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Unit information: Affect, Technology and Biopolitics in 2015/16

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Unit name Affect, Technology and Biopolitics
Unit code GEOGM1412
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Dewsbury
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

This unit considers how poststructuralist theories have informed the burgeoning and strongly interdisciplinary so called 'affective turn'. This turn critiques the limits of representational practices and analyses; this course in particular will think then through the relation of affect and biopolitics as a way of moving beyond approaches to corporeality that read the materiality of bodies primarily through culture, discourse, and social constructivism, thus disavowing the roles of matter, biology, and energetic forces. The course will therefore foreground questions about subjectivity, identity, agency, subjectivity, and performativity, putting under duress the centrality of subject formation to contemporary biopolitical forms of power, subjugation, and resistance. We will evaluate the relationship between affect and biopolitics through various interdisciplinary texts that illuminate the connections between, for example: questions of sovereign will and sovereignity, affective politics of identity, biocapital, bodily capacities and biotechnology, neuropolitics, plasticity and habit. Through these readings we will examine the tensions between discipline and control, epistemology and ontology, representation and affect; explore the corporeal practices of biocapital, technology and neuroscience; centralize affect economies of fear, pain, hate, love, terror, security and vulnerability, thus interrogating the emerging tendencies of capitalist productivity to manipulate and distribute these affective modalities; and evaluate feminist methods of writing and theorizing to apprehend, convey and intervene upon social suffering and bodily appropriation. Readings span the terrains of post continental philosophy, queer and feminist theory, biology and technoscience criticism, and ethnographic inquiry.

This unit aims:

  • To introduce debates over the concept of affect and its relevance for understanding recent conceptual and empirical debates over matter, the body, cognition, and agency.
  • To analyse the role and significance of the life sciences to modern and contemporary politics through the concept of biopolitics.
  • To demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of engagement with concepts of affect and biopolitics.
  • To enable students to engage critically with a wide range of theoretically and empirically-focused material

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the completion of this unit, students will able to:

  • Identify key concepts and theories of affect and biopolitics in social science scholarship on the body,
  • Analyse differences internal to theorizations of affect and biopolitics
  • Situate the debates and their cross-overs across different interdisciplinary contexts appreciating both shared conceptual genealogies and research applications
  • Identify the relevance of key concepts and categories of affect and biopolitics to their individual research agendas

Teaching Information

The unit comprises eight discussion-based seminars based on set readings, with an introduction and conclusion. Participation in discussions will contribute to student success in the course and preparation is essential. Key readings for the week should be done in advance.

Assessment Information

Formative: Each student will present in one seminar on that seminar’s assigned readings for about fifteen minutes in length. Each presentation summarizes central themes in the reading for that week and poses issues for discussion. A copy of the presentation will be distributed to the class at the beginning of the two-hour seminar. And feedback will be given to the students within one week of their presentation.

Summative: A 4,500 word essay (100%) examining a point of affinity or disagreement between any two major theorists engaged in the seminar on the relation between affect and biopolitics.

Reading and References

  1. Gregg, M. & Seigworth, G. (2010) The Affect Theory Reader (Durham: Duke University Press).
  2. Rajan, K. S. (2006) Biocapital (Durham: Duke University Press)
  3. Massumi, B. (2002) Parables of the Virtual, (Durham: Duke University Press).
  4. Cooper, M. (2008) Life as Surplus (Durham: Duke University Press)
  5. Malabou, C. (2008) What should we do with our brain? (New York: Fordham University Press)
  6. Foucault, M. (2008) The Birth of Biopolitics (Palgrave-Macmillan)

There is no core text book for this unit. Instead students will be required to read a selection of journal articles, book chapters and books as specified on the reading list circulated at the start of the course.