Papers I wish I’d seen last week

Was unable to get to the Foucault conference last week. Apparently the challenge of going to 2 conferences at once was too much!

Here’s a paper or 2 I wish I’d seen:

Catherine Bliss (New School for Social Research)
Genome Sampling and the Biopolitics of Race
This paper applies Foucault’s concept of biopolitics to scientific knowledge about race via a genealogy of global genome project sampling strategies. Using internal records, publications and news coverage of three major projects, I show how global genomics has moved from population-blind sampling to continent-based, race-conscious sampling. I argue that this tactical change was motivated by pressures from the U.S. federal government to incorporate specific sociopolitical racial redress policies. Here, the state produces a framework for accessing bodies that generates a specific definition and administration of life. Due to funding structures, this American framework has become the leading global paradigm.

The paper will be structured into five parts. The first part discusses the inception of the Human Genome Project, presenting its structural formation, scientific relevance, and its initial race-free sampling measures. I provide evidence of the absence of dialogue over race, ethnicity, and population representation that was the norm of late twentieth century global science. The second part tracks the rise of government mandates about race by examining two Department of Health and Human Services policies launched mid-project. Here, a new paradigm emerges for all federally funded research enforcing population inclusion. Part three presents the Human Genome Diversity Project – a project that attempted to sample from a wide array of ethnic
populations. I argue that the reason this project failed to garner international support was its lack of reflection about US federal racial categories. Part four explores the closing policies of the Human Genome Project, looking specifically at two federally funded micro-projects that emerged from within the Human Genome Project. One micro-project applied a sampling protocol similar to the initial race-free paradigm and the other introduced new race-specific measures. In the final part, I show how this latter micro-project wasable to sustain itself and metamorphosize into a new global project: the International HapMap Project. I conclude by discussing the significance of these events for the management of national populations.

This window into contemporary biopolitics closely tracks race-based policies and knowledge pertaining to human genomics. Still, the shifts I cover have relevance for all biomedical science since the inception of the molecular turn. Indeed, human genomics is increasingly the central framework of the biological sciences. Understanding the brief but rich history of global genomic sampling policies can tell us much about how states and disciplines are constructing the body, the human, and the nation.

This is a fascinating study… and perhaps the most interesting-looking paper at the conference (in my opinion of course, others will be interested in different things). There’s already been a lot of criticism of this project within anthropology (which for me is a better discipline to understand race than sociology, but hey).

David Sealy (York University)
On the War of the Races, Biopolitics and the Society of Control
In the 1975-1976 lectures translated into English as “ Society must be defended” Michel Foucault, in formulating an implicit critique of Marxist historiography, and the claim that class warfare grounds society, argues that the pre-eminent conflicts that grounds the constitution of modern European nation states, is what he calls the “war of the races”. (Stoler 1996) These “war of the races” are conflicts between, for example the Normans and the Saxons, or the Gauls and Franks.[1] So that, for example, “English law and English political theory, Foucault tells us are devoted to suppressing or pushing away the Conquest.” (Valverde 2007:166) Thus, it can be said that it is these “race wars” that form the ground of what Marx calls class conflict. So that it could be argued that in grounding modern society in class conflict or class antagonism, Marx, although aware of the role of racial conflict in the development of what he calls primitive accumulation, ignores the way “race “ is “always already” inscribed in the class conflicts that
ground capitalism..

Drawing on contemporary critical theorization of race, Deluze theorization of the society of control, and Foucault’s conception of biopower, and using Canada as an example, this paper argues for extending Foucault’s analysis of the ”race wars”, beyond his location of them at the inception of the European nation states, to an analysis of the colonial and then post-colonial states, in what has come to be called the New World. Here, following Foucault’s comment, about “ …law as born in the blood and mud of battle”’ there will be an exploration of the racial conflicts that extended into peaceful social relations grounding these postcolonial “societies of control”. On this constitution of the modern post-colonial nation states, it could be argued that the “race wars” that frame the European empires are internalized, and translated into the constitutive fabric of initially the colonial societies and later post colonial societies of control The argument is that race is turned into the foundational code of first the colonial, and later the post-colonial nations.

As Goldberg argues, “modern states have taken shape in part, in relation to their specific embodiments of racial conditions. In short the modern state is the racial state in one version or another.”( Goldberg 2002: 34)

This one has potential as well and I’m hoping that we will see a real engagement with Foucault’s promising work on race, despite its somewhat problematic assertions.

