction of new, globalised notions of ‘humanity’, ‘human interest’ and ’human values’ in debates about humanitarianism and humanitarian intervention, including our technologically mediated wars.
Oron Catts, SymbioticA, University of Western Australia
Neolifism – Life Removed From Context
In 2010 Craig Venter announced that he created “the first self-replicating cell we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer” and recently the Frozen Ark Website suggests as a “Christmas Idea” to “Sponsor an endangered animal sample for the future and receive a PDF certificate detailing the animal you have saved.” These are two of many examples where the fetish of technological approaches to life seems to overshadow the context in which life operates; this is Neolifism! In the eyes of the Neolifists the biological milieu is transformed into an abstracted technological instrument of control, where life is just another raw material to be engineered. Decontextualised life have been reconfigured, mixed and remixed, reappropriated, and instrumentalised to such an extent that the technologically imagined potential of life stands for life itself. How, from within the technoscientific project, one can resist Neolifism? While risking the possibility of enhancing Neolifism, artists are now working with life in ways that might counter the engineering mind set. Two recent works by the Tissue Culture & Art Project (Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr) – Odd Neolifism (2010) and Crude Matter (2012- in progress), will be used to examine such strategies.
Matthew Causey, Trinity College Dublin
Bio-Politics, Digital Culture, Art Practice
How do we define bio-politics? According to Agamben working through Foucault, bio-politics is ‘situated at the point at which the species and the individual as a simple living body become what is at stake in a society’s political strategies’ (1998: 3). Quoting Foucault, Agamben suggests that the new bio-power exerts a ‘bestialisation of man achieved through the most sophisticated political techniques. For the first time in history, the possibilities of the social sciences are made known, and at once it becomes possible both to protect life and to authorize a holocaust […] In particular, the development and triumph of capitalism would not have been possible, from this perspective, without the disciplinary control achieved by the new bio-power, which, through a series of appropriate technologies, so to speak created the docile bodies that it needed’ (3). I draw on these arguments to analyze how personal sovereignty of the subject is tested within digital culture in which embedded technologies configure, duplicate and circulate the body within a circuit of dis-empowerment. The questions arise as to how can the theatre respond to the production of docile bodies whose naked life is the locus of political power and control? What performance might seem meaningful within a bio-politics in which the naked life of the individual is the currency and object of control. How can the theatre and performance articulate the situation of a culture in which the technologies of simulation and embeddedness hold sway. How can art engage in this struggle for control of the real?
Felicity Colman, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
The activation of technology is contingent upon the human body. But that contingency rests upon not just any body, but upon the specificities of participatory bodies. Connecting Bergson with Foucault we can articulate the matter of the bio-political body whose fate is inevitably linked to its contemporaneous technology. Situation provides the analytic data of this body’s historical issue and nature of participation (what, how, when), but does not answer the god-question of why? With Bergson, I call this body a technology-image among other images. As Foucault identified, technologies of security control the territorial movement and produce of technology-images. These images are locked down into performing their determined fate within collective locations, with and through the actions of other images. This body is no “privileged” body, rather it is just a platform augmenting technology. In action, the technology-image facilitates what individuals call ‘human experience’, but it contributes to the formation of distinct groups of bio-politicized human bodies. This state of the mediatization of life is recorded and narrativized by other images. The questions concerning technology-images, as feminists have activated, involve the predication of social differentiation categories (“gender”, “race”), the measurement of change, the implementation of new languages and laws. Analysis of the situation of technology-images is freely available for participants, yet the image controllers continue to insist on spatialized hierarchies to differentiate and enslave. In this paper, I will examine components of this technology-image through examples of where the perception of the contradictions of social difference is acted out.
Sandra D’Urso, University of Melbourne
Writing A Democratic Constitution in Blood: Performing Biopolitical Encounters between Bodies and Text
Russian performance artist Oleg Mavromati is currently wanted for trial, for allegedly contravening code 282 of the Russian Constitution, which relates to the protection of citizens against religious vilification. The act for which he is being tried is the staging of a real crucifixion (2000), in which the artist was nailed to a cross as part of a film project. In response to his impending extradition from the United States Mavromati mounted some performances; one in which he sat at a table and penned the Russian Constitution using his own blood. In a performance entitled “Constitution”, Mavromati is shown sitting in a composed fashion at a table with a piece of paper set out in front of him. There is a catheter in his arm from which extends a tube that carries the free-flowing blood from his vein to a pen that he holds in the same hand. The blood becomes the ink with which he pens the entire text of the Russian Constitution. In this document are embodied the words and legal capacities of those words, which have steered him towards the status of a non-citizen; a political refugee. The words of the Constitution fall under the political rubric of democracy and yet artists are routinely finding themselves stranded by the legal strength of these tracts of writing, of these words, with the power, capacity, to withhold a person’s status as a full citizen, as agents with rights; and therefore invoking Prodi’s diagnosis of the ‘oath’, as a political ‘sacrament of power’ (Agamben, 2010:1). It is as though by writing the words using his biological material, Mavromati strives to announce himself as a living person to the very text that binds him in exile from his home, family, and freedom. Perhaps he may exert some influence over the seemingly inert signatures on the page; transform them and direct them towards his own democratic will as an artist. Understanding perhaps the sacrificial register of sacramental thinking and the relationship between religion, the law and the efficacy of ‘oaths’; Mavromati chooses this particular expression of his body to communicate the idea of a political sacrament of power. From a state of political and legal liminality with regard to the status of his personhood, the artist in this instance asserts his existence via the reproduction of a legal document which references his interior body, as well as the words that have hedged his freedoms. The objective of this paper will be to further tease-out the biopolitical resonances of this aesthetic gesture (devised as a type of resistance to bodily governance) and forged in the shadows of religion and the law.
Paula Gilligan, Institute of Art Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire
Harsh Realism”: Gender, Reality Television, and the Politics of the “Sink” Housing Estate in Austerity Britain
In the aftermath of the 2011 UK riots, two main themes emerged in public discourse: 1) that the riots were criminal and materialistic in intent and linked to the reality television driven “miswanting” of poor youth; and 2) the riots were a manifestation of a national crisis generated by the absence of public and civic responsibility among (female) denizens of public housing estates. In this paper I contend that the the ‘state of exception’ invoked by the Coalition Government in the wake of the riots facilitated radical and rapid undermining of rights for the poorest sections of UK populations, and that these changes represent a continuation of laws and policies already imagined in the media cultures, in the form of reality television set in housing estates. I argue that, far from telling us about the cultures of poor youth, reality television programs, notably those produced by the BBC, elucidate the agenda of political elites driving “Austerity Britain” to “harden” the views of British citizens against the poor and marginalized. I explore the new harsh-realism of Neighbourhood Watched (BBC1 2010-2011) identifying a shift from the earlier left-wing concerns of the British social-realist movement, towards a right-wing sensibility which has coincided with significant changes to state policy towards the most vulnerable segments of Britain’s population.
