Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lauren Wilcox's Project

My dissertation’s central question is: how does explicitly theorizing bodies as political allow us to think about these forms of contemporary political violence in ways that allow us to answer these questions? One of the deep ironies of security studies is that while war is actually inflicted on bodies, bodily violence and vulnerability, as the flip side of security, are largely ignored. By contrast, feminist theory is at its most powerful when it denaturalizes accounts of individual subjectivity so as to analyze the relations of force, violence, and language that compose our profoundly unnatural bodies. Security Studies lacks the reflexivity necessary to see its contribution to the very context it seeks to domesticate. Security Studies has largely ignored work in feminist theory that opens up the forces that have come to compose and constitute the body: by and large, security studies has an unarticulated, yet implicit, conception of bodies as whole and inviolable. Attentive to the relations provoked by both discourse and political forces, feminist theory redirects attention to how both compose and produce bodies on terms often alien and unstable. Contemporary feminist theorizing about embodiment provides a provocative challenge to the stability and viability of several key concepts in IR such as sovereignty, security, violence, and vulnerability. Security studies emphasizes the strategic deployment of force in the language of rational control and risk management—and so pushes the threat of contingency and destabilization beyond its own interpretive territory. Feminist theory, by contrast, offers a critical re-thinking of analytic concepts in connection to notions as basic as power and security. In this project, I draw on recent work in feminist theory that offers a challenge to the deliberate maintenance and policing of boundaries and delineation of human bodies from the broader political context.

I argue that a focal shift to bodies in the practices of torture, suicide bombing, and precision warfare compels a different interpretation of the relationship between subjects, bodies, and violence than is currently explicit or implicit in IR, in which bodies are known purely as biological entities, relevant to violence only as they live and die. I turn to currents of contemporary feminist theory to suggest an alternative mode of knowing the human subject of international violence and security. I argue that human bodies as we know them are effects of political practices rather than natural entities. Violent practices of international relations produce the many bodies of IR as we know them. At the same time, bodily practices have effects that are, in turn, productive of international relations. I argue that bodies are also agentic, in that they can be consequential in ways that are not reducible to the will of the subject. I thereby show how practices of international relations can (and should) be rethought in the discipline of IR in terms of the production of bodies in their historicity and agency.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Yet again, on the subject of dead bodies . . .

I just saw this, listed in the New Scholarly Books section of the November 19, 2010, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

AFTER WE DIE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE HUMAN CADAVER by Norman L. Cantor (Georgetown University Press; 372 pages; $26.95).  Examines the physical disposition and legal and moral status of the deceased; argues that the corpse retains a quasi-human status that grants it various "cadaveric rights."
It's listed with the law books.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stefanie Fishel's current project

My research lies at the intersection of political science and the life sciences. I use interpretive methodologies and science studies to open debates about life and its definition, regulation, vulnerabilities, and safekeeping in an international context.

The metaphor of the “body politic” has long been a part of political discourse even as attention to its metaphoricity has been slight. To add to this the role of (human and nonhuman) bodies as material actants (to use Bruno Latour’s term) has also been under-theorized, especially in International Relations (IR). Recent advances in medicine, biotechnology, and the natural sciences supply frameworks for examining more closely how the body, both as a metaphor and an actant, shapes our understanding of international conflict and cooperation.

I begin by investigating how body metaphors have worked in International Relations to justify or excuse acts of state violence. Simplistic metaphors likening illegal immigrants to viruses, by way of example, invite violent responses: is not the polity’s “immune system” merely defending the health of the collective? I then suggest that the traditional figure of the human body--as a self-contained and self-regulating organism--is at odds with the body made possible by new technologies. Today, organs and genomic information flow across borders and bacterial and viral communities, both symbiotic and pathogenic, clearly affect our bodies and through them our politics. The H1N1 pandemic scare with its vaccine scarcity and distribution complications are case in point. We can no longer uphold the fiction of autonomous selfhood, or the figure of the human body as a Newtonian entity with boundaries; what must that mean for institutions we “create in out own image?” Consider that the DNA of other life forms in our body outnumber us 10 to 1. What ethics and responsibilities will these discoveries complicating our definition of the human require?

The dissertation examines three developments in the physical sciences that can help social sciences revise some of their key concepts. Each of these examples reveal the extent to which human bodies are not fixed and closed systems, but “lively” containers that reflect interactions with other humans and nonhuman forms of life. In the first case, the emerging science of metagenomics--genetic analysis applied to entire communities of microbes and studied in a way analogous to a single genome--can help us re-imagine what counts as community. From this perspective it is impossible not see the similarities between relationships in the internal relations between members of microbiotic communities in the human gut and the relations between members of a political society. Just as human individuals are embedded in our environment, our bodies are home to our own communities of micro flora and fauna.

In the second case, I turn to changes in understanding human immunology to evaluate current IR theory based on negative biopolitics and exceptionalism stemming from Agamben and Schmitt. Whereas IR reproduces an image that recalls the cell membranes, it is conceivable that from my perspective that ostensibly “foreign” bodies are productive and vital to the health of the community. Just as people with a mix of microbes and eukaryotic parasites in their alimentary canal appear to suffer less intestinal disease and autoimmune disorders, so too does the health of the polis rely on flow and diversity of people. This argument overlaps with Derrida and his writings on auto-immunity. In this case, human skin is used metaphorically to depict the border as a liminal zone, or porous and “fuzzy,” rather than a barrier or obstruction between outside and inside to supply the framework for a critique of current immigration policies and border politics between the United States and Mexico.