Here’s a provocative one:

Machiel Karskens (Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands)
Biopower – A Slip of the Polemical Mind: On Foucault’s Invention and Rejection of Biopower
In 1976 Michel Foucault puts biopower on the stage of the philosophical discussion in the fifth chapter of his Will to Knowledge. In 1978 he openly drops it. From that moment on biopower is replaced by governmentality, which finally dissolves into bundles of disciplinary tactics, administration technologies, and their play of power.
What happened?
A chronological description of the genesis of the idea of biopower in Foucault shows that the cradle of biopower or biopolitics proves to be his genealogy of medicalization and public health. In 1975/ 1976 biopower is integrated in Foucault’s general theory of power as a specific modern technology of control of a population next to disciplinary power being control of individual behavior. At the same moment, however, biopower is included in the analysis of political power as a continuation of war with other means (see the Cours of 1976, <Society must be defended>).
In a critical assessment, it is shown why this “war model” of power proved to be inconsistent with Foucault’s conception of positive power. The crucial factor is the acceptance or rejection of violence as a central characteristic of political power. Since 1977, Foucault actually rejected the war model, but only in 1982 he somehow openly explained why (see The Subject and Power).
It is argued that this inconsistency also prevented a coherent development of the idea of biopower as a modern replacement and reversal of pre-modern sovereign power of life and death. As a consequence Foucault completely dropped the notion of biopower or biopolitics in his lectures of 1978 and 1979. It is replaced by governmentality,
Finally, I would like to argue that the re-use of biopower, among others by Giorgio Agamben, is doomed to repeat the antinomy of power as either violence and killing, or productive government of men.

I think this talk of “rejecting” etc is overblown personally. I certainly think emphases shifted, but for me the project is remarkably coherent. But even if it wasn’t I don’t see a great dead hand of history “dooming” other people’s projects.

Here’s one I regret missing:

Christopher Alderson (Carleton University, Institute of Political Economy)
The Geographies of Risk
Expanding upon the work addressing risk as a technique of liberal governance (Dillon, Ewald,
O’Malley), I explore in my forthcoming paper the relationship between racism, racialization and the increased use of advanced risk assessment technologies. While marketed to the public as mathematical and scientific—and therefore objective and impartial—security algorithms and screening processes deployed by intelligence and bordering agencies are put in place and formulated by human actors, who carry with them pre-constructed notions of what it is to be legitimate or illegitimate, normal or deviant. These conceptions help formulate a complex rubric of social stratification that is based on raced identities and other subjectivities of liberal citizenship. While much of the literature on biopolitics has tended to focus upon the more extreme practices of extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention, these extremes are situated in the much more mundane and increasingly prevalent deployment of risk assessment technologies that now proliferate advanced liberal regimens and mentalities.
In my critical assessment of these practices, I argue the fundamental problem that arises from the use of risk-mitigation algorithms in the “war on terror” is that the terrorist comes to exist not as an individual committing a prohibited act, but as a “dangerous individual”: a certain kind of being with inherent incorrigible and dangerous characteristics (Foucault, 1978). With this distinction at play, the state is not searching for an individual who has committed a specific crime, but a type of person identified as a risk based on a mapped profile of “the terrorist”—constructed through a host of identifying markers such as religion, ethnic origin, gender, educational background, financial behaviours and country of origin. Because the
ontological stability of identity is limited, I argue that risk algorithms that securitize certain subjectivities demonstrate the tension between the racist state and the ability to effectively govern through riskmanagement. What is more, as racist typologies deployed correspond to already marginalized groups within society, risk-management techniques may actually serve to further racialize and emphasize differences within the geographical and cultural space in which they are deployed. Identifying what behaviours are understood as normal, how they relate to other constructions of identity, and how racializing techniques can converge to (mis)identify non-violent populations as deviants and terrorists, is critical if we are to develop more equitable methods of reducing all kinds of political violence.

This has some nice geographical intersections and is close to the work of people like Matt Hannah.

The recent lectures obviously quite a bit of material, with liberalism getting plenty of attention. Also prominent are papers on self-governance–as we have often seen in this blog, a favorite of theology school professors.

Altogether a very interesting looking conference and I look forward to the inevitable special journal issue and/or book.


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