Karoline Gritzner, Aberystwyth University
Aesthetic Experience and the Biopolitical Body
This paper seeks to address Foucault’s thinking about technologies of power (the domination and objectivisation of the subject) and technologies of the self (modes of self-formation and self-transformation) in the context of non-standardised forms of experience as afforded by art. The non-universalisable nature of aesthetic experience may be considered as a riposte to the reduction of life to the logic of biopolitics. For Adorno, aesthetic experience frees the subject from the dominating rule of reason and encourages the formation of a non-identical relation to the self and the other. In the artwork’s enigmatic and opaque material nature lies the promise of the possibility of the impossible. This paper will explore the form of tragedy as a particular mode of aesthetic self-formation through which the subject confronts her precarious relation to temporality and space (the tragic as a limit experience). Drawing on contemporary examples of tragic theatre, it will be argued that tragedy dramatises the subject’s exposure to unknown life and raises the question of freedom against the over-determination of the social and biological body.
Nicholas Johnson, Trinity College Dublin
Guantánamo Ethics: Resistance, Rebellion, and Death in a Biopolitical Regime
This paper examines the possibilities of resistance within a biopolitical regime, with special attention to the case of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Examples will be drawn from specific documentation and testimonies from the detainees and official reports relating to United States policy in the ‘war on terror,’ as well as some of the contemporary cultural responses to these events. The notion of resistance to biopolitical control will be examined within its philosophical and literary heritage rather than its contemporary politics, particularly by revisiting Albert Camus, Theodor Adorno, Samuel Beckett, and Alain Badiou. By re-evaluating the conditions and situations addressed in their twentieth-century fiction, drama, and philosophy, this paper attempts to rethink the twenty-first century issue of an explicit apparatus of state torture within a democracy, and the various ethical challenges posed to its victims, collaborators, and witnesses.
Eve Katsouraki, University of East London
A Life that is Not Worth Living: Powerlessness as Resistance in Praxes of Political Suicide
This paper explores questions of value over “human” life and seeks to uncover the biopolitical complexities of power and powerlessness in relation to acts of political suicide in the public as forms of political/economic resistance. The phenomenon of political suicide, which is currently most acutely experienced in countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, occurs when the subject suffers a sudden, yet heightened, sense of loss of personal (as well as a more widely political) economic stability or a significant fall in the individual’s living standards. For Agamben the inclusion of “bare life” in the political realm has given the political system the power to decide which life counts as “human” and worth living. Yet in acts of political suicide, the expressions of the subject’s sense of powerlessness are also powerful expressions that assert the subject’s sovereignty over his/her own existence. This paper therefore will explore political suicide as biopolitical praxes of resistance that perform the case of self-authorising the annihilation of life deemed unworthy of being lived in respond to the logic of value and theories of sovereignty according to which the true life of the rule is the exception. And by drawing on Agamben’s notion of ‘politicization’ of life, Lacan’s death drive as well as Rickert’s definition of ‘negation’ as the criterion by which to establish whether something belongs to the sphere of value and the true act of evaluation, this paper will propose a rethink of the threshold beyond which life ceases to have any value and therefore be killed.
Ruth Kerr, visual artist, Dublin
The Sadodispassionate in the Context of Bio-Art
This paper explores the notion of human dominion over nature, detailing the relationship between biotechnology, capitalism and sadodispassion. The term sadodispassion denotes an attitude where negative aggressive emotions which imbue reason and rationality are used for objective criticism. In her book Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason Val Plumwood argues that sadodispassion is the crux of many environmental and ecological issues in society today. These issues are most notably associated with the industrial life sciences. The status of the biotechnology industry in the capitalist economy is a primary example of this issue.In Bill Nichols’ text ‘The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems’ he writes of the masculine need for autonomy and how it corresponds to the algorithm of the capitalist marketplace. This need for autonomy and control most significantly manifests itself in the biotechnology industry. The examination of bio-art within this cultural context is relevant because it employs techniques, skills, and concepts that are part of the industrial life sciences. The practices of bio-artists who use vital or non-vital media challenge traditional notions, implicitly or explicitly, of what is “natural”, as well as questioning patriarchal rationality and the sadodispassionate mentality of the capitalist economy. It is important for the artist to consider the cultural and political value of their practice and artwork. The cultural context of biotechnology is an aspect of the methodology that cannot be ignored. Through the filter of bio-art the cultural and social implications of biotechnology can be confronted. In this respect an eco- feminist perspective is valuable as a means of highlighting significant issues within vital, semi-vital and non-vital bio-art.
Ciara Kierans, University of Liverpool
The Biopolitics of an Ambivalent Technology: The Production of Power Relations in Organ Transplantation in Mexico
Biopolitical discourses are routinely linked to epochal trends and the typifications of formal polictical and economic transitions in an effort to chart the move from an anatomo-politics to a politics of regulation and control. In this paper, I want to break the link between biopolitics and epochal transition by examining the ‘situated’ and unstable biopolitics of organ transplantation in Mexico – a country characterised by a fragmented health care system underpinned by an unstable mixed economy of welfare. This paper draws on empirical ethnographic research on one of Mexico’s active transplantat programmes to document the implications of this technology for the country’s poor as well as its consequences for capital, new relations of exchange and the reinventions of political power. Transplant technologies have regularly been described as an archetypical biopolitical intervention with profound consequences for the production of those subjects who come to serve and rely upon it. However, in the context of Mexico, I argue that the biopolitics of organ transplantation resists accounts which posit technology as either determinations of subjectivities via techniques which work directly on the body or as forces directed by regimes of medical or state governance in the production of manageable populations. Instead I want to show a biopolitics at play that is both permissive and ambivalent, creating consequences that are both unpredictable and unending. Organ transplantation, seen cross-culturally within different national and governmental settings, helps us to understand the indeterminate aspects of biopolitical intervention, its implications for mobilising and reconstituting the relationships between state, market and medical actors as well as establising new protocols for daily life, sickness and the search for health care.
Tina Kinsella, National College of Art and Design, Dublin
Non-Life as the Possibility for Life: Resisting Technologies of Power through Bracha L. Ettinger’s Theorisation of Matrixial Trans-subjectivity
In Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2006), Judith Butler argues that the human emerges ‘with life itself’ and is thereby formed in relations of dependency and structured by a ‘common human vulnerability’. Speculations on the formation of the subject, Butler insists, are crucial to understanding the possibility of non-violent response and to theorising collective responsibility. In her articulation of matrixial trans-subjectivity, Bracha L.Ettinger offers a supplement to the notion of the human as emergent with life at birth by thematising the emergence of the becoming human into life in the pre-birth scene. Ettinger posits that becoming life can be conceived of as non-life. On the trans-subjective level, Ettinger claims, becoming life is foundationally structured by a dance between Eros and Thanatos (the death-drive). She posits that the dynamic ambivalence between Eros and Thanatos that forms becoming life can later be confused by the subject as a desire for death. In this paper I will argue that technologies of power attempt to instrumentalise the subject’s inherent capacity of the death-drive. Referencing the artworks of Ettinger and Francesca Woodman, I will suggest that Ettinger’s analytics of trans-subjectivity and non-life offer a potential for resistance to technologies of power, inviting a means by which to re-conceive possibilties for non-violent response and collective responsibility.
