About the technological forms of life and biopolitical practices

traducción académica al inglés

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Foto por Ignacio Rial-Schies

Estos son los primeros párrafos de la traducción de un escrito presentado por Flavia Costa (Investigadora de CONICET-IDAES, Doctora en Ciencias Sociales de la UBA) en un coloquio internacional hacia fines de 2016.

Abstract
In Critique of information (2002), the sociologist Scott Lash stated that our time matches the trending development of “technological forms of life”. Talking about “forms of life”, Lash suggests, implies positioning oneself on the crossroads between natural-biological and socio-cultural realities (Lash, 2002: 40). And referring to “technological forms of life” implies including a third term in that scene, technique, which enters a composite regimen with the other two and points toward a movement of action “at a distance”, beyond the anthropomorphic limits of the own body. In that book, Lash put that term in the scene, but did not develop it further than a few paragraphs. I intend to deepen that notion sketched out by Lash succinctly, since I consider it particularly fruitful due to various reasons. Mainly because it allows to highlight the intimate connection between two processes that have been frequently analyzed separately: on one side, the progressive politicization of biological life (or biologization of politics; that is, the biopolitical thesis developed from certain writings, courses and conferences dictated by Michel Foucault in the decade of 1970) and, on the other side, the growing technification of productive processes, of human capacities and even of the modes of life. Synthetically, the process of technification in its restricted aspect appears, in our age, bound to the extension over the human life and body of principles regarding autonomization, betterment, optimization and individual responsibilization regarding the caretaking of the psycho-physical endowment (of inherited or acquired “human capital”), characteristic of a particular combination of the technical industrial-capitalist code (Feenberg, 2002) and the emerging modes of neoliberal governmentality.

What do actress Bibiana Fernández –registered after her birth in Tangier as Manuel Fernández and popularly known as Bibi Andersen, who managed to legally change her name in 1994–, the South African track runner Oscar Pistorius –who had both his legs amputated and runs in the paralympic games with carbon fiber prostheses–, and the Argentinian plastic artist Nicola Constantino, who in 2004 presented in Malba an artwork consisting of 100 pieces of soap containing 3 per cent of her own body’s fat, extracted through liposuction, have in common? What connects the 12.000 embryos frozen as a result of in vitro fertilization that remained in 2007 “in waiting” in the city of Buenos Aires after the 2011 court ruling that declares the unconstitutionality of the Incucai’s 69/09 resolution –according to which stem cells extracted from a newborn’s umbilical cord are of public use– and allowed for the Defensoría de la Nación (National Public Defense) to present an appeal, that based some of its arguments on the property rights granted by the Constitution’s 17th article?

I will hold here that the connection between these persons and events is the emergence of that which, following Scott Lash, I propose to call “technological forms of life”. The choice of terms is, in that sense, decisive. Speaking about “forms of life”, as Lash suggests, implies placing oneself at the crossroads between natural-biological and socio-cultural realities (Lash, 2005:40). And referring to the current moment as the developing trend of “technological forms of life” includes a third term within that scenario, technique, which enters a composite regimen with the other two and points toward an expansive movement beyond the anthropomorphic limits of the own body.

In Critique of information Lash develops this concept in a succinct fashion, which nonetheless allows for a first approach to the matter. In the age of technological forms of life, says Lash, we act “human and machine interfaces […] conjunctions of organic and technological systems”; or also, as “technological forms of natural life” (Lash 2005: 42). And, as such, we must necessarily transit the technological forms of life in social life; meaning that we must traverse and inhabit “technological culture”, which constitutes in itself the form of sociability that requires the development of a machine interface: basically, transportation and communication machines (for the transportation of objects and signs). They are culture, or society, “at a distance”. But the same occurs with nature: in the age of the technological forms of life, nature can also be “at a distance”. Effectively, during our time, human life forms that exist and survive outside a bodily anchorage have proliferated, requiring permanent and intensive technological intervention, such is the case of stem cells, frozen embryos, cell and tissue cultures, sperm banks and even human DNA databanks. “What was previously internal and proximal to the organism is stored in an external and distant database as genetic information” (idem).

More specifically, however, I have chosen the notion of “technological forms of life” to describe the contemporary age because it allows to highlight the intimate connection between two processes that have been usually analyzed separately: on one side, the progressive politicization of biological life (or biologization of politics; this is, the biopolitical thesis developed from certain writings, courses and conferences dictated by Michel Foucault in the 1970s) and, on the other, the growing technification of productive processes, human capacities and even ways of life.

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