Biopolitics, Ethics, and Subjectivation : Questions on Modernity

The Graduate Institute for Social Research and Cultural Studies, NCTU, Taiwan, is convening an international conference in June 2009 to explore the question of Modernity from the problematic of biopolitics, ethics and subjectivation. This conference will bring together scholars from different countries for paper presentations and discussions. We propose to re-examine and to explore the paradox of modernity through the triad structure of biopolitics, ethics and subjectivation in its historical processes, with interdisciplinary and cross-regional discussions, so that new forms of knowledge and communication could be facilitated.

The conceptual device developed by Michel Foucault, concerning the problematic of bio-power and the genealogy of ethics and subjectivation, has inspired significant studies by post-Foucaultian scholars. Similar problematic has also been extensively engaged with by philosophers such as Jacque Lacan, Jacque Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jacque Rancière, Antonio Negri, Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, Étienne Balibar, etc. The triad knot of biopolitics, ethics and subjectivation has served as a very effective analytic working tool for the Western cultures.
Situated in Taiwan, an island with complicated colonial histories, mixed with traditional Chinese/Taiwanese/Japanese cultures, and with highly advanced modernity, this conference is organized to encourage contributions, discussions and debates on the following questions : 1. The theoretical framework around the question of biopolitics, ethics, and
subjectivation has been elaborated respectively by contemporary European thinkers in closely linked but diversely varied argumentations. Each of these terms can still be clarified, problematized or further historicized. We encourage examinations and challenges of the concepts and practices involved in this triad compound through philosophical, historical, aesthetic, or political perspectives.
2. Can we push forward and question whether such critical framework developed in the “West” be tested on as varied cultural and political conditions as those in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, Latin America or Eastern Europe ? What drawbacks or what vantage point would there be in such endeavors ? For example, Could it help us to analyze the increasing population of migrant labors in the rapidly globalized age, or to account for the multiplied social borders through the migration policy and population control ? What might be blinded if we use or not to use this analytic framework ?
3. Taking the case of East Asia for example, such as China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, the project of modernity was closely intertwined through the historical process in the 19th century, especially under the impact of Japan’s Meiji Restoration and its consequent imperial expansion. It is obvious that the western epistemological apparatus has penetrated and permeated East Asian nations throughout the 20th century. The western concepts, along with new disciplinary knowledge, coated with traditional Chinese or Japanese phraseology, entered with sweeping force. We need to ask : was it the same or a different modernity which emerged ? Was there a particular alternative East Asian Modernity or was the Asian world view altered by the West ? How did the triad term of biopolitic, ethics and subjectivation take shape ? Through what institutions and processes, what specificities, in these East Asian nations ? For example, why was “Ethics” taken as a fundamental discipline in elementary education along with the project of modernity in the very beginning ? In the long and varied processes of translations, was it a total transplantation or was it resistance with modification ?
4. Along with this line of thinking, can we further ask whether there was any traditional mode of thinking in the Asian worlds that could exempt itself from the over-development and expansion of the nation-state and the global capitalism, the dual projects of modernity ? If there was, what was it ? If there wasn’t, then why not ? Could we analyze how and why the revival of Confucianism could be a complicit force in disguise for the expansion of the nationalist and global cognitive capitalism ? Could we raise questions against the contemporary power alliance in the Asian world that is still the follow-up of the project of modernity ?
These questions are to stimulate and not to delimit discussions. We encourage investigations and contestations of these theoretical problematic of modernity from different perspectives, through interdisciplinary and comparative approaches, both in essays dealing directly with theoretical issues and in those dealing with different empirical forms of cultural texts and historical eventual sites.