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Three-part lecture series on Feminist Science Studies and Feminist Biopolitics: Lecture 1: Precarious Life? Judith Butler


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Title: Three-part lecture series on Feminist Science Studies and Feminist Biopolitics: Lecture 1: Precarious Life? Judith Butler

Three-part lecture series on Feminist Science
Studies and Feminist BiopoliticsLecture 1
Precarious Life?Judith Butlers Precarious Life
The Powers of Mourning and Violence
  • Professor Charis Thompson
  • UC Berkeley / Yonsei / Ewha Seminar The
    Emergence of Life Politics in Neoliberal
  • Yonsei University, Seoul, June 2008

Schedule of Classes
  • Week 1 Wednesday lecture Precarious Life?
    (feminist biopolitics and Judith Butlers
    Precarious Life)
  • Discussion section Presentation and QA on
    Making Parents
  • Week 2 Wednesday lecture Bare Life?
    (biopolitical geographies and histories and
    Giorgio Agambens Homo Sacer)
  • Discussion section Panel on Gender, Everyday
    Life and Exceptional Life, with Professors Cho,
    Kim, and Thompson
  • Week 3 Wednesday lecture Beyond Humanism?
    (feminist technoscience studies and Donna
    Haraways Cyborg and Companion Species
  • Discussion section student presentations with
    feedback from Professors Cho, Kim, and Thompson

What is biopolitics?
  • Michel Foucault biopolitics relates closely to
    his idea of biopower, which is characteristic of
    the form of government (modern nation state /
    capitalism), governmentality, that regulates
    through interventions on populations (census,
    reproduction, family, sexuality, etc), and is
    power over life and death
  • Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri refer rather to
    anti-capitalist insurrection where ones life and
    body are mobilized as weapons, including 'in its
    most tragic and revolting form', suicide
    terrorism. Biopower for them is the hegemonic,
    sovereign, political condition for the activation
    of biopolitics.
  • The term also has a considerable legitimacy in
    more everyday life meaning bioethics, life
    science policy, all kinds of political activism
    to do with living things, and the political and
    cultural aspects of the rise of biotechnology and
    the biomedicalization of society

What is feminist biopolitics?
  • Feminist biopolitics from humanities (e.g. Buter
    we are discussing today Shiva, Braidotti)
  • Feminist biopolitics from social sciences (e.g.
    bioethics, sociology and anthropology of life and
  • Feminist science and technology studies (e.g.
    Donna Haraway, myself, and many, many others)
  • Goals of each
  • Spatialization and temporalization of each
  • Agency in each
  • Modes of analysis
  • Styles of writing and arguing

Feminist / Queer theoretical strands of Butler
  • Importance of vulnerability and the potential to
    be injured
  • Importance of mourning and loss
  • Role of womens, ethno-national, racial
    minorities, and sexual minorities experiences
    politically, and during war
  • Legacy of AIDS hate crime legislation in US
  • Appropriation of womens rights as a
    justification of war

Judith Butlers Precarious Life, by Chapters
  • Explanation and Exoneration, or What We Can Hear
    (or, why the role of the US in September 11,
    2001, can and should be analysed, without
    condoning the attack so as to grieve for all lost
  • Violence, Mourning, Politics (on the fundamental
    aspect of precariousness to injury and mourning
    in our current humanism, starting with Freud)
  • Indefinite Detention (on sovereignty and
    governmentality overlap in Guantanamo, as
    evidenced by the state of exception in war
  • The Charge of Anti-Semitism (why it is legitimate
    to criticize Israel and Zionism, and to support
    Palestinian statehood as an American Jew, despite
    charges that this is tantamount to anti-semitism)
  • Precarious Life (starting as a meditation on the
    role of the humanities in late capitalist
    research universities, and after
    post-structuralism, becomes an elaboration of the
    Levinasian idea of giving face to all lives in
    the recognition of the precariousness of that

What does this do to biopolitics?
  • Are there populations, sovereigns, nation states?
    Which ones?
  • What part does capitalism / markets play?
  • Who is she talking about?
  • What world does she fear she is living in and
    what world does she advocate for?
  • What action should we take?
  • What about thanato- / necropolitics?

Three-part lecture series on Feminist Science
Studies and Feminist BiopoliticsLecture 2 Bare
LifeGiorgio Agambens Homo Sacer Sovereign
Power and Bare Life, Part III
  • Professor Charis Thompson
  • UC Berkeley / Yonsei / Ewha Seminar The
    Emergence of Life Politics in Neoliberal
  • Yonsei University, Seoul, June 2008

Homo Sacer, Part III
  • Giorgio Agamben, Professor of Philosophy,
    University of Verona, Italy.
  • Homo Sacer Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995
    in English 1998) is in three parts we are
    concerned today with Part III.
  • Part I The Logic of Sovereignty
  • Part II Homo Sacer
  • Part III The Camp as Biopolitical Paradigm of
    the Modern

  • Distinction between zoe and bios, from Greeks
  • Zoe simple fact of living common to all living
  • Bios way of living proper to an individual or
  • Inherits political theory tradition whereby polis
    is separated from oikos (home) and the latter is
    taken to be concerned with reproduction and
    outside the polity (in feminist theory, the
    personal is political reproductive
    technologies, etc., undermine this distinction
    Agamben does not take up any feminist
    biopolitical work in Homo Sacer)
  • Sets up for bios as sacred life (can be killed,
    not sacrificed), and zoe as bare life (can be
    sacrificed doesnt amount to murder) as modes of
    subjectification in modernity

Agambens humanism
  • The bios for the genus zoon of human, that which
    distinguishes humans from all other animals for
    Aristotle/ Agamben, is a supplement of
    politicity tied to language, on a community not
    simply of the pleasant and the painful but of the
    good and the evil and of the just and the
  • Ties this to definition of city (primordial
    expression of the collective political life)
    the end of the city is life according to the
    good. The wolf-man is barred from the city in
    modernity bare life is produced within the nation
  • (Compare to Butler, for whom precarious life is
    a injurability that is both zoe and bios, and is
    not derivative of / co-incident with the city,
    measured by fear of/susceptibility to violence
    toward oneself and mourning for the injured other)

1 The Politicization of Life
  • Starts with Foucaults modern man is an animal
    whose whose politics calls his existence as a
    living being into question, with Hannah Arendts
    focus on totalitarianism, total domination, and
    concentration camps, claiming that she left out
    biopolitics and he left out paying attention to
    totalitarian states of C20th.
  • His idea of the politicization of life brings
    together these two strands.
  • Unlike Foucault epistemes, Agamben sees the
    river of biopolitics that gave homo sacer his
    life runs its course in a hidden but continuous
    fashion. Totalitarianism and mass democracy
    drive it to its limit in the camp
  • The corpus of early modern period (habeas corpus)
    becomes the body that can be killed, not

2 Biopolitics and the Rights of Man
  • The importance of the refugee of the modern
    nation state, who breaks the continuity between
    man and citizen, nativity and nationality and
    puts the originary fiction of modern sovereignty
    in crisis. Rights of man designed to be
    universally appealed to in times of bare life
    but cannot be understood outside the nation state
    conferring those rights.
  • The refugee must be considered for what he is,
    nothing less than a limit concept that radically
    calls into question the fundamental categories of
    the nation-state, from the birth-nation to the
    man-citizen link
  • Sees current separation between humanitarianim
    and politics as another example (others might not

3 Life that Does not Deserve to Live
  • After WWI, the move to extend the unpunishability
    of the killing of life beyond suicide and state
    of emergency to third party (without it being
  • Development of definition and practice of life
    that does not deserve to live
  • Not economic or eugenic efficiency to kill those
    deemed unworthy its about establishing
    biopolitics through one of its characteristics,
    the blending of medicine and politics
  • Euthanasia signals the point at which
    biopolitics necessarily turns into

4 Politics, of Giving Form to the Life of a
  • The fight against internal and external enemies
    of the State (politics) and the care and growth
    of the national body / citizens (police) become
  • Race as understood for the Jews in National
    Socialism is thus not defined phenotypically but
    uses a language of genetics and heredity to bind
    it to eugenics and euthanasia, bringing these two