Stephen Kirwan, Trinity College Dublin
Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Towards a Bio-Political Understanding of Humanitarian Intervention
Since the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which is seen as the birth of the nation state sovereignty, the inviolability of domestic boarders continued to be prevalent norm in the regulation of international law. A literal reading of the traveaux prepatoires of the Charter, in addition to the General Principles of International Law as enunciated in the UN General Assembly Resolution 2625/78 clearly envisages an absolutist vision of sovereignty based on the inviolability of international boarders and a state’s right to self-determination. Formally at least therefore, the post-Westphalian consensus surrounding the inviolability of borders and sovereignty of individual nation states remains intact. However, the decade following the Cold War saw Security Council resolutions authorizing humanitarian interventions in Somalia, Liberia, Rwanda, Haiti, Sierra Leone and Kosovo. Such ad-hoc interventions led to intensifying calls for the recognition of a norm of humanitarian intervention that would de-prioritise the pre-eminent position of state sovereignty and the inviolability of international boarders in place of a larger focus on the objective of a system of globalised humanitarian protection, based on the broad premise of international citizenry. An attempt to codify and formulate the guiding principles underpinning such humanitarian intervention, particularly in the aftermath of unilateral NATO intervention into Kosovo in the late 1990s, has culminated in the formulation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (herein R2P). Instead of focusing on the longstanding debate over whether a ‘right to intervene’ existed, the doctrine of R2P tried to find an innovative way of talking about protection against grave atrocities while mandating a respect for sovereignty as proposed by the UN Charter. R2P stands largely for the proposition that sovereignty entails not just rights but also responsibilities. Thus the idea of ‘conditional sovereignty’ is essential to our understanding the central normative tenet of the R2P and stands for the overall proposition that if a state is unable or unwilling to exercise its responsibility, its sovereignty is abrogated and international intervention will ensue. Critics however argue that the purpose of R2P is to promote a homogenous world-view based on the politically subjective basis of the rule of law. This presentation seeks to outline the genealogical development of the R2P doctrine. In doing so it will argue that the discourse surrounding the Responsibility to Protect indicates a biopolitical reprogramming of contemporary sovereignty and global governance. Further it will be argued that the whole construct of R2P constitutes a project of managing and regulating the global population through a variety of securitizing, economizing, and normalizing rationalities and techniques based on a number of subjective considerations. It thereby seeks to challenges the legal, conceptual and largely normative priority accorded to juridical sovereignty in international law, and to state- and institution-centric accounts in IR theorizations of global governance. The presentation seeks to illustrate this by pointing to the existence of the biopolitical rationales of human security and collective security, which exist through the recent invocation of R2P in Libya through Resolution 1970/1973. This will be counter-balanced by a bio-political analysis of the response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Overall then the presentation shall conclude by seeking to defend Agamben’s “bare life” thesis.
Thomas Lemke, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Biopolitics: Current Issues and Future Challenges
The talk will start by examining two current lines of reception that have taken up Foucault’s work on biopolitics, the first focusing on the mode of politics while the second addresses the substance of life in the wake of bioscientific knowledge and biotechnological innovations. The following part of the talk explores promising areas of research that so far received little attention in the work of biopolitics. I will focus especially on two of them: the so-called new materialism that shifts the accent from “life” to “vibrant matter” (Jane Bennett) and the work on the “bioeconomy” that investigates the systematic relations between (neo-liberal) capitalism on the one hand and changing concepts of life and the emergence of a biotech industry on the other.
Ronit Lentin, Trinity College Dublin
Israel/Palestine: State of Exception and Acts of Resistance
In July 2012 The Committee to Examine the State of Construction in the West Bank, chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy established to examine ‘steps to be taken to regularise construction’ in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, concluded that the West Bank is not occupied territory. At the same time, as the territory is not part of the state of Israel, there is no clear legal basis for Israel’s operation there. This circular logic, and the 2011-2 escalation of heavily-policed protests in the occupied Palestinian territory and new citizen protests in Israeli cities, leads to the claim that Israel/Palestine – a borderless state entity, governed from its very establishment through a series of emergency laws, never repealed – must be theorised as a state of exception. This involves, on the one hand, the extension of the military authority’s wartime powers into the civil sphere, and on the other, the suspension of constitutional norms that protect individual liberties, creating ‘zones of exception’ in the case of the Palestinian territory, zones of abandonment, in the case of Gaza, and zones of racial exclusion, in the case of internal Israeli racisms. This links to Foucault’s proposal that racism makes it possible to establish ‘a relationship between my life and the death of the other’. This paper theorises Israel/Palestine as a racial state which uses technologies of bio- and thanato-power to control not only its Palestinian others, and people seeking asylum, but also Israeli Jewish activists who call into question the state’s very legitimacy. The paper has two parts. The first part theorises Israel-Palestine as a state of exception par excellence. Being also a Fanonian project, the second part draws on Yehouda Shenhav’s re reading of Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and his critique of Agamben’s interpretation of Benjamin’s ‘Critique of violence’, to think about potentialities of resistance to the racial state. Recent forms of resistance call into question Agamben’s positing of homo sacer as s/he who is unable to stage resistance, positioning instead resistant bodies at the centre of a Foucauldian ‘insurrections of subjugated knowledge’. In line with Agamben’s proposal that ‘It is only in a land where the spaces of states will have been perforated and topologically deformed, and the citizen will have learned to acknowledge the refugee that he himself is, that man’s political survival today is imaginable’, I conclude with a brief discussion of the policing of citizen protests in Tel Aviv in June 2012 by military means, hitherto reserved for quelling Palestinian protests.
