Towards Biopolitics beyond Life and Death: The Virus, Life, and Death
Keywords:Giorgio Agamben, biopolitics, virus, geontopower, ungovernable, non-human, Elizabeth Povinelli, Donna Haraway, Ghassan Hage
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.
Adamski, Aleksandar, “I Respectfully Disagree with Agamben’ (Slavoj Žižek on COVID-19)”, Contemporary Humanism, 14 September 2020, https://www.contemporaryhumanism.net/i-respectfully-disagree-with-agamben-slavoj-zizek-on-covid-19-aleksander-adamski/.
Agamben, Giorgio, Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. D. Heller Roazen, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1998.
Agamben, Giorgio, State of Exception, trans. K. Attell, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Aradau, Claudia, and Rens Van Munster, “Governing Terrorism Through Risk: Taking Precautions, (un)Knowing the Future”, European Journal of International Relations, 13 (1/2007), pp. 89–115, https://doi.org/10.1177/1354066107074290.
Arendt, Hannah, and Jerome Kohn, Thinking without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975. 1st ed., New York, Schocken Books 2018.
Bargués-Pedreny, Pol, and Jessica Schmidt, “Learning to Be Postmodern in an All Too Modern World: ‘Whatever Action’ in International Climate Change Imaginaries”, Global Society, 33 (1/2019), pp. 45–65, https://doi.org/10.1080/13600826.2018.1539952.
Beck, Ulrich, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, London and Newbury Park, CA, Sage Publications, 1992.
Bhatia, Mrigesh, “COVID-19 and BAME Group in the United Kingdom”, The International Journal of Community and Social Development, 2 (2/2020), pp. 269–72, https://doi.org/10.1177/2516602620937878.
Bonneuil, Christophe, and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History, and Us, London, Brooklyn, NY, Verso, 2016.
Braidotti, Rosi, “Posthuman, All Too Human: Towards a New Process Ontology”, Theory, Culture & Society, 23 (7–8/2006), pp. 197–208, https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276406069232.
Braidoti, Rosi, The Posthuman, Cambridge and Malden, MA, Polity Press, 2013.
Bubandt, Nils, “Haunted Geologies, Spirits, Stones, and the Necropolitics of the Anthropocene”, in Tsing et al. (eds.), Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts of the Anthropocene, Minneapolis and London, The University of Minnesota Press, 2017, pp. 121–43.
Caldwell, Christopher, “Opinion: Meet the Philosopher Who Is Trying to Explain the Pandemic”, The New York Times, 21 August 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/21/opinion/sunday/giorgio-agamben-philosophy-coronavirus.html.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh, “The Climate of History: Four Theses”, Critical Inquiry 35 (2/2009), pp. 197–222, https://doi.org/10.1086/596640.
Chandler, David, “A World without Causation: Big Data and the Coming of Age of Posthumanism”, Millennium 43 (3/2015), pp. 833–51, https://doi.org/10.1177/0305829815576817.
Chandler, David, “Beyond Neoliberalism: Resilience, the New Art of Governing Complexity”, Resilience, 2 (1/2014), pp. 47–63, https://doi.org/10.1080/21693293.2013.878544.
Chandler, David, and Jon Coaffee (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of International Resilience, London and New York, Routledge, 2017.
Connolly, William E., “The ‘New Materialism’ and the Fragility of Things”, Millennium, 41 (3/2013), pp. 399–412, https://doi.org/10.1177/0305829813486849.
“Coronavirus and Philosophers.” European Journal of Psychoanalysis, n.d., https://www.journal-psychoanalysis.eu/coronavirus-and-philosophers/.
Corry, Olaf, “Securitisation and ‘Riskification’: Second-Order Security and the Politics of Climate Change”, Millennium, 40 (2/2012), pp. 235–58, https://doi.org/10.1177/0305829811419444.
Dalby, Simon, “Biopolitics and Climate Security in the Anthropocene”, Geoforum, 49 (2013), pp. 184–192, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.06.013.
Drisdelle, Rosemary, Parasites: Tales of Humanity’s Most Unwelcome Guests, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2010.
Dunn Cavelty, Myriam, Mareile Kaufmann, and Kristian Søby Kristensen, “Resilience and (in)Security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities”, Security Dialogue, 46 (1/2015), pp. 3–14, https://doi.org/10.1177/0967010614559637.
