Bio-Safety & the State of Exception

Last week we met in the morning of Nov. 3––the date of the presidential election in the United States––before any of us were aware just how exceptional this election coverage would be. The conversation revolved around the timely topic of Political Theology and the State of Exception. We read Giorgio Agamben‘s “The State of Exception as a Paradigm of Government” and Christopher Caldwell’s New York Times column about Agamben’s pandemic writings. Below are reflections on the conversation, an excerpt from our chat, and links to other sources that expand upon the topics discussed.

This week we discussed the state of privacy during the pandemic as it connected to Agamben’s writing. One of the questions I posed was about the cultural context of Italy during the pandemic versus a different country. For instance, I was interested in how Agamben’s thoughts about bio-security would be taken in South Korea where they used GPS tracking to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The tension between privacy, containment, and surveillance during a pandemic also came to the fore regarding Colorado’s new contact tracing application — a system that does not use GPS but Bluetooth pings and anonymized tokens to notify residents they may have been exposed to COVID. My partner, who works in tech, confirmed how the Colorado app goes above and beyond to protect privacy, which those of us in the CMRC seminar found interesting given the amount of privacy we all give up just to use social media, email, smart phones, and other technologies considered indispensable to contemporary life.

–– D. Ashley Campbell

  • Reflecting on our conversation from a few weeks ago about apocalypse, here’s a little follow-up piece that Catherine Keller wrote in reflection on apocalypse and the election from one of my favourite blogs, Counterpoint Knowledge.
  • For a TL;DR curated set of excerpts from things Agamben has argued about the pandemic and Sergio Benvenuto’s responses to him, check out “Coronavirus and Philosophers” from the European Journal of Psychoanalysis.
  • And finally, Radiolab did a fascinating story about a team of political experts and operatives who got together to conduct extensive simulations about the “what ifs” that might occur during the election, i.e. what we are living through right now. As Radiolab says, it’s “Part war game part choose your own adventure”, and 100% eye-opening about how our electoral process really works.

–– Rachel van der Merwe

The veteran religion reporter Kathryn Joyce has an incisive report at Vanity Fair on the rise of the alt-right in the Catholic Church, which Stewart shared with me. It reveals how portable conspiratorial thinking can be, how the idioms of QAnon-style political conspiracy have been transposed (through some of the same originators, like Steve Bannon) into the dissenters against Pope Francis. In both cases, the conspiracy serves to justify a perpetual state of exception, a mortal threat that calls for dispensing with ordinary politics in order to subdue the enemy who could be anywhere.

–– Nathan Schneider

Other sources were shared in the chat during our CMRC seminar last week as we discussed bio-politics, bio-security, COVID-19, and conspiracy theories. Here’s a peek into that conversation:

11:18 am

Rachel van der Merwe: The Radiolab episode:


Samira Rajabi: In case you’re all needing a conspiracy to listen to….


Deborah Whitehead:

Nathan Schneider: danah boyd on too much media literacy: