Biopolitics and the Migration of Ideas in Early Modern Globalization

AHA Session 228
Sunday, January 10, 2016: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Room 313/314 (Hilton Atlanta, Third Floor)
Maren Lorenz, Ruhr University Bochum
Ted McCormick, Concordia University

Session Abstract

The proposed session, “Biopolitics and the Migration of Ideas in Early Modern Globalization,” focuses on the development of biopolitics in the eighteenth century, investigating the ways that biopolitical ideas travelled between distant actors, beyond territorial boundaries, and through different genres and discourses. While the notion of “biopolitics” and the reputed origins of the biopolitical in the eighteenth-century are widely known, historians of the eighteenth century have been reluctant to employ the concept or to investigate its development. Several scholars have analyzed elements of eighteenth-century biopolitics, but it is still rare for historians to engage directly with the concept or with the general constellation of ideas and practices of knowing, managing, and intervening in the development of populations. The panel engages with the question of biopolitics largely through issues of slavery, race, and the health and fitness of populations. All of the papers identify the important role of French actors in the emergence of biopolitical ideas while focusing on the ways that these ideas migrated across the boundaries of kingdoms, genres, and discourses. William Max Nelson will argue that biopolitics emerged out of the back and forth movement of ideas, practices, and people between France and its Atlantic slave colonies, eventually spreading throughout Europe and across the Atlantic world. After an analysis of the French Atlantic emergence of biopolitics, he will trace the migratory route of some of the ideas and practices through specific texts and intermediary actors, particularly those in the Anglophone Atlantic. Maren Lorenz will investigate the development of ideas of selective breeding in France and their reception and transformation by German scholars of the late-eighteenth century. Focusing on ideas of human breeding, she will show how these ideas migrated through nascent discourses that intermixed science and political economy, such as “medical police” and Cameralism, as well as through literature and popular journals. Mary Nyquist will argue that the right to resist tyrannous rule is, fundamentally, a biopolitical right in that tyranny is imagined figuratively to reduce “free” citizens to the status of slaves who lie under the tyrant’s power of life and death. Employing French, English, and German sources, her paper will explore the tacitly racialized terms in which the right of resistance was occasionally extended to non-European populations, and more often denied them, in the Age of Revolutions. Finally, Ted McCormick, an expert in the emergence of political arithmetic and studies of population, will provide commentary on the three papers. The panel will appeal to a wide array of scholars interested in the history of biopolitics and related concepts, the history of slavery and ideas of race, Atlantic History, European History, the history of the Enlightenment, and the transnational history of ideas.

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