EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Anthropological perspectives on biopolitics and sovereignty in Europe and the world

Location Wills G27
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 17:00


Athena Athanasiou (Panteio University of Social and Political Sciences) email
Eleni Myrivili (University of the Aegean) email
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Short Abstract

This workshop explores the ways in which biopolitics, the inclusion of human life in the calculations of power and sovereignty, marks the contemporary European moment of ambivalence and contestation.

Long Abstract

In recent years, biopolitics, in its multiple local, national and transnational dimensions, has been the focus of a wide range of anthropological inquiry. This workshop explores the ways in which the inclusion of human life and its intimacies in the calculations of power marks the contemporary European moment of ambivalence and contestation. In contingent realms of national sovereignty and post-national visions, configurations of empire and security anxieties, population policies and biomedical power/knowledge, social suffering, technologies of surveillance and contested discourses of national citizenship, the biopolitical has emerged as a crucial modality of governance, and the production of the biopolitical body as the inaugural activity of sovereign power. Giorgio Agamben, in his exploration of the links between politics, states of exception and bare life, and Judith Butler, in her theory of gender performativity and precarious life, have creatively reworked Michel Foucault's theorisation of biopolitics and sovereignty. Such engagements unsettle the dichotomy between the juridico-institutional (ie sovereignty, the state) and the biopolitical analytics of power (ie the minute and subtle ways in which power determines subjects' bodies and forms of life). The workshop engages the ways in which the problematic of biopolitics involves the production of disciplines as well as the appropriation of these disciplines by subjects themselves. Practices of self, technologies of the body, constructions of gender, race and ethnicity, notions of otherness, regimes of truth, and modes of affect and action, as they are played out in specific ethnographic encounters, are examined. In revisiting not only the analytical but also the ethico-political aspects of power and struggle over life in contemporary Europe, the workshop addresses the possibilities for anthropological work in light of such questions of power and subjectivity.

Chair: Athena Athanasiou, Eleni Myrivili


Border biopolitics, sovereignty and the political

Author: Eleni Myrivili (University of the Aegean)  email
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Long Abstract

This presentation focuses on the national border and its role in the political order of the nation state: as exceptional space of perpetual violence, the border reiterates the law maintaining power of the nation state. The particular borders discussed here are those of Albania, Greece and Macedonia, borders that meet over the waters of a large Lake. Sites of spectacular manifestation of nation-state power, paradigmatic sites of past ethno-nationalist violence, borders form around them particular types of political subjects. The border subjects (illegal immigrants, ethnic minorities, displaced people, and refugees) are the bodies upon which the state (re)founds its claim to monopolize the political. Territorially specific as well as deterritorialized (e.g. in all international airports), the border is here theorized as the distance between the Nation and its subject, a no-man's land where both nation and subject, stripped bare, (re)institute each other anew.

Between exclusion and belonging: ontology, potentiality and life at the threshold of sovereignty

Author: Justin Izzo (Duke University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper examines changing discourses of national belonging in France through a discussion of sovereignty and the rule of law in French minority communities in the wake of the 2005 riots. In particular, I examine two internet chats between suburban residents and members of the French parliament in which representatives from racialized neighborhoods contested the forms of inclusion and concern for suburban life and "well-being" that the government had planned for them. Ultimately, this paper suggests that this situation in France represents just one instance of a larger struggle over sovereignty and political subjectivities in European minority communities, and that the work of Giorgio Agamben offers us a theoretical escape hatch through which to conceive of modes of political belonging that exist outside the juridical indeterminacies of modern biopolitics and sovereignty.

For Agamben, the principle of sovereignty is enacted and sustained on a juridical threshold, a zone of indeterminacy obtaining between the opposed (yet inextricably linked) figures of the sovereign and homo sacer, whose bare life is included within the political order of the West through its exteriority to extant juridical structures. This paper offers a critical reading of Agamben's Homo Sacer and The Coming Community and argues that by recasting the political paradox of sovereignty in ontological terms, and especially in terms of the tension between potentiality and actuality, we can imagine a form of belonging that exists outside the inclusion-exclusion nexus that so characterizes contemporary sovereignty.

