Biopolitics, biosociality and the body workshop

30-31 August 2010, St Gallen, Switzerland

Over the past decades, the ontological status of the human body has become more and more questionable. The idea of the body as something naturally given which by definition precedes culture was securely anchored during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the traditional nature-culture-opposition. The deciphering of the human genome which led Paul Rabinow to create the term ‘biosociality’ and similar developments, however, have changed the perception of the body as a given entity into the body as being insolubly tied into cultural processes of ‘making sense’, itself at some level being a cultural artefact - and thus in and through its very ‘nature’ being subject to political strategies methodologically encoded in the term ‘biopolitics’. This emerging concept of the body implies a breaking-down of the boundaries between nature and culture which echoes the current breaking-down of the traditional boundaries between academic disciplines, opening up new avenues for critical research on the cultural phenomenon of the ‘human body’.

The strategic imperatives to be discussed and advanced by the workshop were the following:

  • Identification of areas of structural interference between LCS and the so-called 'hard sciences', specifically interference based on the use of LCS paradigms (textuality, fictionality, rhetoricity) in the process of building 'hard sciences' knowledge

  • Discussion of the possible - practical, ethical, social, economic - consequences stemming from the collapse of the boundaries between culture and nature for the human body

  • Diagnosing the dialectical relationship between scientific and technological progress and cultural projections of the human body, specifically establishing the yet mostly unrecognized historical depth of this relationship

  • Identifying functional and efficient techniques to use the culturally encoded knowledge of the human body in life sciences' working contexts and vice versa

The workshop sought to develop a portfolio of suggestions and recommendations on how to establish and broaden cultural literacy concerning the human body both for academic and for non-academic use; it sought to identify policy areas and stakeholders with a vital interest in gaining efficiency dealing with the human body (e.g. health services) and draw them into a dialogue on how to improve on the coordination of research between LCS and their areas of expertise.