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CALL FOR PAPERS: Rethinking Bios and Politics After Foucault.


Rethinking Bios and Politics After Foucault
October 8–10, 2016
Aarhus University, Denmark

Conference organizers: Daena Funahashi (Aarhus University) & David Rojas (Bucknell University,

Keynote speaker: Timothy Campbell (Cornell University)

Other confirmed speakers include:

Andrew Willford (Cornell University)
Ann Stoler (The New School)
James Siegel (Cornell University)
Nils Bubandt (Aarhus University)
Peter Redfield (University of North Carolina)
Rosalind Morris (Columbia University)

Conference Abstract
A decade ago, the ubiquity of Foucault’s terms in anthropological conferences, books, and journal articles prompted some to credit him with providing the discipline’s lingua franca (see, e.g., Boyer 2003).More recently, ontologically oriented investigations seem to have captured much of the attention of cultural anthropologists and Foucault’s theoretical insights appear to be less influential in anthropological circles. An exception to this state of affairs may be found in continuing interest in questions regarding life and the political effects of what sense humans make of it. Foucault’s notion of “biopolitics” continues to inspire anthropologists working on a wide range of contemporary problems, from anti-refugee policies in Europe to global health, genetics, and climate politics. As some within anthropology speak of "turning" on an ontological axis that is not usually associated with Foucault’s oeuvre, we find it timely to revisit Foucault’s investigations into bios and politics within the context of his broader philosophical contributions. Furthermore, the recent publication in English of the last of his unpublished lectures in the Collège de France offers an opportunity to assess the relationship between Foucault’s unfinished intellectual project and contemporary anthropological research on power, ontological problems, and the intertwined lives of humans and non-humans.
The conference is organized around four panels that build on some of Foucault’s most influential ideas. The event will bring together scholars who engage with Foucault’s work from varied perspectives that include recent contributions made by Italian philosophers as well as anthropologists working in the United States. We are less interested in celebrating Foucault’s work as a finalized achievement than in contributing critically to ongoing conversations that may nourish novel anthropological commitments.

- We seek 20-minute papers that draw on ethnographic research to creatively and critically revisit Foucault’s work. Paper abstracts of no more than 250 words may be sent to Daena Funahashi ( no later than May 1, 2016. If you have questions please contact the conference organizers: Daena Funahashi (Aarhus University); David Rojas (Bucknell University,

Proponents should indicate to which of the conference’s four panels their papers would contribute: (1) Apparatuses of Global Health, (2)Madness, (3) Other-Than-Human Living, or (4) Epistemology, Ontology, and Ethnographic Critiques. Please see panel descriptions below.

Panel Abstracts
1) Apparatuses of Global Health  
Concerns over global threats to “human security,” ranging from infectious diseases to climate change and political instability, often lead to proposals to advance globally orchestrated interventions in the name of health as a universal human right. Such framings of health as an object of universal concern contribute to the ongoing emergence of new “apparatuses” wherein technologies, spaces, and knowledge practices combine to situate the lives of individuals and populations within linguistic and material infrastructures (cf. Redfield 2012). While some of these apparatuses target non-human entities that may affect human health such as insects carrying pathogens, others focus on vulnerable peoples such as refugees fleeing the destruction wrought by clashing geopolitical projects. Apparatuses of global health often operate on the basis of an implicit distinction between bios (“politically qualified life”) and zoē (“unqualified life”). Although this distinction allows humanitarian actors to sidestep political considerations when helping vulnerable populations, it may also be at play in efforts whereby bodies, populations, and ecological relations are rendered apolitical and framed as objects of intervention, abandonment, and even destruction.
This panel explores new potentials for life-affirming biopolitics that may arise within apparatuses of global health. Building on contemporary anthropological debates over infrastructure, we ask what new subjects emerge within the materiality of global health efforts and which human–nonhuman relations flourish among them. For example, do apparatuses that reach out to individuals regardless of national citizenship (cf. Lakoff 2010) reveal the making of a new cosmopolitanism based on the framing of life as a universal? How can Foucault’s notion of apparatuses help us unpack ongoing shifts in the global politics of health?

2) Madness
In History of Madness (1961), Foucault attempts to free madness from the straitjacket of psychiatric diagnostics and its “monologue of reason.” Yet, as Derrida argues, this endeavor—and more specifically Foucault’s project of writing the “history of madness itself . . . by letting madness speak for itself”—paradoxically falls into the trap of confining un-reason within the framework of reason. While Foucault has more to say on this topic in his later works and in his response to Derrida, this debate strikes at the heart of anthropological inquiry, especially as it concerns alterity and how one might engage with it.
Recently, anthropology has begun including within its concern with alterity the self as an estranged neurological object as well as the non-human as an entity also existing at the fringes of accessible thought. What can the debate between Foucault and Derrida offer to anthropological inquiries into alterity today? And, as medical anthropology continues to struggle between what becomes named as mad and what is then invoked by it, what can such a discussion offer to the future of such studies opened by Foucault?

3) Other-Than-Human Living
In the years following Foucault’s work, human-driven environmental disruptions have intensified, ecological concerns have become a fixture in global political conversations, and scientists have begun arguing that our lives currently unfold in the Anthropocene (a novel geological era shaped by the irreversible impacts that human actions have on the earth’s dynamics). In response to these issues, anthropologists are increasingly interested in exploring the interaction between humans and nonhumans in investigations that are thematically related to—albeit rarely carried out in dialogue with—Foucault’s research on the idea of “man-as-species.” Foucault’s research shows that knowledge regarding humanity’s “species-being” emerged within practical efforts to manage soils, plants, landscapes, and the atmosphere. But despite his detailed analysis of efforts to shape more-than-human conditions of human life, Foucault’s investigations remained centered on the force of human-made apparatuses.
Recent inter-species ethnographies advance some of Foucault’s insights by focusing on the creative actions of other-than-human life forms and the political potential of entanglements that bring various species together. Similarly, anthropologists have shown that human-made, non-human constructions such as energy systems and infrastructure installations influence politics in non-deterministic ways. This panel revisits Foucault’s engagement with other-than-human entities and engages with recent anthropological investigations of the creation, destruction, and re-composition of the worlds that humans and non-humans inhabit. From this perspective, we seek to trace opportunities to undertake “positive” biopolitical efforts that could respond to the problems associated with the Anthropocene by recomposing worlds hospitable to humans and non-humans.

4) Epistemology, Ontology, and Ethnographic Critiques
Since the 1980s, anthropologists associated with the “linguistic turn” in the social sciences and the humanities have drawn inspiration from Foucault’s work on power and knowledge and advanced ethnographic experiments that question totalizing styles of knowledge. Over the past decade anthropologists who are seen to be advancing an “ontological turn” have proposed novel ethnographic experiments that are often seen as incompatible with those of a previous generation. In contrast to former anthropological critiques that were concerned with novel ways of knowing and writing (problems often associated with the field of “epistemology”) “ontologically inclined” anthropologists focus their research on emerging ways of being and becoming. Nevertheless, while distinguishing epistemological from ontological approaches has often proved analytically useful, this panel draws on Foucault’s work to ethnographically explore potential points of connection that could link these distinct critical perspectives. From his work on knowledge that transforms bodies and populations to his research on ethical practices through which persons refashion themselves, Foucault’s oeuvre offers fertile ground on which to reassess ethnographic methods used to explore relations between, as it were, “words” and “things.” Short of constructing a synthesis that integrates ontological and epistemological perspectives, on this panel we seek to explore novel grounds for ethnographic projects that may continue to cultivate, and experiment with our knowledge of, shifting worlds and ideas.


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