Natasha Lushetich, University of Exeter
Organs with a Pedigree: Biopolitics and Linguistic Performativity
Departing from Helen Pynor’s mixed media work The Body is a Big Place in which two pig hearts are brought back to life in a performance space full of floor-to-ceiling projections of human beings roaming vast underwater spaces, this paper explores the biopolitical stratification of intersomativity. Its chief focus is the production of value in discourses and practices that govern forms of living and dying in general and organ transplantation in particular. Informed by concepts of liminality (a period and state of being between social statuses), intercorporeity (the uninterrupted continuum of all sentient beings, plants, minerals and inanimate matter) and subjectification (the production of self, citizenship and belonging as entwined with the production of knowledge and political forms of regulation), the paper examines the emotional, material, symbolic and exchange value of transplanted organs that live after death or enable life at the expense of health. More specifically, it examines the role of linguistic performativity in biomedical practices ranging from ‘character-building’ (a narrative technique by means of which the biological, social and moral value of both the donor body and the recipient body is construed with reference to class, race, gender and creed) and technocratic coinages such a ‘biocapital’ (referring to engineered embryos acting as tissue sources) to pre-formatted online memorials in which the kin make the deceased donor speak in the hope of communicating with the recipient. In doing so the paper argues for a distinctly somatic dimension of language as a network of ‘speech acts’ (Austin), which create life itself, not only inaugurate new social realities.Finally, the paper endeavours to offer some thoughts on the following question: what is be the relationship between language and the increasingly intercorporeal systems of life exchange (interspecies as well as biologically engineered exchange)?
Mark Maguire, National University of Ireland, Maynooth
Policing the Emotions: Abnormal Behaviour Detection in Counter-Terrorism Operations
This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork with counter-terrorism officers in secure ports of entry. I briefly discuss the problematization of terrorist threats to airports as a way to appreciate the importance of a key incident in Boston-Logan Airport in late 2001. I show the ways in which one of my key research participants identified a gap in security systems and later assembled techniques for policing at the level of life itself – abnormal behaviour detection by means of skilled vision. The system he developed has spread throughout the world, from counter-terrorism measures in Belfast to military deployments in Iraq. My ethnographic research is composed of participant observation in counter-terrorism training, from interrogation techniques and counter-surveillance measures to live deployments with armed uniformed and covert officers. This paper will contrast the apprenticeship required to develop skilled vision with the recent US Homeland Security-led systems that use affective computing to detect emotional deviance or ‘malintent’. The paper will make use of a number of concepts available in the work of Bentham and Nietzsche, Foucault and Agamben. My concern here is to stake out a position for the anthropology of contemporary (in)securitization.
Tobias Matzner, University of Tübingen
Resisting What You Are By Who You Are: an Arendtian View on the Ethics of Biopolitics
In her book Vita activa Hannah Arendt describes a mode of politics entirely free from any essence or „lower ground“ on which it could be evaluated. This makes it an agonal contest of persons and opinions appearing in public. Particularly nature or biological life do not count as valid factors in this contest – on the contrary they are banned as threatening the whole mode of politics: Arendt offered one of the most prominent descriptions of the pervasive effects that these views – later labeled as biopolitics – could attain. And since she considers a defense of humanity on general terms to be dangerous, human acts reducing someone to the biological life pose an immense threat: In the end the person is nothing more than a member of a species. However, Arendt’s text on Lessing offers a different starting point in the possibility to “sacrifice truth to (political) friendship.” I generalize this view by reading the split of biological life as described by scientific truth on the one hand and the person on the other hand as established and re-established whenever someone is acting. I go on inquiring different configurations of this separation. At the same time I establish that such a split cannot be completely avoided. To conclude I sketch how this inquiry opens up a possibility of an ethics of resisting biopolitics, that neither relies on nature nor humanity, but is local, personal and political.
Paul O’Brien, National College of Art and Design, Dublin
Eugenics, Applied Biology, and the Politicisation of Aesthetics
Most people want their children to be beautiful (including intellectuals who reject the concept of beauty or regard it in relativist/constructivist terms). Our choice of partner may—consciously or unconsciously–be related to that priority. In terms of the politics around animal rights, pictures of baby seals have more widespread appeal than images of baby rats. “Attractive” people routinely do better at job interviews or in court cases. Aesthetics even forms a criterion in the sciences, insofar as qualities of simplicity, elegance are regarded as desirable. Aesthetic criteria largely feed into contemporary eco-politics in the broadest sense, insofar as this involves the defence of nature from pollution, deforestation etc. On the “dark side” of history, Nazism may have involved the “aestheticisation of politics” in Walter Benjamin’s terms, but it also involved the politicisation of aesthetics, given the Nazi political programme of creating a master-race (blond, blue-eyed etc) based on (essentially aesthetic) criteria. This paper looks at some of issues in the interface between aesthetics and politics, with regard to the possibilities opened up by biology of breeding a new type of human, based on criteria not just of improved health, strength etc, but on aesthetic criteria as well. Given the dark past of eugenics, the paper asks whether, to what extent, or why, aesthetic criteria may be a legitimate basis for making choices in regard to our offspring.
Kira O’Reilly, performance artist
In Vivo/In Vitro: Between Body, Laboratory and Text
Tanglings and entanglings of techné and biomedia across, betwixt and between contexts of biological laboratories, domestic spaces, art spaces and outdoor spaces inform much of my current art practice and research. These are presented as modest provocations that unmoor living materials and biological practices from their defining disciplinary frameworks and render them mobile, articulating and performing. I will discuss these as practices of developing and participating in co-emerging contingent and partial bodies within and without the laboratory. These will include pigs and tails, raucous spiders, deeply unstable skeletal muscle cell cultures, filigree fungi, silken architectures, getting into the sterile hood and loitering at bus stops; gazing and peering, walking and falling and a lot of getting egg on my face.
Maciej Ozog, Lodz University
Bio Art as Praxis of Biopolitical Resistance
Is it possible to effectively resist the biopower? This question, which is present in the debate on biopolitics from its very beginning, explicitly expressed by Foucault in “Society Must Be Defended”, becomes especially important at the time when regimes of biopower are carried out indirectly and the power-machine operates silently and invisibly in the background of everyday human activity. Being aware of the modern trends to re-establish the sovereign authoritarian forms of biopower pursued under the banner of the “war against terrorism” and realized through the permanent “state of exception” (Agamben, Bauman), I suggest that equally dangerous are those manifestations of biopower which, under cover of neo-liberal ideology of “care for life” leads to the establishment of the new form of “soft” normative dictatorship of the self-governance and self-responsibility. As Negri observes: „Oppression is so nebulous that it can’t be named, so diffuse and so gray that responding to it is hard. We must find a way to dispel the fog of oppression, to invent new alternatives.” In the contemporary neo-liberal societies this amorphous, depersonalized, abstract and invisible biopower-machine takes the form of pastoral biopolitics (Rose). Oppressive coercion, surveillance and discipline are replaced by gentle forms of influence that manifest themselves in the promotion of desirable and appropriate modes of “life-style” – of being-oneself, being-with-others and being-in-the-world. At the same time the ideology that defines not only the social and individual forms of human existence, but also specifies possible ways of understanding life itself is implicitly inscribed in modern projects of “care for life”. This fact is particularly important in the era of biological revolution which challenges the notion of “life as we know it”. We live in a world that makes it impossible to define such categories as life, nature, and ecosystem and last but not least subject in an unambiguous and clear way. In this framework, pastoral biopower appears as an ideological tool for silencing controversial issues and taming problems that demand open and profound cultural analysis. The initial question raised in this context requires reformulation. Can we imagine the resistance to biopower, which would be based on development of critical, non-dogmatic, non-authoritarian ways of interpreting the challenges posed by the post-naturalistic biology, biotechnology and biomedicine?
