23121 The Politics of Life Itself

This is an introductory course on biopolitics. The class will approach this Foucauldian category as both a “style of thought” and as a mode of governmentality. Key questions we will return to throughout the quarter include: What forms of knowledge-power are mobilized to conceive of life statistically and/or at the level of population? How might biopolitics transform our understanding of sexuality, race, and class, as well as their disciplinary systems? And, finally, what does it mean to politicize “life itself”? In order to get a better handle on Michel Foucault’s foundational formulation of biopolitics in the final chapter of The History of Sexuality, we will spend the first two weeks tracing the concept’s prehistory in the work of Charles Darwin and the life philosophers of the Nineteenth Century before turning to contemporary theorizations of biopolitics by feminist, critical race, disability, and queer scholars. These recent interventions alert us to the different instantiations or modalities of biopolitics in relation to one’s geo-political location and/or subject-position. For some, biopolitics has the potential to foster new forms of life and capacities; for others, this politics of life is more likely to be encountered as a necropolitics. We will therefore spend the final few weeks of the quarter thinking about the relation between life and death under biopolitics. How might the biopolitical revision of life alter our understanding of death itself?

Vinh Cam
2018-2019 Spring