Biopolitics: Life in Past and Present
A Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures
From 2011-2013, the Center's Sawyer Seminar–"Biopolitics: Life in Past and Present"–examined the limitations and promise of biopolitics as an interpretive framework, integrating the contributions of philosophers, anthropologists, literary critics, historians, sociologists, and biological scientists.
The seminar sought to explore the mutually productive spheres of politics and the life sciences, and to engage with the fundamental problem of biopolitics for the twenty-first century. As originally outlined by the historian and philosopher Michel Foucault in the mid-1970s, biopolitics served to describe the organization and deployment of state and institutional power through the management of populations and bodies via discourses of hygiene, health, sanitation, sexuality, and race. In recent decades, the emergence of global health inequities, transgenic technologies, the organization of reproduction, the crisis of the modern welfare state, hunger, and human rights as major ethical battlegrounds indicates the ongoing centrality of biological life for politics, as well as the need for both a more expansive and a more rigorous definition of biopolitics for the twenty-first century. This seminar addressed both the promise and the limitations of biopolitics as an interpretive framework, integrating the contributions of philosophers, anthropologists, literary critics, historians, sociologists, and biological scientists in exploring such themes as biological citizenship; bioarts and biopoetics; biomedicine and subjectivity; reproduction and regeneration; and biolegitimacy, among many others.
The seminar was supported by the A.W. Mellon Foundation’s John E. Sawyer Seminars program and the UW-Madison Center for the Humanities.
From the Mellon Foundation Website:
The Mellon Foundation's Sawyer Seminars were established in 1994 to provide support for comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments. The seminars, named in honor of the Foundation's long-serving third president, John E. Sawyer, have brought together faculty, foreign visitors, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students from a variety of fields mainly, but not exclusively, in the humanities and social sciences, for intensive study of subjects chosen by the participants. Foundation support aims to engage productive scholars in comparative inquiry that would (in ordinary university circumstances) be difficult to pursue, while at the same time avoiding the institutionalization of such work in new centers, departments, or programs. Sawyer Seminars are, in effect, temporary research centers.
The seminar, convened by Sara Guyer (Professor of English, Director, Center for the Humanities) and Richard C. Keller (Professor of Medical History and Bioethics), sponsored three dissertation fellows and one postdoctoral fellow in the academic year 2011-2012 whose work explored the seminar’s key themes. Five core Faculty Participants attended meetings and acted as respondents. Members participated in discussions, workshops, and events with internal speakers from the UW-Madison campus as well as external speakers and guests of the Center for the Humanities.
Andrew Aisenberg is Associate Professor of History at Scripps College, Claremont. His research focuses on French and Algerian history. He is author of Contagion: Disease, Government, and the Social Question in Nineteenth-century France (Stanford, 1999).
Katarzyna Beilin is an associate professor in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese at UW-Madison. She teaches contemporary Spanish narrative, film and culture. She has interdisciplinary interests in cultural studies, philosophy and the visual arts. Her book-length projects include Conversaciones literarias con novelistas contemporáneos (Tamesis, 2004), a novel, Meteory(Agawa, 2005), and Del infierno al cuerpo: otredad en la narrativa y cine penninsular contemporéneo (Libertarias, 2007). She is a 2011-2012 Resident Faculty Fellow for the UW-Madison Institute for Research in the Humanities and is working on a book project entitled: "Bulls, Apes, Genes and Clouds: New Ethics of Life in Contemporary Spain."
Brady Brower is Assistant Professor of History at Weber State University. He is author of Unruly Spirits: The Science of Psychic Phenomena in Modern France (U of Illinois Press, 2010). Recently, Brower has been awarded a year-long fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies for his next book project, "Animal Republic: Social Biology and the Evolution of the French Republic, 1870-1914."
Timothy Campbell is Professor of Italian in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University. In addition to his translations of Roberto Esposito's Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy(Minnesota, 2008) and Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community (Stanford, 2009), he is the author of Wireless Writing in the Age of Marconi (Minnesota, 2006). He recently completed his second book, Tecnica e biopolitica, which is forthcoming from Guerini. His current projects include a study of biopolitics and post-colonialism and an examination of Italian political cinema and contemporary thought.
Joshua Clover is a professor in the English department at the University of California-Davis, specializing in poetry and poetics, with an emphasis on contemporary and 20th Century American poetry. He has contributed poetry and critical writing to over 20 anthologies and various journals, and contributes to the New York Times Sunday Book Review and The Nation. He serves on the Editorial Board of Film Quarterly, where he is also a columnist. He is author of 1989: Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About, among other works.
