Neoliberalism + Biopolitics Conference


Neoliberalism + Biopolitics Conference is the final international event of semester-long series named Neoliberalism + Biopolitics Working Group which is investigating the role of neoliberalism and biopolitics as both contemporary objects of study and paradigms of analysis for humanistic and social- scientific inquiry. While the two concepts were originally linked at both the historical and conceptual level by Michel Foucault’s 1978-79 Collège de France lectures, their contemporary usage extends far beyond this earlier articulation. Today, neoliberalism and biopolitics are increasingly deployed as conceptual tools to describe and evaluate new forms of political power, social control, technological developments, and economic orders. The proliferation of these terms, however, has also placed their enduring diagnostic value in doubt. This working group thus hopes to call these terms into question, refine their analytical precision, and test their explanatory potential against empirical investigations of contemporary social, political, and economic life. In particular, it hopes to interrogate the ways in which neoliberalism may function as a form of “biopolitics”—that is, the ways in which neoliberalism may develop and deploy new techniques of governance for the regulation and transformation of human life.

Over the past two decades neoliberalism and biopolitics have emerged as essential terms for critical theorists of all stripes attempting to analyze ongoing transformations in social and political life. As both objects of study and frames for analysis, neoliberalism and biopolitics have served as key ciphers for those attempting to appreciate the novelty of contemporary political rationalities, forms of social control, technological developments, and economic orders. This conference aims to produce a conversation among major thinkers currently working to develop and problematize these two concepts. Envisioned as a dialogue among diverse theorists, we hope to extend the discussion across disciplinary lines by bringing together scholars from both the humanities and social sciences.

Michel Foucault’s 1978-79 College de France lectures famously linked biopolitics and neoliberalism at both the historical and conceptual level; contemporary usage of both terms, however, extends well beyond Foucault’s original articulation. Part of the ambition of this conference is to interrogate the compatibility or incommensurability of different approaches seeking to deploy both concepts. Along these lines, we hope to probe the possibilities and limitations of neoliberalism and biopolitics as paradigms for critically analyzing how power operates in late capitalist modernity.

To this end we hope to consider some of the following questions:

  • In what ways do neoliberalism and biopolitics demand a rethinking of traditional Marxian and post-Marxist approaches and categories for analyzing capitalism, labor, commodification, production, consumption, and culture?
  • How do neoliberalism and biopolitics differently account for the emergence of human capital, processes of economization, and the governance of individuals and populations? Which elements and shifts are most significant in the attempt to theorize and historicize the transformation of liberalism to neoliberalism in the past half-century?
  • What novel technological developments do neoliberalism and biopolitics deploy in the regulation, transformation, and management of life? How do contemporary approaches to the study of science and technology intersect with critiques of neoliberalism and biopolitics?
  • To what degree do regimes of biopolitical and neoliberal governance extend or differ as they cross national and international borders? How do they force us to reconsider relations among nations, states, international institutions, and non-governmental organizations in the context of processes of globalization, decentralization, privatization, and economic integration?

Speakers include

  • Étienne Balibar Université Paris X -Nanterre
  • Banu Bargu The New School for Social Research
  • Wendy Brown UC Berkeley
  • Michel Feher Zone Books
  • Bernard Harcourt Columbia University
  • Colleen Lye UC Berkeley
  • Achille Mbembe University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
  • Christopher Newfield UC Santa Barbara
  • Leslie Salzinger UC Berkeley
  • Charis Thompson UC Berkeley
  • James Vernon UC Berkeley

This conference is the culminating event in a series of working group meetings and presentations on neoliberalism and biopolitics organized by UC Berkeley graduate students William Callison (Ph.D. Candidate Political Science, DE Critical Theory) and Zachary Manfredi (Ph.D. Candidate Rhetoric).

Please contact more information.

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