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Biopolitics 2014

From Hormones to War Drones



For millenia, man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for a political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question.

— Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, vol. 1

Time & Place

Mondays 3:35 – 5:25

Wednesdays 4:35 – 5:25

in the Archibald Room of the New Academic Building (University of King’s College)

Office hours: Mondays 1:30 – 3:20, room #129 in the main building.


What we are studying when we study “biopolitics” are social conflicts and forms of control where the biology of the human organism is at stake. Our point of departure, here, is Foucault’s conjecture that this particular focus has gained unprecedenced prominence in the modern era. The much of our attention, in this course, will be directed less towards the abstract academic discourse on the idea of biopolitics, which has gained such popularity in recent years, than towards the varied practical domains in which human biology has become an object of political power over the last hundred and fifty years or so. Factory management, eugenics, contraception, “gender hacking”, the contemporary “Wars” on drugs and terror, cyberfeminism, the AIDS pandemic, AI-powered surveillance, and drone warfare will number among the case studies examined in this course. We will also look closely at some of the theoretical, technical, and artistic writings through which these domains have reflected on their own activity. We will be reading texts by eugenicists, factory managers, theatre directors, social engineers, and feminist activists, as well as corporate whitepapers and government reports, to explore how various biopolitical sequences of the twentieth century were lived from within.

This isn’t to say that there won’t be room for abstract theoretical reflection in this course – this, after all, will be the main task of our seminar discussions. It is there that we will ask what these historical fragments mean for our understanding of the “political animal”. It will be by working together through this material that we will uncover or cobble together the conceptual framework and persistent motifs that link these fragmentary scenes of our history together.


I. Newspaper clipping/found material and commentary (500 words) which provides some sort of biopolitical analysis of the material or events in question. The clipping, material, or link, together with the commentary/analysis will be posted on the (password protected, non-googleable) course blog. Assigned: Now. Due: pick a date on the sign-up sheet. Worth: 15%

II. Pop quizzes. There will be a series of quizzes given at random intervals throughout the semester on the course reading material (there will be, approximately, a 1-in-3 chance that there will be a quiz on any given day). You will be permitted (and encouraged) to bring a single page of notes into the quiz. The object of the quiz will be to provide either a summary or a critique of the reading in one hand-written page. When more than one reading has been assigned for that class, the topic of the quiz will be decided by chance. Whether or not there will be a quiz for a given class will be decided at the beginning of that class, also by chance. Assigned: On the spot. Due: 10 minutes later. Worth: 20% in total.

III. Research paper proposal (1 page). Explain the problem you wish to investigate in your research paper, and provide a tentative bibliography. There will be an option to post the proposal to the blog for purposes of collective feedback, etc. Assigned: Now. Due: Wednesday, October 22. Worth: 10%

IV. Research paper (2500-3000 words). Details on this assignment will be provided before study break. Assigned: As soon as your proposal has been approved, which should be within a week of your handing it in. (Optional) Draft Due: Wednesday, November 19, but only if you wish to participate in the Research Paper Workshop (explained below). Final Draft Due: Friday, December 12. Worth: 40%

Attendance and Participation will count for 15% of your total mark.


Research Paper Workshop

The optional Research Paper Workshop offers an opportunity for you to have a (reasonably complete, but unpolished) draft of your term paper read and critiqued by other students in the class. If you wish to participate, submit the draft paper no later than November 19. We will be holding the workshop itself on the second-last day of class (Wednesday, November 26). In the week between, your draft will be read and scrutinized by another student in the class, who will present their feedback and constructive criticism on the 26th. This will be an opportunity to improve your work by subjecting it to criticism, and explore the topic you have chosen in greater depth, as well as benefit from the perspective and analysis provided by other students. After the workshop, you have another week to make the suggested improvements to your paper, or bask in self-satisfaction if no changes are recommended. Naturally, this activity tends to produce far better papers in the end. There will also be a 5% bonus added to the percentile marks of the papers of those who participate in the workshop.

Course Blog

A blog will be set up for the course, using WordPress. The blog will be password-protected and inaccessible to the public, unless there’s a more or less unanimous desire to make it otherwise. Students will be free to post anything course-related to the blog, and one of the assignments requires a blog posting. Discussion in the comment section is encouraged.

King’s Plagiarism Policy

DON’T DO IT! Always use your OWN words and, when presenting the work of another author, always give credit where credit is due. I am required to send any suspected case of plagiarism to the Senate Discipline Committee. If you plagiarize, and are caught, you will be contacted by the Senate Discipline Committee and convened to defend your case in a hearing. It is a very uncomfortable situation and I strongly urge you to prevent it from ever happening. If you are ever in doubt about what constitutes plagiarism, please come see me.

(Art by


Reading List & Class Schedule



1.1 Mon., Sept. 8: Introduction. Handouts: (1) Syllabus, (2) first appearance of the word “bio-politics” in print (G.W. Harris), (3) Foucault reading for Wednesday

1.2 Wed., Sept. 10: Michel Foucault, “The Right of Death and Power over Life,” in The Foucault Reader, ed. by Paul Rabinow, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), pp. 258-272. And M. Foucault, “Panopticism”, in The Foucault Reader.

2.1 Mon., Sept. 15: Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley, (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), Part IV, Chapters I (“Objective”) and II (“Method”): pp. 81-102.