Stephen J. Collier is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at The New School. Trained in Anthropology, he has published on topics including post-socialism, neoliberalism, infrastructure, social welfare, and, in a new project, contemporary security. He is the co-editor (with Aihwa Ong) of Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (Blackwell, 2004) and (with Andrew Lakoff) of Biosecurity Interventions (Columbia University Press, 2008). He is currently working on book manuscript on urbanism and neoliberal reform in post-Soviet Russia and on the genealogy of vital systems security.
Joseph Dumit is Director of the program in Science and Technology Studies and an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at UC Davis. He is the author of Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity (Princeton UP, 2004); and the coeditor of Cyborgs & Citadels: Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences and Technologies (with Gary L. Downey; SAR Press, 1997), Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots (with Robbie Davis-Floyd; Routledge, 1998), and Biomedicine as Culture (with Regula Burri; Routledge, 2007).
Kim Fortun is Professor of Science & Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her research and teaching focus on environmental health problems, and on developing ethnography as a way to understand and engage the complexities of the contemporary world. In her work, she has examined how people in different geographic and organizational contexts understand environmental problems, uneven distributions of environmental health risks, developments in the environmental health sciences, and factors that contribute to, and reduce, vulnerability to environmental risk and disaster.
Amanda Jo Goldstein is the UW-Madison Sawyer Seminar on Biopolitics Postdoctoral Fellow for 2011-2012. She will begin as an assistant professor in the Cornell University Department of English in fall, 2012. She works on romanticism and the history and philosophy of science, with special interests in didactic poetry, pre-Darwinian biology, and atomist materialism. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from U.C. Berkeley in 2011. Her dissertation was titled, “Sweet Science”: Romantic Materialism and the New Sciences of Life. She is contributor to the upcoming volume Marking Time: Romanticism and Evolution, and her work on Goethe’s morphology has appeared in the European Romantic Review.
Sara Guyer is Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Humanities at UW-Madison. She is also affiliated with the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies, Global Studies, and the Center for European Studies. She is author of Romanticism After Auschwitz (Stanford University Press, 2007).
Michael Hardt is Professor of Literature at Duke University, where he currently serves as Chair. He is a political philosopher and literary theorist whose publications include Empire (2000), Multitude (2004) and Commonwealth (2009), all co-written with Antonio Negri. His writings deal primarily with the political, legal, economic, and social aspects of globalization. In his books with Negri he has analyzed the functioning of the current global power structure as well as the possible political and economic alternatives to that structure based on new institutions of shared, common wealth.
Alastair Hunt is Assistant Professor of English at Portland State University, where he teaches courses on comparative Romanticism, critical human rights studies, and critical animal theory. He is co-editor, with Matthias Rudolf, of the Romantic Circles Praxis Series issue, "Biopolitics, Literature, Romanticism." He has a number of in-press and forthcoming articles on the rhetoric of "rights" in publications on Romanticism, animal rights, and ecocriticism. In 2011, he was awarded a Human-Animals Studies Fellowship at the Animals and Society Institute hosted by the Wesleyan Humanities Center.
Donna V. Jones is an assistant professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley and has taught at Stanford University and Princeton University. Her book The Racial Discourses of Life Philosophy: Negritude, Vitalism, and Modernity was published by Columbia University Press in 2010. Her next project is The Promise of European Decline: Race and Historical Pessimism in the Era of the Great War.
Eleanor Kaufman is Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and French & Francophone Studies, and an affiliate of the Center for Jewish Studies and the Center for the Study of Religion, all at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her primary research is on twentieth-century French philosophy, with secondary interests in Medieval philosophy and Christian theology, literature and philosophy of the Jewish diaspora, Maghrebian literature, and modern American literature. She is currently working on a book-length project: The Incorporeal: Rocks, Plants, and Objects in French Phenomenology.
Richard Keller is Professor of Medical History & Bioethics and the History of Science at UW-Madison. He is also affiliated with African Studies and Science & Technology Studies. Beginning in 2012, Keller was named Director, International Studies Major, Global Studies Program, and Development Studies Program at UW-Madison. He is the author of Colonial Madness: Psychiatry in French North Africa (University of Chicago Press, 2007).
Ranjana Khanna is Margaret Taylor Smith Director of Women's Studies and Professor of English, Women's Studies, and Literature at Duke University. She has published widely on transnational feminism, psychoanalysis, and postcolonial and feminist theory, literature, and film. She is the author of Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism (Duke University Press, 2003) and Algeria Cuts: Women and Representation 1830 to the Present (Stanford University Press, 2008.) She has published in journals like Differences, Signs, Third Text, and Diacritics. Her current book manuscript in progress is called: Asylum: The Concept and the Practice.
