I presented work at the Immunity, Health and the Body Politic symposium. This is (broadly) what I said.
In this presentation I am going to engage Francois Debrix and Alexander D. Barder’s Beyond Biopolitics (2012) to think through the relationship between biopolitics, violence and immunity. Like Debrix and Barder I think there are aspects of contemporary violence that the paradigm of ‘biopolitics’ (which, for the sake of brevity and polemics we’ll have to temporarily assume is a homogenous field, despite its permutations) is unable to account for; in particular, violence at the level of the particular existents who suffer it. However, Debrix and Barder, while wanting to move “beyond” biopolitics, never really leave its framing, and so their analysis repeats an account of violence-power-politics which is powerful in its theorising of populations, dispositifs, forms of governance etc., but routinely subsumes the particular instances of these forms of governance as nothing other than symptoms of wider formations of power or as techniques which account for the operationalisation of dispositifs. Put simply, within the paradigm of biopolitics, violated bodies and persons are first used as proof of the truth of biopolitics. I think this has both theoretical and ethical issues.
Like Debrix and Barder, what I am sketching here is not a dismissal: biopolitics has, in its various permutations, demonstrated itself as being able to make sense of various forms of contemporary violence in a powerful way. Rather, I simply want to probe the limits of the biopolitical paradigm. How does the form of its deployment emphasise some things and obscure others, or implicitly make some phenomena worthy of attention and others worthless? Again, this aesthetic dimension is not unique to biopolitics: these questions can be asked of any paradigm of thought. But in the context of discussions of immunity, a concept which biopolitics, especially in Esposito’s account, has done much useful work with, it is biopolitics which I will today be thinking about.