The last example uses organ transplantation and transfer to illustrate radical forms of body politics and how they might affect ideas of what it means to be human. Medical science has made it possible to take the body apart and redistribute bodily materials. Shot through with socioeconomic and capitalist assumptions, the literature on the subject rarely asks what it might mean politically and ethically now that the human body can be disaggregated into fragments that are derived from a particular person, but are no longer constitutive of human identity. I identify these silences to add subtleties to a debate often trapped between commodification and state control.

In my work, I find cooperation from philosophers such as Spinoza and his idea of “complex bodies,” Machiavelli’s virtu and fortuna, Foucault and his lectures at the College de France, and Deleuze and Guattari and their use of the concept haecceity. I also draw on other philosophers and thinkers in the history of science and science studies such as Latour, especially helpful for a language of “things” in politics, Haraway and her work on companion species, and Canguilhem’s work writings on biology and normalization to explore new ways to imagine a more positive biopolitics. The relation of immunity and community in the writings of Esposito and the role of love and the multitude in Hardt and Negri’s Commonwealth are instructive in this regard.

The above examples begin to develop a framework for a non-mechanical and materialist conception of life for the study of international politics. They force us to acknowledge from both inside and outside our bodies that Cartesian dualism and Newtonian atomism is inadequate. As our understanding of the complexity and porosity of the human body has grown, so, too, must our idea of the “body politic” and the political ethics appropriate to it. For example, the interminglings/incorporations of strangers/nonhuman life into our bodies like those identified above may lead us to create and embrace forms of global community not based on citizenship or ethnicity. What might a posthuman future look like based on these material understandings of bodies--both human and nonhuman--and their worlds? How will traditional notions of state sovereignty and policies of national security have to be altered? What other kinds of organization can we imagine beyond the Westphalian state system? How could different metaphors, such as Timothy Morton’s mesh and Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome work to transform our notions of political community? Put another way, the dissertation interrogates the ways in which we constitute ourselves--both as individuals and as groups--as biopolitical subjects and examines the consequences for the political debates surrounding immigration, security, organ trade, and biomaterial, for example.

Much less gut-wrenching: images of college football players

"Image Rights vs. Free Speech in Video Game Suit"


Here what's arguably being stolen is not a material piece of the body, but rather the image of the body.  The right of publicity (the right to control how one's image is used) butts up against the right of free speech.  On the one hand there's the sense that a picture of me -- and particularly a video of me -- is somehow mine.  The image of my physical form is intrinsically connected to me.  An image of me could not exist if my physical form did  not exist.  On the other hand, all new creative efforts start somewhere, and sometimes they start with an image (perhaps a fleeting memory, perhaps a paid model, perhaps a verbal description).  Could anyone ever create without somehow appropriating an image?  If a model is paid or has volunteered to let her form be copied, that's not a problem.  But what about the case of the uncompensated transformation of the image of a living body into a still recognizable digital avatar?  How much transformation of an image renders it a new creation, unconnected to the original body?

Organ-Trafficking Ring in Kosovo

NY Times article

This is the first time I have seen probable evidence of the actual stealing of kidneys -- not "just" paying a very low amount.  This is not a case of a kidnapped person having his kidney removed, but rather someone who was promised -- and then denied -- monetary compensation for selling a kidney.  Yes, there are interesting theoretical issues raised by this article (the fact that medical science can provide cures using transplanted kidneys creates "demand" for kidneys which is not met by the "supply" creates an opportunity for a black market to flourish), but I can't get any scholarly distance on this:  The story is very, very sad and some people are simply evil.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

An unabashedly self-serving plug

If you are reading this blog, you might be interested in our paper:

Renee Marlin-Bennett, Marieke Wilson, and Jason Walton (2010).  Commodified Cadavers and the Political Economy of the Spectacle.  International Political Sociology 4, 159–177.

Here's the abstract:
Traveling anatomy exhibitions import plasticized, posed human cadavers
and place them on display. We explore the current industry, its
history, and the spectacle of anatomy exhibits. The commodification of
cadavers is examined as a problem in global political economy. The
absence of global rules identifying plastinated cadavers as human
remains allows a globalized plastination and exhibition industry. The
spectacle of the exhibitions themselves divert attention away from
important moral questions about the proper use of human remains and
about the provenance of the cadavers used to create plastinates. The
absence of global norms and the distraction of spectacle results in a
global regime permitting commodification of cadavers.

A focus of inquiry . . .

This blog has been created for scholars of the social sciences and humanities who are interested in the body and bodies in our studies of global relations, conditions, and processes.  International relations does not happen without bodies: Wars are fought by people, and people (obviously) have bodies; trade happens because people make deals to buy and sell; diplomacy involves people speaking, a physical act.  Even networked communication via the Internet ultimately involves human begins, sitting around in their sacks of skin, who have a physical, embodied presence in the world.  And the sovereign state, most famously in the frontspiece of Hobbes's Leviathan, is understood as a metaphorical body.

How do bodies matter in the world?  What are the key research questions that animate us?  How do we theorize bodies?  What are the empirics we use for analyzing the body in the world? What are we finding in our research?

What are we reading?  What do we find enlightening or infuriating?

I hope this blog will start a conversation and create a virtual community as we engage this interesting subject.