Tag Archives: Biopolitics

Renowned King’s College London Medical Sociologist Visits Carolina

Nikolas Rose

Nikolas Rose, professor of sociology and head of the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College London, visited Carolina for a week in April to deliver a lecture, meet with faculty, staff and students to discuss his areas of scholarship and to explore collaborations.

A strategic alliance was formally established by UNC and King’s in 2006, initiated between UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and King’s School of Arts and Humanities and School of Social Science and Public Policy. The alliance continues to grow and include additional schools and disciplines campus-wide on both sides, including joint activity in the medical humanities.

As head of the newly established social medicine department at King’s, Rose has been developing an interdisciplinary department, bringing together some of the world’s leading experts in areas including anthropology, bioethics, gerontology, global health and medical sociology.

“Among our early reasons for inviting Professor Rose to campus was the simple fact that so many of us have found his work from the last decade on ‘biopolitics’ to be so important to our own thinking,” says Barry Saunders, associate professor of social medicine in the UNC School of Medicine.

Saunders introduced Rose at a public lecture delivered during his visit. Rose presented “A New Sociology for a New Century? Revitalising the Human Sciences” at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Friday, April 26, addressing the emerging relations between the biological sciences, those sciences of “life itself” and the human and social sciences. The lecture was sponsored by the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, UNC Department of Social Medicine, College of Arts & Sciences Interdisciplinary Initiatives and the Center for Bioethics.

Saunders notes that Rose’s work on biomedicalization and biosocialities has influenced courses at the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Honors Program Interdisciplinary Minor in Medicine, Literature and Culture.

Rose originally trained as a biologist before transitioning to psychology and then to sociology. After 10 years at Goldsmiths College, where he was head of sociology and pro-warden for research, he joined the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2002 and was convener of the Department of Sociology from 2002 to 2006 and Martin White Professor of Sociology. He founded the BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society at LSE, and was its director since its inception in 2003.

Rose has published widely on the social and political history of the human sciences, on the genealogy of subjectivity, on the history of empirical thought in sociology, on law and criminology and on changing rationalities and techniques of political power.

“He has had an extraordinarily interesting career moving across the disciplines: from undergraduate studies that combined biology, including close work at laboratory benches and on animal bodies, with animal behavior and human psychology,” says Saunders. “From there he moved through an extensive and distinctive arc of engagements as a sociologist that produced a body of writing that most of us have only engaged a few parts of.”

Rose has published widely on the structures of governmental power and the use of bioscientific methods and expertise to shape the politics of “life itself.”

His most recent book, Neuro (Princeton University Press, 2013,with coauthor Joelle Abi-Rached), examines the ways neurobiological conceptions of personhood are influencing everything from child rearing to criminal justice, and are transforming the ways we “know ourselves” as human beings.

“The [book] has a forward-looking and even hopeful cast, a concern with emergence– our emergence: with forms of human that we are becoming,” notes Saunders.

Article reposted from UNC Global (link to original).

Peter Redfield on his latest book “Life In Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders”


1. How did the idea for Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders came about? What inspired you?

I had friends who had worked for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) so I’d heard about them for some time. I thought it would be an interesting subject in part because the phrase sans frontières — “without borders” — later became a tagline for globalization. Historically this is the group that popularized that expression, if with rather different aims than to open markets. The organization’s core movement in France began to engage a “borderless” world of sorts in the early 1970’s, imagining that doctors should be able to reach patients anywhere, overcoming all barriers. I wanted to look at what it means to practice medicine with this global ambition in mind: How to take biomedicine (i.e. the sort of healing taught in medical schools) and move it anywhere in the world and try to make it work.

I’d also just finished my first book and started to teach at UNC. I was meeting a lot of undergraduates who wanted to do something good in the world — to make a difference, to live a meaningful life. Whether they were actively thinking about it or not, many of them were likely going to work in the world of NGOs, nonprofits, etc. So I wanted to look at such engagement once you put it in practice, into motion. What happens when your great idea actually takes off?

While there have been lots of things written about MSF in French, at the time there was little in English, even at a journalistic level. There was not a great deal of analysis in an anthropological sense (although now there is much more). Over the last dozen years, global health has emerged as a key term. Even the School of Public Health changed its name! Looking at MSF is a way to try and think about global health, or one version of it in practice. To see it in motion over time, to see what it means to try to be global in the most literal sense of direct cross-border mobility as opposed to having “international” relationships in the nation-to-nation sense. Historically, one of MSF’s claims (which is exaggerated but has a kernel of truth) is that the group can go anywhere in the world in 48 hours. That’s the kind of infrastructure for emergency response they sought to realize, and to a certain extent they succeeded. They can go to most places in the world relatively quickly, and as long as everything cooperates — all the people and things — they can set up an operation. There’s a similar conception of the “global” in global health, which tends to focus on particular projects and campaigns as opposed to general system building in a given nation state (unlike the older international health). It likewise generally shares MSF’s secular, medical focus on “saving human lives”. This notion of biomedicine as a response to human suffering reveals complex technical and ethical issues, particularly when cast at a global scale.

I should also note that MSF is no longer really a French organization; it became European in the 1980s and has increasingly grown transnational. Indeed the French part is a minority at this point. The dominant language across MSF has increasingly become English, which is also the dominant language of aid, trade etc., often in an asymmetrical way. At the same time most people involved with the group believe strongly in human equality, value diversity and don’t want to mimic colonial empire. So there are several kinds of globalization at work, not all of which neatly line up. That’s anthropologically interesting.

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