El-Khatib, Ziad, Graeme Brendon Jacobs, George Mondinde Ikomey, and Ujjwal Neogi, “The Disproportionate Effect of COVID-19 Mortality on Ethnic Minorities: Genetics or Health Inequalities?”, EClinicalMedicine, 23 (2020), p. 100430, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100430.
Finney, Stanley C., and Lucy E. Edwards, “The ‘Anthropocene’ Epoch: Scientific Decision or Political Statement?”, GSA Today, 26 (3/2016), pp. 4–10, https://doi.org/10.1130/GSATG270A.1.
Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan, New York, Vintage Books, 1995.
Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. R. Hurley, Westminster, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 2012, http://public.eblib.com/choice/PublicFullRecord.aspx?p=6084793.
Hage, Ghassan, Is Racism an Environmental Threat?, Malden, Polity, 2017.
Hamilton, Clive, Christophe Bonneuil, and François Gemenne (eds.), The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis, London and New York, Routledge, 2015.
Haraway, Donna Jeanne, Manifestly Haraway, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2016.
Haraway, Donna Jeanne, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham, Duke University Press, 2016.
Klein, Naomi, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, London, Penguin Books, 2008.
Lazzarato, Maurizio, “From Biopower to Biopolitics”, Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy 13 (2002), pp. 112–125.
Mbembe, Achille, trans. S. Corcoran, Necropolitics, Durham, Duke University Press 2019.
Povinelli, Elizabeth A., Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism, Durham, Duke University Press, 2016.
Povinelli, Elizabeth A., “The Rhetorics of Recognition in Geontopower”, Philosophy & Rhetoric, 48 (4/2015), pp. 428–442, https://doi.org/10.5325/philrhet.48.4.0428.
Povinelli, Elizabeth A., Mathew Coleman, and Kathryn Yusoff, “An Interview with Elizabeth Povinelli: Geontopower, Biopolitics and the Anthropocene”, Theory, Culture & Society, 34 (2–3/2017), pp. 169–185, https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276417689900.
Public Health England, Disparities in the Risk and Outcomes of COVID-19. no. GW-1447, London, Crown Copyright, 2020. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/908434/Disparities_in_the_risk_and_outcomes_of_COVID_August_2020_update.pdf.
Qiu, Jane, “How China’s Bat Woman Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus”, Scientific American, 1 June 2020, https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamerican0620-24.
Rajeev Syal, “Structural Racism Led to Worse Covid Impact on BAME Groups – Report”, The Guardian, 27 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/27/structural-racism-led-to-worse-covid-impact-on-bame-groups-report.
Rancière, Jacques, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. S. Corcoran, London and New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.
Rancière, Jacques, Davide Panagia, and Rachel Bowlby, “Ten Theses on Politics”, Theory & Event, 5 (3/2001), pp. 1–10, https://doi.org/10.1353/tae.2001.0028.
Roy, Arundhati, Azadi: Freedom, Fascism, Fiction, Chicago, Haymarket Books 2020.
Štefe, Nataša, “Slavoj Žižek: Z muko bomo morali zgraditi drugačno normalnost”, Val 202, 20 March 2020, https://val202.rtvslo.si/2020/03/slavojzizek/.
Tidwell, Christy, “Monstrous Natures Within: Posthuman and New Materialist Ecohorror in Mira Grant’s ‘Parasite’”, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, 21 (3/2014), pp. 538–549.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt et al. (eds.), Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, Minneapolis and London, University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
Vetlesen, Arne Johan, Cosmologies of the Anthropocene: Panpsychism, Animism, and the Limits of Posthumanism, London and New York, Routledge, 2019.
Villarreal, Luis P., “Are Viruses Alive?” Scientific American, 8 August 2008, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-viruses-alive-2004/.
“What’s the Difference between Bacteria and Viruses?” The University of Queensland Australia Institute for Molecular Science, 20 April 2020, https://imb.uq.edu.au/article/2020/04/difference-between-bacteria-and-viruses.
Yusoff, Kathryn, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, Minneapolis and London, University of Minnesota Press, 2018.
Žižek, Slavoj, Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World, New York and London, OR Books, 2020.
- 2022-04-05 (2)
- 2021-12-31 (1)
How to Cite
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors guarantee that the work is their own original creation and does not infringe any statutory or common-law copyright or any proprietary right of any third party. In case of claims by third parties, authors commit their self to defend the interests of the publisher, and shall cover any potential costs.
More in: Submission chapter