2019 Conference: The Body and Politics

Images in collage: Woodcut, unknown, 1643 / Frontispiece to Hobbes’s Leviathan, Abraham Bosse, 1651 / The Intervention of the Sabine Women, Jacques-Louis David, 1799 / Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man, Salvador Dali, 1943

Call for Papers: The Body and Politics 

University of Cambridge, 18th–19th March 2019

Keynote speaker: Dr Anna Becker (University of Copenhagen)

The relationship between the body and politics has long been a central concern of political thought. The ‘body politic’ and ‘person of the state’ are core metaphors of European political theory. Understandings of the body have been used to delimit the sphere of political action, distinguishing human politics from sacred and animal relations, and excluding bodies through constructions of race, gender, and class; but the body has also been used to disrupt that sphere, from bodily obstruction as a form of defiance, to the invocation of bodily security as a justification for resistance.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, through explorations of ‘the King’s two bodies’ and legal and artificial persons, historians of political thought, from Ernst Kantorowicz to Quentin Skinner, sought to unpack the complex interactions between metaphors of the body, authority, and sovereignty from the medieval period to the modern. Meanwhile, Michel Foucault influentially redrew the relationship between the body, power and politics, interpreting the history of modern states through the emergence of ‘biopolitics’. Theorists and historians alike increasingly reflected on the connections between the exercise of state and imperial power, and gendered and racial constructions of the body.

Yet, for all its importance, the body has rarely been accorded the central consideration in historical thinking about politics it so clearly demands; it remains possible to insist, as Diana Coole has,the body has been widely neglected in political thought’. The work of our keynote speaker, Dr Anna Becker, on the gendered body in early modern political thought, suggests a powerful research agenda for future intellectual history to consider the multifaceted ways in which the body can be read into, and through, the political.

This conference encourages graduate researchers to take up this agenda, centering the body – human, animal, sacred, and political – in histories of political thought and scholarship. In thinking through the complex relation between the body and politics, participants are welcome to draw on insights from political thought and intellectual history, gender and post-colonial history, cultural history, and the history of science.

Submissions are invited on topics including, but not limited to:

  • Bodily metaphors in the history of political thought
  • Legal bodies: corpus and persona
  • Science, the body, and the politics of race and gender
  • Humans, animals, and the limits of the political
  • The body as a source of religious and scholarly controversy: ‘the body of Christ’ in the Eucharist; the corporeal resurrection; the nature of the Incarnation
  • Saintly relics, state funerals and the body in political memory
  • Biopolitics and the government of populations and territories
  • The body and laws of war: human shields, body counts and torture
  • The politics of medicine and the working of the body
  • Bodies on the move: refugees, migrants and statelessness
  • Free bodies and enslaved bodies
  • Planetary bodies and ideas of the universe

Interested doctoral students should send a short abstract (max. 500 words) and a brief CV (max. 2 pages) to the conveners, Hester van Hensbergen (hcv23@cam.ac.uk) and Eloise Davies (emmd2@cam.ac.uk).

The deadline for proposals is Wednesday 31st October 2018.  

Funded as part of the AHRC Gender and Politics Group.

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