Towards Biopolitics beyond Life and Death: The Virus, Life, and Death
By engaging with Giorgio Agamben’s article on the Italian government’s measures during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, we argue that COVID-19 points to the limits of the classical biopolitical and thanatopolitical logics of analysis and therefore requires a new conceptual framework. The outbreak of COVID-19 is an example of zoonotic globalisation in which the human species as a biological and geological actor is merely one among many other species that influence biological and geological processes on Earth, thus challenging humanist conceptualisations of politics. Here, the human role in politics is decentralised by thinking the virus as one of the actors that exert influence on how the political sphere is governed. We argue that the virus is the epitome of the ungovernable – an entity or broadly a historical challenge that cannot be subjected to existing mode(s) of governing – due to its interstitial and borderline character, resting between the ontological roots of the dominant modes of governing bios (life) and geos (nonlife), and challenging them by merely existing. We draw upon the works of Ghassan Hage, Nils Bubandt, Elizabeth Povinelli, and Donna Haraway to interrogate the limits of biopolitics and diagnose theoretical conundrums stemming from the division of nature vs. culture and life vs. nonlife entrenched in the existing social-political paradigms. Rather than providing finite answers about the role of the virus as a non-human actor in the political sphere, we raise questions as to how and why it should matter.
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