2.2 Wed., Sept. 17: Michel Foucault, Lecture from Society Must Be Defended in Biopolitics: A Reader, pp. 61-81, which is available in full from the King’s Bookstore as a recommended text. [Update: the link has been fixed.]


Gastev painted by Tolkachev

3.1 Mon., Sept. 22: Karl Marx, Capital, chs. IV – VI (The General Formula for Capital, Contradictions in the General Formula of Capital, The Buying and Selling of Labour Power) [available as pdfmobiepub, or audio]. [Update: I knocked off Chapter VII, so as not to overburden you too much. Read carefully.] Check out David Harvey’s lecture on these chapters HERE, if you have time. (They’re well worth your 90 minutes of labour time.)

3.2 Wed., Sept. 24: Siegfriend Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command, PART 1 AND Giedion Mechanization Takes Command PART 2 (lots of page, but half of them are pictures). Recommended: “Bodies Against Time”, photo-essay by Zoe Beloff”.

4.1 Mon., Sept. 29: Frank B. & Lillian M. Gilbreth, Fatigue Study: The Elimination of Humanity’s Greatest Unnecessary Waste: A First Step in Motion Study, Easton: Hive Publishing Company, 1973. pp. 114-133 (Chapter VII). Lillian M. Gilbreth, The Psychology of Management: The Function of the Mind in Determining, Teaching and Instilling Methods of Least Waste, Easton: Hive Publishing Company, 1973, pp. 311-332 (Chapter X). Guest Lecture by Gordon McOuat. [Note to self: try to abridge these readings a little]

4.2 Wed., Oct. 1: Meyerhold, as recounted by V. Es., “The Actor of the Future and Biomechanics;” Arkady Pozdnev, “Taylorism on the Stage,” trans. Alma Law & Mel Gordon in Law & Gordon (eds.), Meyerhold, Eisenstein and Biomechanics: Actor Training in Revolutionary Russia, (London: McFarland & Co., 1996). 141-144, 148-151  and Meyerhold, “Biomechanics,” in Edward Braun (trans. & ed.) Meyerhold on Theatre, (London: Eyre Methuen, 1969), pp. 197-200. Guest Lecture by Jure Gantar or Gordon McOuat (?).

5.1 Mon., Oct. 6:V.I. Lenin, “The Taylor System — Man’s Enslavement by the Machine,” pp. 1-3. Aleksei Gastev, A Packet of Orders, We Grow out of Iron, and excerpt from How to Work (draft translation by Patrick McHugh to be provided). Recommended:Richard Stites, “Man the Machine,” in Revolutionary Dreams, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 145-164 (also available in MOBI format, if you have a Kindle). [UPDATE: How to Work is now available for download. And so is the recommended reading by Richard Stites.]



5.2 Wed., Oct. 8: Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principal of Population, Chapters 1 and 2. Sir Francis Galton: “Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope, and Aims”. Recommended: G. Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological, Ch. III: Norm & Average.


6.2 Wed., Oct. 15:  Steven Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, selection from Ch. 5, “The Hereditarian Theory of IQ: An American Invention”, pp. 176-203.



7.1 Mon., Oct., 20: Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, Conclusion: The Ultimate Revolution, pp. 232-274.

7.2 Wed., Oct. 22: Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie, selection from Ch. 8: “Pharmacopower” (‘The Edible Panopticon”): pp. 173-215.

8.1 Mon., Oct. 27: Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie, Ch. 6: “Technogender” (pp. 99-129).

8.2 Wed., Oct. 29: William Garrett, Policing Methamphetamine: Narcopolitics in Rural America, Introduction and Chapter 1.

9.1 Mon., Nov. 3: William Garrett, Policing Methamphetamine: Narcopolitics in Rural America, Chapter 2 and Chapter 6. [UPDATE: READINGS DETERMINED.]

9.2 Wed., Nov. 5: Donna Haraway, “The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Constitutions of Self in Immune System Discourse,” in  Simians, Cyborgs, & Women, pp. 203-230, or in Biopolitics: A Reader, pp. 274 – 304. + AIDS in Canada: Screening of The Living End


10.2 Wed., Nov. 12: Guest Lecture by Janet Conners, on AIDS and the tainted blood racket. In preparation, peruse CBC’s digital archive directory, The Krever Report: Canada’s Tainted Blood Disaster and read the short parliamentary report, “Canada’s Blood Supply Ten Years After the Krever Comission.”




11.1 Mon., Nov. 17: Sarah Kember, Cyberfeminism and Artificial Life, Chapter 5: “Networked Identities”. Cyberfeminism and biopolitics in contemporary art. Screening day: Linda Dement, subRosa, Critical Art Ensemble, VNS Matrix. See VNS Matrix, “Bitch Mutant Manifesto” and “Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century” (both very short — less than a page each).

11.2 Wed., Nov. 19: Derek Gregory, “From a View to a Kill: Drones and Late Modern War“.  Abdullah bin Mohammed of Al Qaida, “22 Ways to Avoid a Drone Attack”.

12.1 Mon., Nov. 24: UN Report on Automated Killing Systems (H/T BR).

12.2 Wed., Nov. 26: NSF-sponsored report, Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology & Cognitive Science (NBICS). Part E: National Security, pp.327-361 (pp. 351-374 of the pdf)



Digital copies of many of the readings can also be found HERE, on a site constructed by a third party.