Helen M. Kinsella is Associate Professor of Political Science at UW-Madison. Her research and teaching interests include contemporary political theory, feminist theories, international law, especially international humanitarian and human rights, armed conflict, and especially gender and armed conflict. She is a graduate of University of Minnesota-Minneapolis and prior to her appointment at Wisconsin held pre and post doctoral fellowships at, respectively, Harvard University and Stanford University. In March of 2011, Cornell University Press published her book The Image Before the Weapon: A Critical History of the ‘Combatant’ and ‘Civilian’ in International Law and Politics.
Jimmy Casas Klausen was an assistant professor of political theory in the Department of Political Science at UW-Madison. He writes on early modern European and twentieth-century political theory and focuses particularly on how the categories and arguments of each illuminate the other in late modernity as a function of the imperial origins of the modern European state. His current project, “Primitivism & Apophatic Anthropology,” offers an analysis of primitivism in the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot and of negative anthropology in more recent French critical, psychoanalytic, and anticolonial theory. He has published in the journals Polity, Theory & Event, The Journal of Politics, and Political Theory.
Jake Kosek is Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. He is coauthor of Race, Nature and the Politics of Difference (Duke UP, 2003) and author of Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico (Duke UP, 2006). His current research builds on this past work on nature, politics and difference, using conceptual insights not only from geography but also anthropology, science studies and theories of history to develop new approaches to natural history as both an object of critical inquiry and a conceptual tool.
Jacques Lezra is Professor of Spanish & Portuguese and Chair of Comparative Literature at New York University. Lezra's books include Wild Materialism: The Ethic of Terror and the Modern Republic (2010), Unspeakable Subjects: The Genealogy of the Event in Early Modern Europe (1997), and Depositions: Althusser, Balibar, Macherey and the Labor of Reading (1988). His 1992 translation into Spanish of Paul de Man's Blindness and Insight won the PEN Critical Editions Award.
Stephanie Lloyd is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University. She is a medical anthropologist whose research and teaching focus on transnationalism and the migration of medical categories and practices as they are translated linguistically, socially and culturally. She grounds her work in ethnographic research in France and Canada on the global spread and local interactions of psychiatric technologies with local and regional cultures, social change, policies and histories.
Becky Mansfield is Associate Professor of Geography at the Ohio State University. Falling under the broad umbrella of political ecology, her research brings together political economic and poststructuralist perspectives on the co-production of nature to understand how the natural environment is perceived, used, and regulated. Her work has focused on globalization and neoliberalization of fisheries, which she treats as both a natural resource and a food. This dual focus facilitates research that connects ecological, social, and human health concerns.
Lee Medovoi is Professor and Chair of English at Portland State University, where his research and teaching focus on biopolitics, globalizatio, war, race, and religion on a global scale. He has recently published articles on biopolitics as race war and Islamaphobia, and works with such provocative titles as "The Biopolitical Unconscious" and "Global Society Must be Defended: Biopolitics Without Boundaries."
Natania Meeker is Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. Her interests include feminist philosophy, the development and reception of Epicureanism in France, libertine literature and thought, and decadent rewritings of the ancien regime. She is the author of Voluptuous Philosophy: Literary Materialism in the French Enlightenment (Fordham University Press, 2006). She is currently working on a new book project tentatively entitled "The Female Libertine: Engendering Modernity in Ancien Regime France."
Todd Meyers is Assistant Professor of Medical Anthropology at Wayne State University. With Stefanos Geroulanos, he edits the Forms of Living book series at Fordham University Press, and has most recently completed a translation (with Geroulanos) of Georges Canguilhem’s Writings on Medicine (2011) and Georges Canguilhem’s Knowledge of Life (2008). He has been collaborating on a large-scale archival research project that examines the work of three medical scientists––Kurt Goldstein, Walter Cannon, and Hans Selye––in order to link changing conceptions of physiology in the early part of the twentieth century (between the fields of neurology, psychiatry, experimental physiology, and endocrinology).
Rob Mitchell is Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory and Professor of English at Duke University. He is interested in relationships between the sciences and prose and poetry of the Romantic era, and in the role of theories of emotional communication in eighteenth-century and Romantic-era philosophy and literature. He has published Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity (Routledge, 2007) and Bioart and the Vitality of Media (University of Washington Press, 2010). He is currently working on a monograph on the role of experimentation in Romantic-era vitalist science and literature.
