Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena

Annual Conference 2019

Fearing for the Nation: Biopolitics in Central and Eastern Europe in the 20th Century

13. - 14. June 2019
Venue: Rosensäle, Fürstengraben 27
Organizer: Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena

Research in biopolitics has become a multifaceted academic field in social sciences and the humanities. It is utilized in a variety of disciplines to describe and analyze the evolution and transformation of modern power rationalities. A Foucauldian approach initiated by its creator in order to theorize liberalism as a practice of government, its main focus is biopolitical technologies of governance, in other words technologies and techniques which govern human, social, and biological processes.

Two primary contexts of these studies have so far been liberal democracies and fascism, particularly German Nazism as the primary example of the biopolitics of racism. In both cases the primary focus of research has been the establishment and evolution of social control mechanisms constituted in congruence with scientific progress and knowledge production. Especially eugenics as a scientific method how to improve the physical and mental conditions of the population and as the basic argumentative structure behind modern social policy/security has been studied along with its de-legitimation during and after WWII due to its racist implementation under Nazism. In general, though, biopolitics, already in the interwar period, embraced a broad spectrum of medical as well as governmental practice from individual therapy and personal hygiene up to grand projects of public healthcare and quasi-universal programmes of social insurance.
The third major political ideology of the 20th century, that is Soviet communism, has, for a long time, remained under-researched from this particular point of view, although it in fact “provides ample historical evidence of both the positive and negative aspects of biopolitics, its power to ‘make live’ and to ‘let die’” (S. Prozorov). Within the governmentality studies there is a theoretical discussion whether the East European state socialist project did or did not possess its own autonomous governmentality and biopolitics, e.g. in the project of positive transformation of human beings towards a “new socialist personality”. Disregarding the theoretical debate, however, most of the researchers seem to agree, that whereas on the macro-level of state ideology and socioeconomic system Soviet socialism obviously renounced Western capitalism and liberal democracy, on the micro-level of disciplinary and biopolitical practices it continued to follow its governmentality techniques.

Throughout the 20th century Eastern Europe and Europe in general has witnessed all major forms of political ideologies, their clash and their governmental and biopolitical techniques. Starting from an empirical rather than a theoretical vantage point, the idea of the conference is to identify major fields where political discourse plays on the notion of an endangered nation so as to frame and to legitimize biopolitical measures, and to trace the roots of each of these fears and tropes throughout the 20th century.