In the paper I argue that this kind of reflexive engagement is crucial to the practice of bio art. I analyze selected art projects of Art Orienté Objet, The Tissue Culture&Art Project, Paul Vanouse and Yann Marussich, which I consider to be the manifestation of bottom-up resistance to the “soft” authoritarian regimes of pastoral biopower. In a highly diverse field of biological art I will focus on these practices that intensify the experience of fluidity and liminality of life itself and at the same time question and challenge taken for granted universalities of pastoral biopolitics. However, they do not offer definitive answers and easy solutions. Instead, they intensify the sense of uncertainty, anxiety, and non-obviousness in the face of processes that we experience on a daily basis, that affect our perceptions of the world and ourselves, and that represent a radical challenge to ontological and epistemological status quo. The core of these activities is transgression and subversion of biopolitical mythology, which produces a simplified, reductive and reactionary vision of subjectivity, body and the life itself. Another important characteristic of these projects is the shift away from the paradigm of mimesis in the direction of performativity and presentism. It is the art of action, in which the direct experience of the biological processes triggers ethical and political reflection. I understand them as a form of “nomadic politics” (Braidotti) and philosophy in action, which aim is to destabilize the cognitive dogmas of (bio)political correctness and to enhance the critical awareness of the mechanisms and technologies of biopower in the age of post-natural biology.
Maura Pavalow, University of Exeter
“I want to make white people FEEL white”: Experimenting with Radical Performance Pedagogy to Affect Everyday Whiteness as Liberation Praxis
This paper describes a journey of methodological experimentation with performance as a political tool for racial justice. Informed by Guillermo Gômez-Peña and bell hooks, interventionist performance is explored as radical pedagogy in order to mark and subvert transnational UK-US. Whiteness is the everyday cultural performance of white supremacy, which is a political-economic-legal-historical-site-specific system of white biopolitical power and institutionalized racism. This work utilizes Jasbir Puar’s call for anti-racist queer feminist “becoming-intersectional” politics of liberation and ethics of care to contribute to racial justice and academic-activist praxis. Methodologically, the project is modeled as a reflective performance [auto]ethnography. I engaged in community organizing to attempt to collaboratively create a small-scale public performance activism event in a rural town in England that is predominantly white English. I reflect on the political affect of my white American body throughout this creative process. The aims of this process, event and paper are threefold: to 1) create a space-time in which whiteness is made visible, 2) encourage white people to feel white in a manner where guilt and negativity are mitigated, and 3) model ways of micro-politically performing whiteness as an ally for racial justice. The paper is written and will be presented creatively with these aims in mind. I reflect on how my American white body feels in navigating the normalized landscape of whiteness in this rural town and how (I perceive) my politically performed transnational whiteness as a white ally for racial justice affects this normalized landscape. Collaboration includes interactions with UK- & US-based performance artists, academics, racial justice activists; everyday interactions encountered in a 3-month time period; and one round-trip transnational journey between the UK and US.
George Pavlich, University of Alberta
Punishment, Biopolitics and the Lives of Others at the Cape of Good Hope
The gruesome punishment practices of crime-focused law at the Cape of Good Hope circa 1795 may at first blush appear to ensconce the spectacular medieval political technologies to which Foucault (Discipline and Punish) refers. However, in the Cape colonial context characterized by an emerging colonial law, with an attendant sovereignty politics, there are nuances that complicate the analysis of power and punishment in context. As this paper will argue, the underlying political logic of Cape punishment in the name of a British sovereign may reflect law-sovereign power, but it creates biopolitical orderings of civilized and other lives based on differently enunciated populaces. The complex interplay between sovereign political formations and biopolitical techniques of governance in a colonial context provides insights beyond those articulated by Agamben’s ‘biopolitical sovereignty’ or indeed Esposito’s ‘immunization’. Through an exploration of Cape criminal case records from 1795-1804, during an initial British occupation where political logics were openly enunciated, this paper will focus on the biopolitical foundations of Cape punishment practices and the creation of others as variously differentiated ‘bestial’ subjects. It will conclude by indicating a distinctively colonial, biopolitical inheritance that continues to contour postcolonial and law-sovereign political logics directed to crime and its punishment.
Caitlin Purdy, University of Colorado, Boulder
(Re)Making Memory in Peru: Representing the Biopolitical
The primary battleground of Peru’s Internal Conflict (1980- 2000) was the individual body. Both Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Peruvian government vied for control of people, both ideologically and physically. The contested territory of the war was the Peruvian populace, the human body. Incredibly high levels of corporal abuse, including rape, torture, forced sterilization, and mass killings, mark the conflict. And this abuse was not spontaneous or sporadic. Rather, these biopolitical mechanisms of control were employed systematically and deliberately, used as forms of punishment and as a means of control and intimidation. Given the extreme corporal abuse that occurred during Peru’s Internal Conflict, the body, specifically the abuse and control of the body, has become a primary point of discussion and representation. This paper explores representations of the biopolitical within the works of contemporary Peruvian artists and writers, such as Jesus Cossio, Victoria Guerrero, Rocio Silva Santestiban, Antonio Paucar, and Musuk Nolte, among others. It aims to examine how these works attempt to expose biopolitical control mechanisms that limit human rights. Furthermore, this paper analyzes the larger implications of this exposure. It explores how some works of art attempt to symbolically reclaim the body from the abjection of abuse. Secondly, this paper examines the temporal juxtaposition of biopolitical violence of the past with contemporary instances of such violence. Though Peru’s Internal Conflict officially ended over ten years ago Peru is still grappling with the same problems it faced in 1980, at the outbreak of the conflict—sociopolitical exclusion, economic inequality, and racism. In June 2011 the human rights ombudsman reported nearly 200 ongoing social conflicts in Peru, several of which have resulted in violent clashes between the police and protestors. This paper posits that the juxtaposition of past biopolitical violence and present biopolitical violence serves to point out the need for large-scale change and ignite sociopolitical action.