Timothy Morton is Professor of English at Rice University. Morton is the author of Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minnesota UP, forthcoming), Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (forthcoming from Open Humanities Press), The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010), and Ecology without Nature (Harvard UP, 2007), as well as many other books and essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food, and music.
Helmut Muller-Sievers is Professor of German and Director of the Center for the Humanities and Arts at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His work is concerned with the interrelations of literature, science, philosophy, and with the history of philology and interpretation. He is the author of Epigenesis. Naturphilosophie im Sprachdenken Wilhelm von Humboldts (1994), Self-Generation: Biology, Literature, Philosophy around 1800 (1997), and Desorientierung: Anatomie und Dichtung bei Georg Büchner (2003). He is currently working on two large-scale projects: on a history of 19th century kinematics and its relation to narrative prose, and on an edited volume (with John Hamilton and Sean Gurd) entitled “Radical Philology.”
Frédéric Neyrat is a French philosopher, former program director at the Collège international de philosophie and member of the editorial board of the journal Multitudes, he contributes regularly to magazines Rue Descartes and CTheory. He is interested in questions of biopolitics and political ecology. He is currently a visiting professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Mario Ortiz-Robles is an associate professor in the Department of English at UW-Madison. He is currently at work on "Zootopia: Nature and Politics in Late Victorian Fiction", a book-length project whose aim is to track the figure of the animal in late-Victorian fiction so as to determine the status of the natural in post-Darwinian British culture and to describe the symbolic uses to which the animal is put by the radical political movements emerging during this period. He is also engaged in the planning stages of "Foreign Agents," a comparative project that seeks to re-examine the notion of literary agency in a global context by foregrounding the role played by what Pierre Bourdieu called literature’s “consecrating agencies” (reviewers, publishers, academics, translators, etc.) in the legitimization of “world literature.” His book, The Novel as Event: Exploring the Importance of Language in the Victorian Novel was published in 2010 by Michigan University Press.
Susan Oyama is a psychologist and philosopher of science, currently Professor Emerita at the John Jay College and Cuny Graduate Center in New York. She has written widely on the nature/nurture opposition and on the concepts of development, evolution, and genetic information. Her book-length works include Evolution’s Eye: A Systems View of the Biology-Culture Divide (2000) and Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution (2001). Her book The Ontogeny of Information: Developmental Systems and Evolution (1985) is regarded as a foundational text in developmental systems theory.
Peter Redfield is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Trained as a cultural anthropologist sympathetic to history, he concentrates on circulations of science and technology in colonial and postcolonial contexts. His first book, Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana (2000), examined the European space program in French Guiana, placing a distinctly planetary system in its extraterrestrial dreams with an earthly ecology and history. His current book project, Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Médecins Sans Frontières is an ethnographic study of the organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Eric L. Santner is Philip and Ida Romberg Professor in Modern Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago. Santner works at the intersection of literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and religious thought. His latest book, The Royal Remains: The People's Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty, was published in 2011.
Kavita Sivaramakrishnan is Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. Her interests and expertise are in the history of medicine in south Asia and in the politics of global health and health inequalities, in particular in population aging and reemerging epidemics from a historical and policy perspective.
Jason E. Smith is Assistant Professor in the Graduate Studies in Art program at the Art Center College of Design where he teaches philosophy. He is a co-translator of Jean-Luc Nancy's Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative (University of Minnesota Press, 2002), for which he also wrote the introduction, and translator of articles by Nancy and Althusser. His recent article, "A Taste for Life (on Some Suicides in Deleuze and Spinoza" was included in the 2010 issue of Parrhesia.
Juliana Spahr is an American poet, critic, professor, and editor. She is the recipient of the 2009 Hardison Poetry Prize awarded by the Folger Shakespeare Library to honor a U.S. poet whose art and teaching demonstrate great imagination and daring. Both Spahr's critical and scholarly studies, i.e., Everybody’s Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity, and her poetry have shown Spahr's commitment to fostering a "value of reading" as a communal, democratic, open process. Spahr received the National Poetry Series Award for her first collection of poetry, Response (1996). She currently teaches at Mills College.
Roland Végső is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He specializes in political, critical and literary theory and twentieth-century literatures, and teaches courses on modernism, theory, aesthetics and politics, among other subjects. His book, The Naked Communist: Cold War Modernsim and the Politics of Popular Culture is forthcoming from Fordham University Press in 2012.
