Accepted Paper:

Plasticity before plasticity: an archaeology and biopolitics of biosocial entanglements  


Maurizio Meloni (Deakin University)

Paper short abstract:

Histories of plasticity of the body become more visible by the day in the Global North and South. This paper offers an archaeological view of how plasticity was used in ancient and early modern times to establish hierarchies between human groups, prefiguring an alternative history of racism.

Paper long abstract:

As a contribution to an alternative history of biopower, one that does not project back on ancient times twentieth century eugenic tropes of genetic hardness and fixity, I discuss here the phenomenology and politics of plastic bodies in ancient and early modern medicine, particularly humoralism in its global ramifications. The differential plasticity of various populations was used since the beginning of medicine (in the West and beyond) as a form of biopolitical distinction between sexes and between ruling and ruled groups, for instance Greeks/Romans and the Orient, temperate countries and the tropics, inaugurating a tradition that will last well until nineteenth-century colonialism: plasticity at the service of imperial projects, but also plasticity as a fear of degeneration in consequence of human migrations to new colonies. I argue that we need to excavate this deep history of plasticity as always gendered and racialized to see why today it is particularly on women, in the Global South, or among vulnerable populations in the North, that scientists find compelling cases to detect this emerging plasticity of bodies to their local surroundings.

Panel A01
Biosocial forms of living: imbricating technologies, social and medical knowledge