Jemima Repo, University of Helsinki
The Biopolitical Foundations of Gender Theory
This paper asks the question of how gender became tied to the biopolitical apparatus of sex. In feminist theory, the association of gender with sex is often taken for granted, in the sense that gender has been the cultural nominator of sex for no more than a half a century. Prior to this, gender, originating from the Old French gendre and traceable to the Greek genos, referred to any kind or sort of any type of phenomenon. Yet, few in the English-speaking world associate the word with anything other than the sexual order of things. How this association came to be made, through what reconfigurations of power/knowledge, remains to be answered. Michel Foucault’s genealogy of sexuality traces the emergence of the modern biopolitical sexual apparatus. His analysis, however, only addresses the Victorian era, whereby any later changes in the apparatus are beyond the scope of the genealogy. This includes the emergence of gender in the mid-nineteenth century. The origins of the gender term are commonly located in second wave feminist theory. In the paper I show that although second wave feminists may have popularised its usage, the term was first used by sexologists studying intersexuality and transsexuality in the 1950s. Gender was therefore introduced into the sexual order through a highly psychologised and medicalised – and hence, biopoliticised – field of knowledge. Later, in the 1980s, it was taken up by demographers to explain declining fertility in the West, thus effecting the biopolitical deployment of gender. At the heart of the paper is consideration of the implications of such an analysis our understanding of feminist politics, especially second and third wave feminism and their use of the gender term upon which they have been reliant. For, if the gender discourse is a biopolitical one, what repercussion does that have for feminist politics? The paper considers to what extent feminism is in danger of partaking in rather than challenging the biopolitical through its use of the term.
Elke Schwarz, London School of Economics
From Transcendence into the Phenomenological – The Possibility of Ethics in a Biopolitical Modernity
With God’s death, the originary framework of what it means to be ethical has slipped its divine moorings and occasioned modern man to interrogate and articulate anew the very senses of the ethical. With God’s death, ethics and morality were dislodged from the transcendental abstraction of the law-giving divine entity and thrust onto the plane of the phenomenological enterprise – a displacement central to the Nietzschean interrogation of morality. With God’s death, man has been thrust into a precarious position of being faced with a relentless and interminable demand to decide on the moral responsibility in being with, and being for, others in a political plurality. Within this shift, and the demand it raises in a biopolitical body politic, however, looms the spectre of a law-giving authority that provides certainty for an inherently uncertain context. This has allowed for morality in modernity to become both a spectre and a husk to be charged with a biopolitically informed set of codifications, giving rise to a relentless tension between the demand of ever-anew arising ethical moments and the hyper-rationalised need for the scientificallyand technologically ascertainable. This paper argues that the proper locus of ethico-political responsibility is in the phenomenological enterprise, giving rise to a rethinking of the very ethicality of ethics. This liberates the (post) modern human from the restrictions of the law-giving divinity in her ethical behaviour and simultaneously renders her infinitely uncertain in each ethical encounter. Particularly, in a biopolitical contemporary modernity, this, the paper argues, facilitates a turn to the ethically obscure and for certain moral narratives to take hold that render some acts of political violence ‘adiaphorized’ – obscured in terms of ethical relevance.
Debra Benita Shaw, University of East London
Strange Zones: Posthuman Urbanism & Metropolis
Practical applications of advanced technologies to the body are producing future oriented research in which the flesh body is either consigned to redundancy in favour of consciousness uploading or tighter integrations between humans and machines as proposed by the Converging Technologies Agenda (Fuller, 2011). Against this is a rapidly developing body of theory which suggests that we are always already posthuman and that a more egalitarian future requires taking into account our co-evolution with both animals and machines. In a world in which the majority of populations now live in cities, our most urgent task therefore is to understand our co-existence with the technologies that largely construct and define both ourselves and the urban environment. Giorgio Agamben suggests that cities can no longer be thought of as homogeneous zones of concentrated political and cultural power; as ‘politically and spatially isonomic’. ‘[W]e are not’, he says, ‘facing a process of development and growth of the old city, but the institution of a new paradigm whose character needs to be analyzed’. This paper will analyze the character of the new paradigm through addressing the relationships between subjectivation and the city with a particular emphasis on the cultural institutions that produce, reinforce and reflect what Agamben calls ‘metropolis’ which he describes as ‘the dispositif or group of dispositifs that replaces the city when power becomes the government of the living and of things’ (2008). In the concept of metropolis, the management of space and the management of bodies according to the disciplinary procedures identified by Michel Foucault as productive of post-industrial subjectivities are seen as mutually constitutive. The city as seat of sovereign and legislative power which reaches out to the territories that it controls, gives way to the idea of metropolitan space as the paradigm of disciplinary power. This ‘strange zone where it is impossible to decide what is private and what is public’ (Agamben, 2008) corresponds to, and expresses architechnologically, the biopolitical subject of contemporary neoliberalism. I will argue that we need a concept of ‘posthuman urbanism’, which takes account of the new forms of subjectivity produced by the economic, scientific and technological discourses of contemporary culture and their interaction with, and effect on, urban space to account for modes of inhabitation, both real and imagined, which both emerge from, and have the potential to confront, metropolitan dispositifs.
Ukri Soirila, University of Helsinki
Making Life Live or Letting it Die:(Human Rights) Courts as Administrators of Human Life
We are living in times of globalized contingency where the proliferation of individual freedoms, on the one hand, and the novel possibilities of surveillance and management of the population, generated by rapid development in genetics, technology and medicine, one the other, are bound to generate conflicts, translated increasingly into human rights language. This causes pressure for (human rights) courts and other organs responsible for solving human rights disputes. As has been demonstrated in critical legal literature, there are no clear rules on how to balance hierarchically equal —theoretically absolute — rights against each other. Therefore, (human rights) courts are necessarily left a certain, increasingly broader, margin of discretion regarding their decisions. As the courts are, in spite of this indeterminacy, supposed to make decisions regarding such topics, linked to the most fundamental questions of human life, as abortion, genetics, marriage, surveillance and euthanasia, they necessarily adopt the position of administrators of human life — in other words, they become entangled with the form of power, aiming for the control, management and maximizing of human life, that Michel Foucault calls ‘biopower’. This paper argues that the so-called ‘structural bias’ of human rights courts is increasingly a biopolitical bias, but claims also that the courts have a unique possibility of resisting excessive biopolitical practices.