Amanda Jo Goldstein - Postdoctoral Fellow, AY 2011-2012 Amanda Jo Goldstein works on romanticism and the history and philosophy of science, with special interests in didactic poetry, pre-Darwinian biology, and atomist materialism. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (English, German, French) from U.C. Berkeley in 2011. Her dissertation, "'Sweet Science': Romantic Materialism and the New Sciences of Life", was supported by the ACLS-Mellon Foundation, the DAAD, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin.
Bradley Matthys Moore - Dissertation Fellow, Fall 2011
Bradley Matthys Moore studies the history of medicine, health, and society in modern Europe, particularly in the former Czechoslovakia. His research focuses on the influence of communism on approaches to preventive medicine, environmental health, therapeutics, and international health. Moore's dissertation project (deposited spring 2013), titled “Healthy Comrades: Medicine, Marxist-Leninism, and the Masses in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1948-1968”, examines the effort to establish hygiene as a fundamental element in the development of communist society. The project received funding from the J. William Fulbright Commission, the University of Wisconsin Department of History, the University of Wisconsin Department of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies, and the University of Wisconsin Division of Arts and Humanities.
Michelle Niemann - Dissertation Fellow, AY 2011-2012 As a PhD candidate in the English department at UW-Madison with a minor in U.S. History, Michelle Niemann served as an instructor in the Writing Center and taught courses in literature and composition. She was involved in the interdisciplinary Center for Culture, History and the Environment (CHE) and served as one of its graduate representatives in the academic year 2011-2012. Her article on the work of contemporary poet Oni Buchanan appeared in the fall 2011 issue of The Journal of Modern Literature. While participating in the Sawyer Seminar, Niemann developed her dissertation "Organic Forms: The Life of American Poetics, 1945-2010." This dissertation studies organic form in poetry and the organic food and farming movement in the postwar United States, asking how these divergent ways of thinking about the organic may contest, or may be co-opted by, biopolitical discourses.
Stephanie Youngblood - Dissertation Fellow, Spring 2012 Stephanie Youngblood received her PhD in Literary Studies at UW-Madison in the spring of 2014. As a fellow, she worked on her dissertation, "Self-Involved Subjects: Queer Figures and the Body of Testimony in Contemporary American Literature," which explores the rhetoric of testimony and the body in American literature responding to AIDS and 9/11. She has a Master's in Women's Studies from the University of Oxford and in English and Related Literature from the University of York. In 2013-2014 Michelle returned to a Center fellowship as a Public Humanities Fellow, working at Wisconsin Public Radio and To the Best of Our Knowledge.
Monthly seminars and a capstone conference tackled emergent themes of biopolitics and its cross-disciplinary application, integrating the contributions of philosophers, anthropologists, literary critics, historians, sociologists, geographers, and biological scientists. Meetings explored such themes as biological citizenship; biopoetics; hunger, food, and obesity; biomedicine and subjectivity; reproduction and regeneration; and biolegitimacy, among others. Seminar meetings featured scholars from multiple fields in the humanities and interpretive social sciences in order to explain the meaning, utility, and force of biopolitics from a comparative perspective.
Friday, May 3
9:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Memorial Library Room 126
9:30 – 10-:00 Opening remarks and introductions
10:00 – 10:45 Rob Mitchell, “Biopolitics and Population Aesthetics”
10:45 – 11:30 Brady Brower, “Wounded Idealism and the New Social Body: Alfred Espinas, Animal Societies, and Social Biology in France”
11:30 – 1:15 Break for lunch (on your own)
1:15 – 2:00 Timothy Campbell, “Gratitude and Mythic Violence: The Biopolitics of Reciprocity”
2:00 – 2:45 Florence Bernault, “Carnal Technologies and the Double Life of the Body”
3:00 – 3:45 Andrew Aisenberg, “Medical Statistics and the Settlement of Algeria”
3:45 – 4:30 Lee Medovoi, “Reconsidering Biopolitics: Interiority, Abstraction, Environmentality”
4:30 – 5:00 Closing Discussion
Saturday, May 4 9:30 AM to 1:00 PM Center for the Humanities Conference Room 313 (University Club Building, 432 East Campus Mall)
9:30 – 9-:45 Opening remarks and introductions
9:45 – 10:30 Alastair Hunt, “The Politics of Wild Surmise”
10:30 – 11:15 Elizabeth Johnson, “Mimetic Revolutions in the Biopolitical Machine”
11:30 – 12:15 Todd Meyers, “The Improvisational Labor of Experiment: Kurt Goldstein with his Individual Subject”
12:15 – 1:00 Frédéric Neyrat, “Biopolitics of Catastrophes, or, How to Avert the Past and Regulate the Future”