“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Monday, June 22, 2015

What Is After Biopolitics?

After Biopolitics, the 2015–16 Seminar, will expore how and why “life” in the broadest sense has become a central topic of politics over the past few decades.

The seminar will be led by Cary Wolfe, the Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor in English and director of the Center for Critical and Cultural Theory, and Timothy Morton, the Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English.

Over the past 30 years, no paradigm has become more central to understanding our own moment than the paradigm of biopolitics—a fact that has left hardly any discipline untouched, resulting in new formations such as bioart, bioethics, biotechnology, biomedia, biocapital, bioinformatics, biovalue and biocomputing among many others. The reasons for this are not hard to see: the engineering, domestication and commodification of life in the era of synthetic biology, at a level scarcely thinkable 50 years ago; rapid depletion of the earth's resources in the context of global warming in what used to be called the first world; seemingly endless debates over the political and economic complexities of health care, social security, lengthening retirement ages and dwindling personal savings rates in the developed West; confrontations over abortion and immigration in the U.S., in which the concepts of life and race are never far from view; and the post-9/11 context of the war on terror and ongoing anxieties about security resulting in the normalization of spaces and practices of judicial exception such as Guantanamo Bay, drone warfare and electronic surveillance at a level heretofore unknown. Add to these an increasing awareness of the plight of nonhuman life, whether in discussions of animal rights, factory farming and the bioengineering of nonhuman creatures or in the increasingly undeniable fact of the sixth major extinction event in the history of the planet. In the face of such developments, the seminar seeks to reexamine the theoretical, cultural, social and political underpinnings of the biopolitical paradigm and to explore conceptual resources for the possibility of thinking what has been the intersection of life and the political as a potential space of affinity, community and creativity.

The Rice Seminars program is an initiative of the Office of the Dean of Humanities and is funded by the School of Humanities and the Humanities Research Center.

For more information about the Rice Seminars, visit hrc.rice.edu/riceseminars.

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