Orkan Telhan, University of Pennsylvania
Synthetic Ideologies of the Synthetic Living
Who or what is the “bio” in today’s “bio” politics? Biology, both as a techno-scientific project and as critical discourse, has gone through many transformations since Foucault, Schmitt, Agamben, and others referred to it in their conception of “biopower” and “biopolitics.” The living is not what it used to be. Besides transgenic organisms, plants and animals, today, there is an extended vocabulary of synthetic and semi-synthetic living—chemical compounds, biological circuits, artificial cells, and organisms—that demonstrate life-like and biological behaviors. In this paper, I discuss the ideological, economic, social and cultural implications of these life forms and discuss the need for a discursive reading of the corporeality of the living. The paper is organized in terms of a series of inquiries into the synthetic: Non-evident Synthetic Living. Today, both the nature of biology and biology of nature are changing. The regulation, governance and exploitation of non-human living, not only those that are grown by nature, but those that are synthesized in industrial complexes call for a different scrutiny than the biopolitics that act on the familiar corporeality of the living. Synthesized living escapes the familiar scopic regimes that render it visible both optically and conceptually, thus require “non-evident” modes of resistance to counter its politics. Synthetic Ideologies: Not only the means and ends of the control and the governance of the synthetic living, but also the business models and ideologies that situate them in relation to the needs, wants, desires and fears of humans are changing. As we synthesize new life forms, we encounter with new ideologies that are partially re-writing our familiar nature. When novel living forms find places inside aging creams, perfume bottles, drugs, and food additives, they transform the behavior of the living that reside inside humans, which eventually regulate our behavior. Recently, increasing evidence links obsessive compulsive behavior, decision-making fatigue, or suicidal tendencies to the network of microbes that are affected by their synthetic counterparts. The immune system—that establishes the archetypal distinction between the biological “self” and the “other”—is known to be driven by a series of microbes that condition it to do so. When the “reference” for self is at stake, inevitably are the definitions of autonomy, ideology, and politics. Synthetic Confinement: Today, the conditions that define the boundaries of biological containment and confinement are changing. What constitutes living in a biological organism can be de-contextualized and re-contextualized in other forms of matter. Anything can carry bits and pieces of the living yet slip from the moral, ethical, and political inquiry for not being called as such. Similarly, the traditional measures that physically, biologically or socially separate the manipulated, regulated and synthesized living from the nature-born are also changing. Increasingly more and more “for-profit living” is designed for consumption and challenge laws of intellectual confinement imposed by patents, intellectual property rights and regulation. As today’s biology is aspiring towards design- and engineering-driven methods, it is becoming important to look at its political consequences. While the capacity of today’s “synthetic” living is inherently hyped to promote specific techno-scientific agendas, it is still quite crucial to locate its implications within the larger framework of biopolitics. In this paper, my intention is to ground my observations and arguments based on a number of cases studies and discuss the need for an expanded and more discursive view of ideology and biopolitics from the perspective of history, theory, and criticism of biological design.
Veronika Valk, RMIT University School of Architecture and Design, Melbourne Biopolitics and Weatherwars
“Indeed, warfare now includes the technological ability to induce, enhance or direct cyclonic events, earthquakes, draught and flooding, including the use of polymerised aerosol viral agents and radioactive particulates carried through global weather systems.” “At least four countries – the US, Russia, China and Israel – possess the technology and organisation to regularly alter weather and geologic events for various military and black operations.” “A small group of leading climate scientists, financially supported by billionaires, are lobbying governments and international bodies to back experiments into manipulating the climate on a global scale to avoid catastrophic climate change.” On one hand, the investment in geoengineering might be necessary to alleviate the frustration of electorates which are not supporting the radical changes to their lifestyles required by significant — emissions, financial etc — cuts. The secondary objectives for weather manipulation include demographic, energy and agricultural resource management pretexts. As the weather has been weaponised, the paper discusses the new role of those in charge of spatial arts — territorial planners, architectural designers and landscapers. The presentation draws attention to some of the instruments which refer to the political illusion of planetary control and asks how the new biogadgets to terraform Earth could inspire professionals in the field.
Aurora Voiculescu, University of Westminster, London
The Bio-Politics of Human Rights: The Ultimate (Corporate) Frontier
It is generally recognised that – for the purpose of the broader framework of law – individual agency is fundamentally constructed and constituted within pre-existing social relations. Within the human rights discourse, this social constructedness has never ceased to be debated. The ‘human’ essence and its distinctiveness from the animal and, lately, artificial intelligence forms have been explored by (legal) philosophers as well as through artistic works (from Steven Spielberg’s AI movie to the choreographic work of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) focusing on the body and its ‘humanity’ dimension. The ‘so-called sacred and inalienable human rights’ (Agamben, 2008), already challenged from within, have recently been shaken to the core by the hijacking of some of their central tenets through the manipulation of the human rights discourse for directly supporting corporate neo-liberal institutional interests. This appears to place human rights on a platform of legal promiscuity. With corporations acquiring lately through courts a (human) rights standing on issues such as ‘privacy’ or ‘freedom of speech’, there is uncertainty as to what is left of the already shaken ‘humanity’ of human rights. To what frontiers is the sacrality of the ‘bare life’ being pushed? Will ‘humanity’ still be able to act against the State, if yet another one of its (imperfect yet perfectible) metaphysical expressions – human rights – gets translated in a language that has nothing to do with the ‘human’? In a sense, human rights could be seen as the attempt – not necessarily successful – to escape both State and law. This article explores the bio-politics of evolving legal concepts that are central to human rights as well as the extent to which homo sacer is expelled from its own sacrality, its bare life becoming a simple instrument of corporate survival.
Stephanie Wakefield, City University of New York Graduate Center
Administering the ‘Environment:’ Urban Climate Adaptation and Biopolitics
“If being and action were the same we couldn’t govern the action.” -Giorgio Agamben, 2011. Over the last decades, Agamben has deployed a series of conceptual pairs –including zoe/bios and being/action— whose constitutive separation makes possible the rise as well as the continued functioning of what Michel Foucault (2007) earlier identified as government. This paper begins by discussing the nature of the separation these pairs entail, showing it to be the central feature of biopolitics and, far from a transhistorical condition, the product of historically and geographically specific apparatuses of government. These apparatuses are techniques (whether environmental, discursive, or technological) for securing order that in responding to this or that ‘crisis’ (Foucault, 1980) at once administer being and action in their separation. The forms of this administration are today undergoing significant reorganization in the emergent climate adapting, ecological city, and so it is to this topic that I turn in the second half of the paper. As an eco-cybernetic effort to govern its full environment by working with the disorder it engenders, the climate resilient city appears both as the fulfillment of the post-1960s American shift in urban governance and also as a laboratory for newer apparatuses in the making. In it, ideas of both crisis as well as its management are shifting, from the threat of social revolt to that of ever-present, semi-predictable disorder that increasingly foregrounds the threat posed by the natural world. Connecting life and nature into dynamic infrastructural and natural ‘systems,’ wherein it is not so much a subject but desubjectified life that is produced, its apparatuses continue to separate being and action, zoe and bios, albeit through their reconnection.
Meredith Walsh, University of London
Producing Bare Novelty
In 2002, mice (genus mus), rats (genus rattus) bred for laboratory purposes were actively disqualified from being defined as animals under the United States Animal Welfare Act. In 2004, birds bred for laboratory experimentation were also disqualified from being animals under the same act. (US House of Representatives Report 2002, sec10301-10305; Yates 2004) Bare, now in Giorgio Agamben’s sense of the word, not because the act has been suspended, producing animals without protection, but through the suspension of a category of life, producing a new category in respect of its laboratory manipulation. The law has not simply been suspended in respect of a category of life, making it bare; a new bare category of life has been produced through the suspension of the law. While the example I present is of the non-recognition of specific animal life, I suggest it has broader implications to the production of novel organisms. At time of emphasis on producing novelty in contemporary biotechnology, any technologically manipulated, or completely novel life of whatever taxonomic derivation, may have its (natural) biological category disqualified and be produced as artificial and so outside of legal protection.
