What’s the body of the Body Politic? —Sovereignty, Identity, Ecology—

Posted: April 10, 2017

A San Giorgio Dialog at the invitation of the Cini Foundation, in Venice, 12th-15th of September 2017
with Didier Debaise, Scott Gilbert, Bruno Karsenti, Bruno Latour, Tim Lenton, Mike Lynch, Kyle McGee, Tim Mitchell, Isabelle Stengers, Simon Schaffer, Shirley Strum, David Western
Do you remember the Aesopian Fable of the Belly and the Members, or the letter of Paul to the Corinthians about the Body and the Church, of The Fable of the Bees by Mandeville, or the somewhat dangerous association of pests and foreigners, or the more recent attempts to think of the Earth as a giant organism? None of these stories stops shifting metaphors between one domain —that of the body— and another —that of politics. The result has been the creation of that most important concept of Western philosophy, corpus politicum, the Body Politic. One interesting aspect of this most famous topic is that every domain borrows from each other the certainty associated with the other’s authority, so that political science ends up borrowing from biology what biologists borrow from political theory! This constant commerce of concepts and metaphors, unfortunately, has never guaranteed the quality of what has been ceaselessly transported from one domain to another. The result is that we remain deprived of a coherent definition of collective bodies. Hence the idea of attempting to re-open the question in this Dialog by bringing the different domains together and examine what each has really to offer to the others that is genuinely proper to the phenomena it studies.