PODCAST | Corporeal Liberty: the place of the body in the making of modern sovereignty

This is part of the Democracy Futures Seminar Series. 14 October 2015.

Surveillance practices and technologies have brought the body into focus. In both public and private places, our bodies are constantly being ‘sensed’, through the multiplication of sensor technologies in consumer devices such as smart phones (that count the steps we take each day, for example), measured, and ‘authenticated’, through the use of biometric fingerprinting technologies, ‘recognised’ (by way of facial recognition technologies such as those used by Facebook to help you identify your ‘friends’ on your photos), or ‘scanned’, with airport scanners.

This paper is a chapter from the monograph on surveillance i am currently writing. In the first part of the book I undertake a genealogy of the place of the body in the making of modern sovereignty on the one hand, and the modern political subject, on the other, which I apprehend as co-constitutive. The genealogical terrain is 17th century England. , In this chapter, I consider what William Blackstone called ‘the second absolute right of the Englishman’ [sic], liberty. It follows a chapter on Hobbesian liberty, which explores the implication of Hobbes’ decisive gesture to locate liberty in the body. Having considered liberty theoretically, in this chapter, i consider the practical understandings of liberty that developed in the practice of the law, particularly around the key developments that took place around the habeas corpus in the 17th century, and the role played by Edward Coke. The chapter shows just how central the body was to the formation of the modern political subject’s liberty. Insofar as we are still modern political subjects, this may explain the unease (some of us) experience at constantly having to bear our bodies to the surveillant gaze. Returning to the formation of modern political order serves to show the extent to which this unease is profoundly political, rather than personal.

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