Grounding Biopower: Inventions of Land and Landscape

Ginger Nolan's picture
Call for Papers
December 1, 2016
Subject Fields: 
Architecture and Architectural History, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Race Studies, Rural History / Studies, World History / Studies

Workshop: June 2-3, 2017 at University of Basel, Urban Studies

In his early lectures on biopolitics, Michel Foucault described a crucial shift occurring in eighteenth-century Europe as population came to displace territory as the primary object of sovereignty. Assuming this account to be true, the question arises: What exactly happened to territory? Did it become simply a container for population, or perhaps an instrument of its governance? Or did it become something different altogether, displaced yet again by new techniques of land-management, colonization, warfare, and financial speculation?

This workshop proposes that, with the rise of biopower, territory increasingly became translated into land, the latter emerging as a necessary technological and ideological correlative to population. New conceptions of land management, ownership, and improvement, along with the intensification of agriculture and resource extraction (often in contexts of colonization or nation-building) were complicit with ways of organizing population into categories of race, class, nationality, and gender. Ancient notions of territorial stewardship as a source of political rights metamorphosed during the eighteenth through twentieth centuries into analogous conceptions of land ownership and improvement (or, in some cases, land collectivization) as a source of both citizenship and capital. Land became the figure-ground against which a population could be represented as a nation, and, conversely, against which people without an officially recognized claim to land could be excluded from nationality or from economic rights. But this development required a host of new cultural, epistemic, and technological approaches to land management and representation.

This workshop asks participants to consider how land might resemble or differ from territory in its uses and organization, and how this relates to the rise of biopolitics. How has the governance of population assigned new ideological and material functions to land, whether through methods of representation and calculation, through agricultural and extractive technologies, through physical and communicative infrastructures, or through new cultural, legal, and social structures? Given how ancestral connections to land are often construed as a fundamental criterion in distinguishing citizens from non-citizens and indigenes from non-indigenes, we ask participants to address how relationships between land and population are developed and promulgated. How have new constructions of land vis-à-vis population altered the way that territory is understood and regulated?

We invite paper proposals focused on the eighteenth through twenty-first centuries, and are especially interested in the aesthetics and semiotics of landscape, cartography, architecture, infrastructures, and urban planning, although we welcome a range of disciplinary approaches.  Rather than presenting formal papers, participants will be asked to circulate a paper in advance and then give an informal 10-15 minute talk at the workshop, to be followed by discussions. Please submit a 300- to 400-word abstract by December 1, 2016 to Ginger Nolan and Prof. Kenny Cupers at:

The workshop is organized by the Urban Studies program in the Department of Social Science, University of Basel, and is sponsored by the Professorship in History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism under Professor Kenny Cupers.

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