Grib and Bcud: genealogies of biopolitics among Tibetan communities in south-west China

Author: Giovanni da Col (SOAS)  email
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Long Abstract

A substantial concern of today's debate on biopolitics is to mediate different genealogies of the concept. On one hand, the birth of biopolitics is supposed to mark the threshold of modernity when natural life is included into the regime of State power (Foucault). On the other hand, the production of the biopolitical is supposed to be the original activity of sovereign power (Agamben). At a time when China is in the World's spotlight, the cult of Kha ba dkar po (Chin. Meili Xue Shan), a Tibetan sacred mountain in Yunnan Province provides the opportunity to examine how indigeous domains of sovereignity over life intermingle with modern forms of governmentality. This paper shall explore ideas of biopolitics in relation to: a) native Tibetan conceptions of life and humanity in relation to an ontology of "pollution" (Tib. grib, sgrib) as a principle of sovereignty employed by Buddhist doctrine in ideas of reincarnation but also to produce the "bare life" of lepers living in neglected colonies on the shores of Mekong river; b) the birth of discourses on nature where indigenous notion of "vital essence" (Tib. bcud) and territorial ritual exchanges with mountain deities and chthonic beings (ri bkag, 'khrugs bcos) are neglected or misconceived and replaced with politics of biodiversity (Chin. sheng wu duo yang xin) advocated by international organisations and government officials eager to address Tibetans as "innate environmentalists".

Metaphorical warfare and the biopolitics of cancer in the US

Author: Anastasia Karakasidou (Wellesley College)  email
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Long Abstract

Modern biomedical science promises to free humans from the fetters of the primitive fear of cancer through modern diagnostics and therapies. In the process, the vulnerable cancerous body undergoes its own process of discipline and compliance that render the model modern American cancer patient ever more dependent upon biomedicine.

This paper examines how the sovergneity of the individual patient is rendered marginal by the biomedical morality that wages the warfare against cancer. The search for a cure and the submission of human bodies in this warfare, is analyzed in this paper as part of the biopolitical state's project of managing the "bare" life of its citizens. And here lies the paradox of the biopolitcs of cancer: rather than managing the causality of carcinogenesis, the biopolitical state situates cancer on the individual body that fights its own war against the disease, accomplishing thus its own legitimation,

Mourning the Other: bare life, sovereign power and the biopolitical nomos of the empire

Author: Athena Athanasiou (Panteio University of Social and Political Sciences)  email
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Long Abstract

The feminist anti-militarist organization Women in Black emerged in Jerusalem in 1988, after the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada, when a small group of Israeli Jewish women, actively supported by Palestinian women who are Israeli citizens, started marching into the West Bank to protest against Israeli aggression. The paper focuses on the Serbian Women in Black, who started in 1991 to stand silently in public places in Belgrade protesting against Serbian militarism. At the heart of the politics enacted by Women in Black lies the public performance of mourning for the unmournable: the less-than-human, those reduced to what Giorgio Agamben, following Walter Benjamin, has called "bare life" or life captured in a zone of indiscernibility between zoe and bios. Public grieving for loss unrecognized as such by sovereignty represents an aberration from the customary propriety of mourning. In mourning otherwise, Women in Black displace the normative identification of mourning with the social role of women; they enact a disruptive mourning that dissembles the social role of woman as mourner eternally silenced by the law of sovereignty, eternally relegated to the aphasic outskirts of discourse.

Sovereignty as a palimpsest: Ottoman officialdom as an affective relic in Northern Cyprus

Author: Yael Navaro-Yashin (Cambridge University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper studies contemporary Turkish-Cypriot identifications with administration and desire for positions in the civil service as a residue from Cyprus' past Ottoman and British histories. Introducing the concept of 'sovereignty as a palimpsest', I argue that old forms of sovereignty exert influence in the present in the form of an affective relic.