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  • February 20, 2018

  • Seminars

  • Online

  • Humanities and Social Sciences

  • speaker

Prof. Kaushik Bhaumik

Associate Professor of Cinema Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU

Rethinking Popular Genres: Technology, Class Radicalism and Biopower

Abstract: In his 1975-76 College the France Lecture Michel Foucault provided a genealogy for the origins of biopower (the control of the biological capacities of populations as the goal of the state) in the discourse of Race War invented in French historiography of the 16th and 17th c. Racism based on eugenic ideas of perfect bodies as constituting the healthy nation/state is at the heart of biopower. This purity is constituted and maintained by technologies and techniques of modern science that the state takes over to control populations. The paper seeks to argue that while Foucault's development of the idea of biopower and his idea of governmentality that modulates biopower were developed by looking at government policy and texts by ideologues, biopower is a concept that functions only when internalized by populations as part of its political ambitions. The workings of ideas of biopower within populations however can best be understood by studying modern popular genre (fiction or media) that are all dedicated to ideas of the normal and the deviant. Next, they are defined by their obsession with technologies and techniques of modern life- be it the detective novel, science fiction, romance, horror or pornography. Finally, they are dedicated to iconic goal-oriented action that biopower is all about. The paper then goes on to argue that when we study the workings of biopower in popular text production we see that the ideology of Race War is now mutated into a battle over the management of biopower between state policy and the technocratic middle class whose ideology is best represented in modern popular genre texts. Modern genre is a medium of ideological radicalism of this class (now made 'official' with the ascent of genre fiction to the echelons of high fiction). These genres are therefore ambiguous entities expressing on the one hand the middle class's technocratic Utopian idealism and on the other its divided self in matters of collaborating with the state and corporation in its quest for historical redemption (figures such as the double agent, Christian Grey or the hacker are constitutive of such ambiguity). My argument is that a study of popular genre modernity produces a far more ambiguous picture of matters governmental than Foucault's archival method does which in the end remains as gridded in binaries as governmental talk is. The paper will conclude by briefly looking at how genre forms the foundation for current Social Media and New Media behaviour. Here, we see in something like Blue Whale (where life has become popular genre action and is enacted live on media) as indicating where Race War as Class War-in-technology has reached in our times. Extinguishing life is a negation of state biopower diktats and children doing it live to a global public is sending some kind of message about the tensions at the heart of Race War today.