Feminist Biopolitics and Cultural Practice (2017/18)

Course Description: 

What do memorial displays for those who died from AIDS tell us about public mourning as a political measure of the (disavowed) sexuality? How might performances of dancers and other artists with disabilities challenge the normative perception of gendered and racialized desire/desirability? How do bio-artistic, cinematic, scientific rendering of “life” reanimate certain mode of life? How do the relationship between women and other animals in the circuits of biotechnology is re-imagined in some feminist literature and philosophy? This course examines how the biopolitical operations im/materialize through various forms of cultural practice – especially at the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, species, and disability. For the purpose, this course enters the conversation between feminist and queer theories and the theories of biopolitics, which traditionally concern the relavance of the biological life/death (and what exceeds such dichotomous conceptualization) to the realms of the political. We will pay particular attention to the entwinement between the biological, technological, and cultural as an important constituent of biopolitics, as most dramatically shown in – but not limited to – the emergence of bioarts and biomedia. From this perspective, the course explores a number of sites of cultural practice including bioart, eating (and starving), performance, tattoo, biometrics, prosthetics, reproductive technology, and graphic medicine as sites of feminist criticisms and creative interventions.



Learning Outcomes: 
  • Students will familiarize themselves with the major concepts and arguments in biopolitical theories, and their connections to and implications for gender studies in particular and critical theories in general.
  • Students will better understand and be able to analyze some of the important ways in which biopolitical power relations substantiate and operate through cultural practices in the contemporary world.
  • Students will be able to experiment with transdisciplinary theories and methods in order to engage with various forms of cultural practice, such as dance, bioart, cloning, and biometrics.
  • Students will improve their skills in analytical reading and writing, verbal discussion, and other forms of presentation. 


1.  Attendance and Participation (15%): Please complete the reading and screening assignment each week, and come to class on time and prepared for class discussion. Curiosity, humility, generosity, respect, and risk-taking are expected for our collective journey. Attendance is mandatory. Absences due to medical problems must be officially documented. Missing a class without an official document will negatively affect your grade, and missing more than three classes might result in failing the course.

2.   Text Responses (40%): You are required to write four text responses on the assigned readings and other materials. A TR is 500-600 words long, and should be posted under the corresponding weekly thread by 10pm the day before the relevant class. The purpose of TR is to think about the texts, to articulate your questions, interpretations, and critiques, and to share them with other participants. A TR is expected to demonstrate your analytic engagement with the texts – more than simple summaries or criticisms based on an already-assumed position of truth and/or justice. You are encouraged to read your colleagues’ responses before we meet. These response papers won’t receive extensive written comments, but will be incorporated into class discussions.

3.   Conference presentation and response (20%): You will give a presentation that is directly relevant to your upcoming term paper (10%). You are welcome to present the work-in-progress that you are developing into the paper, but you may also present a media, art, or performance project that will be complemented by the paper. The point of the class conference is to have the opportunity to share your work and offer collective input into each other’s projects. Therefore, your responses to fellow students’ presentation are also important contributions to the conference and will be factored into the grade (10%).

4.   Term Paper (25%): You will write a term paper (around 2000 words) on a topic of your choice that is directly relevant to the theme of the course. The term paper is not a standard research paper, and should demonstrate conceptual, methodological, and epistemological engagement with the course materials and discussion. You may write the paper as part of a larger research project of yours, but you should nonetheless focus on course materials in a significant manner.