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Re:  The Establishment of the “Society for the Study of Bio-political Futures”

I. Prospectus for the Research Group:

The initial idea and the particular composition of this Research Society was inspired—very loosely—on the establishment and activities of the College of Sociology between 1937-1939. The College took as its “precise object of contemplative activity,” according to the collective statement by its members 1 “the name of Sacred Sociology, implying the study of all manifestations of social existence where the active presence of the sacred is clear, determining the coincidence between the fundamental obsessive tendencies of individual psychology and the principal structures that govern social organization and are in command of its revolutions.”

Today, if there is any name that could serve to replace the sociological and anthropological notion of the “sacred,” it is the current names of “bio-power,” and the “bio-political.” This association has both interesting and problematic consequences, which will be the subject of the Society’s collective research. As an analytical or theoretical term, strictly speaking, the concept of bio-power has presented the same problems of definition, clarification of the social relations of power, which is caused by a “quasi-mythic” or “epochal” significance attached  to the primary term of analysis. Simply stated, the analysis of power may not be served best by a concept that has itself required so much explanation.

As a concept that actually emerged over ten years ago, a generalized notion of the bio-political, which has been applied to often incompatible theoretical domains ranging from the discourse of human rights to aspirations of post-human agency, has been responsible for generating a lot of “Discourse” (in Foucault’s sense, with all the ramifications this implies), as well as for suturing different fields of disciplinary inquiry together under what could be called a dominant “hermeneutic paradigm.” 

In keeping with this function, the concepts of “bio-power” and the “bio-political” have also functioned as “theoretical stocks” in the reproduction and circulation of academic discourse and new investment strategies defined both in symbolic terms and in terms of the creation of new subjects of “human capital.” It is partly for this reason (and partly influenced by the patois of my friend, Jeffrey T. Nealon) that I have selected the phrase “Bio-political Futures” in referring to both aspects in the production and the reproduction of different fields of inquiry, as if to unite them under a single rubric and a common theme, which is the analysis of power. Certainly, no one intended this to happen, and it appears somewhat ironic to observe in the sense that a single concept has emerged in the space vacated by the decline of theories based on the primacy of Structure and Sign, and today even constitutes a common space of analysis across the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

More recently, however, given the announcement of emergent trends, and judging only from hearsay, there are signs of new strategies that will determine the fate of these theoretical stocks, perhaps even precipitating a period of “selling off,” which has we know can be just as productive form of investment and is likely to stimulate the production of new discourse for many years to come. Of course, this is not just a problem of speculation that exists in the pure space of discourse alone, but a problem of research that touches on the past and current projects of everyone who has been invited to participate in this Society, since we have all contributed to the above trends in our own projects, if not, in some cases, been among the most creative innovators.

I am not proposing that we gather together as a theory collective with an objective of inventing “what comes next’; neither am I proposing that we construct a survey or “History of Bio-power,” though this could certainly be an individual research project conducted by one of the members. What I am proposing is that use this moment as a unique opportunity to come together as “a finite community of researchers” for an equally finite period of time (no more than 2 years, 2013-2014) to construct the collective analysis of a problem that is dispersed throughout our own individual research and writing projects. It is in this sense of a “community of researchers,” or a Society, finally, that I have taken as my inspiration the establishment of the College between the years 1937-1939, which Denis Hollier describes in the following manner:  “The College did not last, nor can it be summed up-except as a chorus that is not in unison, the soloists too numerous and their voices too distinct, without unanimity. It had no first person.”

Gregg Lambert
August 23rd 2012