Sunday, December 6, 2009

catching up: Pricilla Wald Contagious and Biopolitics

The outbreak narrative discussed in Priscilla Wald’s book Contagious points to the control of the population through regulations or biopolitics. On p. 3 “Outbreak narratives and the outbreak narratives have consequences. As they disseminate information, they affect survival rates and contagion routes. They promote or mitigate the stigmatizing of individuals, groups populations, locales (regional and global), behaviors, and lifestyles, and they change economies.” And this is important in relations to what the population has become as Foucault in The Repressive Hypothesis said “One of the great innovations in the techniques of power in the eighteenth century was the emergence of ‘population’ as an economic and political problem: population as wealth, population as manpower or labor capacity, population balanced between its own growth and the resources it commanded.”

Wald refers to Foucault and how the narrative needs to be circulated to continue the myth on p. 58, “Biopolitical strategies, however, are neither self-evident nor static; they must be made meaningful and continually reproduced. And they evolve as they help to transform political and social formations. Constituted by and circulating through media, narratives produce that meaning, which is never stable. The narratives depict networks and affiliations on varying scales: local, regional, national, global. The relationships that comprise ‘populations’ or ‘ecosystems’ or ‘networks’ are always in flux; even if they are imagined biologically, they can be variously defined.”

Wald concludes the chapter how infectious disease has served as a tool to shape the imagined community. On p. 67, “If epidemiologists map the imagined community of the global village, charting infectious diseases as they cross national borders, the depiction, as much as management, of those diseases reinforces the boundaries. The use of disease to imagine as well as regulate communities powerfully enacts the most anxious dimensions of national relatedness. The inextricability of disease and national belonging shapes the experiences of both; disease assumes political significance, while national belonging becomes nothing less than a matter of health. With their powerfully defining ambivalence, those terms mandate the dangerous necessity of the stranger and the representational technologies by which that stranger is brought into the community.”

Walter Benjamin in his essay On the Concept of History writes “To articulate what is past does not mean to recognize ‘how it really was.’ It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” “For both it is one and the same: handing itself over as the tool of the ruling classes.” “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘emergency situation’ in which we live is the rule.”

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