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Hegemony, Biopolitics and Multitude

C: Hegemony, Biopolitics and Multitude (Convenor: Dr Rory O’Bryen)

This seminar focuses on modern (and postmodern) developments in theories of power, from discipline, hegemony and biopolitics to the purported biopower of “we, the multitude”, with our contemporary forms of networked, immaterial or “affective” labour. We will look at the evolution of Foucault’s thought on the modern intersection of disciplinary power and biopolitical forms of governmentality, alongside the parallel evolution of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, and their confluence in the contemporary political theories of Hardt and Negri (Empire and Multitude). In mapping out these evolutions of power and its dissemination throughout the social body and the cultural field, we will also engage critically with Agamben’s work on “bare life”, Esposito’s account of the “immunization paradigm”, Mbembe’s extrapolation of biopolitics into the realm of necropolitics, or the politics of death, and the possible rise of a “posthegemonic” political order. Furthermore, we shall be looking at the contestation of some of these theories by the likes of Jacques Rancière, Slavoj Zizek, and by critical race theorists who have sought to flesh out the hidden blindspots of the biopolitical paradigm.Throughout we shall keep a keen eye on the application of these ideas to the realm of cultural studies, and you will be encouraged to bring to the table your own examples of texts and films that are working through these profound political mutations of the socio-political order in the modern era.


There is a cap of 10 students on this seminar.


Session 1 – Modalities of modern power: discipline, hegemony, control

  • Michel Foucault, “The Body of the Condemned”, “Docile Bodies” and first 10 pages of “Panopticism”, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995 [1975]), pp. 3-31, 135-69, 195-204.
  • Antonio Gramsci, Extracts from Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971 [1929-35]). Extracts focused on the concept of hegemony and intellectuals.
  • Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control”, October 59 [Winter 1992], pp. 3-7.


Session 2 – Biopolitics, necropolitics and bare life

  • Michel Foucault, “The Right of Death and the Power over Life”, History of Sexuality Vol I., from Timothy Campbell and Adam Sitze, eds., Biopolitics: A Reader (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013), pp. 41-60.
  • Giorgio Agamben, “Introduction”, “The Politicization of Life”, “Biopolitics and the Rights of Man”, “Threshold”, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998 [1995]), pp. 1-12, 119-35, 181-88.
  • Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics”, Public Culture 15.1, pp.11-40.
  • Roberto Esposito, “Introduction”, “The Enigma of Biopolitics”, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy, trans. Timothy Campbell, Posthumanities # 4 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), pp. 3-44.


Session 3 – Empire, affective labour and biopower

  • Antonio Negri, “The Labor of the Multitude and the Fabric of Biopolitics”, Mediations 23.2 (Spring 2008), pp. 8-25.
  • Michael Hardt, “Affective Labour”, Boundary2 26.2 (Summer 1999), pp. 89-100.
  • Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Extracts from Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. xi-xvii, 22-66, 280-303.
  • Slavoj Zizek, “Blows Against the Empire”, Bodies Without Organs: On Deleuze and Consequences (London: Routledge, 2004), pp. 195-202.


Session 4 – Multitude, Posthegemony, and Surveillance Capitalism

  • Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Extracts from Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (London: Penguin Books, 2004): ‘Resistance’ pp. 63-95, ‘Multitude’ 99-102, and ‘The Wealth of the Poor (Or ‘We are the Poors!’) 129-40.
  • Jacques Rancière, “The People or the Multitudes?”, “Biopolitics or Politics?”, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 84-96.
  • Alexander G. Weheliye, ‘Bare Life: The Flesh’ and ‘Racism: Biopolitics’ in Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014) pp. 33-45; 53-73.


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