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.
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.