Eric Weitz, Trinity College Dublin
Formatting Homo Ridens: The Clown as Biopolitical Agent
Man was characterised by Aristotle as ‘the only animal that laughs’, and there is no better example of herd instinct marshalled to self-policing effect than that which underpins social laughter – always based on a strategic division of the population into groups of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The bodied reward of laughter derives its charge through ridicule, with deviation from accepted channels of thought, feeling and comportment serving as the primary targets for mainstream humour. The ways in which clowns and clown-like figures can be used to reify criteria for inclusion and exclusion invites inspection through the kinds of lenses employed by Giorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer and The Open. Clowns – at once exceedingly and not quite human – offer themselves up as dedicated targets for laughter. The laughter mechanism, formatted in childhood through ‘harmless’ comic performance and sold to the subject upon the promise of bodied pleasure, represents a technology of power and of self with the potential to exert formidable political control while hidden in plain sight of social interaction. Although it retains the capacity to turn upon the forces of authority, late-capitalist culture maintains an ideological hall of mirrors within which it is difficult to gain truly subversive traction.
Steve Wilmer, Trinity College Dublin
Statelessness within Biopolitical Structures: Provocative Challenges by Theatre Artists
Because of the practices of modern governments, the individual must be a citizen of a state or otherwise be reduced to a liminal status, deprived of human rights. Often national governments in Europe deal with those who are to be excluded from citizenship in an ad hoc and covert manner, frequently incarcerating people for months before deporting them and trying to keep the issue out of the public eye. However, theatrical performance can reveal what has been kept invisible by national governments and raise uncomfortable questions about prevailing nationalist ideologies. In this paper, I will focus on several theatre artists who have provocatively exposed the effect of citizenship practices.
Yu-Chien Wu, Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz
How We Became Non-Human? Transforming in the Re-appearance
The stories started from disappearance. Their noise rumbled over the ground of post-human debates, technological and ontological ones, where the body, the subject and the meanings were disappearing as the boundaries blurred; meanwhile, live and mediated performance both defined themselves through disappearance, too. The title of this paper, borrowed from N. Katherine Hayles’s ironies in her How We Became Posthuman, proposes to reflect the representations of human bodies in a digital and (bio-)technological culture on the re-mapping of human/non-human distinction , while there is no intention to bridge the gap imprudently. The Polish performance group, SUKA OFF, in their project Die Puppe re-enacts the images of the dolls produced in the 1930s by the German artist, Hans Bellmer, transferring ‘the vision onto a real, living body,’ which eventually ‘becomes a doll’. The female performer steps out of her human-shaped covering, leaving it behind as if someone else were hung on the stage; the male performer then tears and stretches the layer of transparent latex on her body, putting water bags underneath such that her body distorts. In this scene, the bodily surface becomes the Other of the human, and the proliferation of its contour re-embeds the construct of human into the place of an ‘outside’ that, according to Elizabeth Grosz, ‘can only appear to thought as the unthought, and to sight as the unseen’. I will also argue that the duplicates of bodily border supersede the ‘truth’ about human beings, and the body finds its non-normative and transformative potentialities in its re-appearance, rather than disappearance.
Ezgi Yildiz, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
Biopolitical Rationales of State and Evolution of Norms on State Violence
This study questions the view proposed by norm diffusion literature that norms are static objects, which are taught and progressively internalized. Instead, it portrays norms as dynamic constructs, whose boundaries are shaped within discursive processes, involving biopolitical rationales of the state, namely admission, denial, counter-legitimization and justification. It aims to capture the evolution of human rights discourse and how the boundary of legitimate state violence is established in the socialization and internalization process by looking at court cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and focusing on the Council of Europe, as a forum. I argue that this is not a uniform and linear process and it involves contestation as much as redefinition and expansion. In order to substantiate this argument I evaluate governments’ arguments with regards to their state violence practices – various forms of coercive acts targeting their citizens’ physical integrity, which are categorized as torture, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and arbitrary detention – together with the change in judicial interpretations concerning these violent acts. To map out a regional overview, I look at all cases before the Court under article 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of torture), and 5 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). My findings do not only contribute to the understanding how norms are formulated and diffused by empirically grounding this abstract phenomenon but also gives insights on biopolitical rationalities of state and the question what happens to an international norm once it is formally established or internalized.
Audronė Žukauskaitė, Lithuanian Culture Research Institute
Life as Pure Immanence: Foucault, Deleuze, and Agamben
The paper aims to analyze the notion of life in the late works of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze relating it to the notion of “bare life” in Giorgio Agamben. Foucault and Deleuze developed the notion of life almost at the same time. What is important in this notion is that life here refers not to an individual or subjective consciousness but to life itself, which is more impersonal than subjective, more singular than particular. Deleuze interprets life as an indeterminate quality, “virtuality”, which can or can not be actualized in the life of an individual. Life eludes all transcendence of the subject and of the object: life is pure immanence because it is immanent only to itself. Life is permanent becoming, flow and change. It is desire which strives for nothing other than itself. Similarly Agamben, discussing Foucault’s and Deleuze’s notions of life, relates them to his own notion of “bare life” and potentiality. It’s important to stress that, for Agamben, life is not a specific privilege of a human being but refers to the materiality of the body as such. Life for Agamben is pure potentiality which includes both potentiality to be (or do) and potentiality not to be (or do). In other words, potentiality at the same time is potentiality for not being or doing, or impotentiality. The paper will discuss the specific forms of this impotentiality: the Deleuzian notion of becoming-imperceptible, which moves toward total dissolution, as well as Agamben’s notion of “bare life”, which includes both the preservation of life and its destruction.
Ionat Zurr, SymbioticA, University of Western Australia
On Techno-scientific Bodies and Living Tools
The paper will present the initial stages of a research project titled “Tissue Engineered Muscle Actuators as evocative cultural objects and vehicles for discourses about material agency and living machines”. This is an interdisciplinary project which scrutinise shifting perceptions of the concept of ‘(semi) living’ through development of a vital machine – the use of tissue engineered muscle as actuators in custom made ‘technoscientific-bodies’ (bioreactors). It investigates scholarly theories of ‘vibrant matter’ by linking art/design/engineering/biology. Furthering posthumanist perceptions of movement as an indicator for life with agency, the project is producing new knowledge through an interdisciplinary team who collaborate to develop new methodologies and languages to grapple with new concepts of material life. The notion of what is life and/or alive is being questioned through the developments of new techno-scientific “bodies”. The shifting continuum of bodies that are considered living or partially-living and the type of agencies they are being attributed with raising urgent epistemological, ontological and political issues. The project linking art/design/engineering/biology presents a tangible partially living animated “non-utilitarian tool”.