5 VP
  • VPs, or Versuchspersonen, human guinea pigs, is
    one of the most terrifying aspects of Nazi
  • Physician and scientist move into sovereigns
    territory, deciding on life and death, and what
    is a nationally worthwhile sacrifice (prisoners
    lives for soldiers lives, for example)
  • Importance of idea that science under National
    Socialism is not bad science but is good
    science in the sense of being well organized and
    based on scientifically sound method this flies
    in the face of many common assumptions about
    science and medicine and about Nazi medicine in

6 Politicizing Death
  • The coma depasse (over-coma) and the beginnings
    of brain death, where life support keeps body
    functioning to become a source of organs and body
    parts for the triaged sick
  • The words life and death become unscientific
    words the state is able, through law and
    medicine, to take over defining death and the
    limits of life

7 The Camp as the Nomos of the Modern
  • Agamben argues that it is not the city but
    rather the camp that is the fundamental
    biopolitical paradigm of the West the
    political space of modernity itself
  • Sets up the camp as an idea that can be applied
    (however dubiously) in many situations the camp
    consists in the materialization of the state of
    exceptionwe find ourselves virtually in the
    preesnce of a camp every time such a structure is
  • And in a different yet analgous way, todays
    democratico-capitalist project of eliminating the
    poor classes through development not only
    reproduces within itelf the people that is (sic)
    excluded but also transforms the entire
    population of the Third World into bare life.

Appeal of book
  • The intuitive sense that can be made of the ideas
    of some people being not just more or less valued
    but that some are valued and some are both
    invisible and objects of violence /
    disproportionately subject to violence (different
    registers though mutually constitutive)
  • The proposition that the concentration camp can
    be model for other similar situations which
    encourages others to use it as a model for other
    Others to the political order, without empirical
  • The actual examples beyond the camp are not as
    compelling in that they lose the intuitive appeal
    above - e.g. the brain dead patient is a very
    different kind of zoe from the concentration camp
    prisoner, as is the resident of the Third World,
    or the racialized domestic citizen

Where does Agamben leave us?
  • Sovereign and camp as the twin extremes of
    modernity, states of exception, where zoe and
    bios collapse, as it were in opposite directions
    (sovereign is so pure bios that even his zoe is
    performatively bios Muselmann in concentration
    camp is so pure zoe that his inanimate lack of
    reaction to torture is bios)
  • Wants us, at the end of part III, to return to
    some kind of equilibrium on this spectrum where
    zoe and bios are distinguishable, and a classic
    ontologically autonomous political sphere,
    distinguishable from bare life, is reinstated
    wants to save the political / human

Problems with this
  • STS posits that zoe / bios are always connected,
    and tries empirically to show how in different
    times and places, especially new biologies which
    are rapidly remaking both zoe and bios, as well
    as their connections through technical and
    material means
  • E.g. my notion of selective pronatalism which
    is situated in what I call a biotech mode of
    reproduction, and my newer work on genomics

Neoliberalism? Capitalism?
  • Considering we are to using capitalism,
    neoliberalism, and all the kinds of affect that
    go with the market to explain things from
    biomedicalization to celebrity fetishism, it is
    very interesting that neither Bulter nor Agamben
    have anything whatsoever to say about capital,
    markets free trade. Consumerism, or bio-economies
  • Counter publics to neoliberalism are expressions
    of agency of bios

Relationship with God Creativity Resistance
Humanity in Abjection
  • Also doesnt consider traditions of thought that
    consider suffering to be key to bios, such as
    being productive of a relationship with God, or a
    spur to creativity - that it is a kind of
    trivial/self-centered subjectivity if not earned
    through experience
  • Resistance of all forms (candlelight protest??)
  • Meaning and subject-hood among those who suffer,
    in one anothers eyes, even if homo sacer, bare
    life, in the gaze of the nation state (e.g. even
    in accounts of the camp, people engaged in
    extraordinary acts of humanity such as a mother
    giving insufficient rations to a child) in other
    words there is both great humanity and
    inter-subjectivity in abjection