Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Postgenomic Identity: Art and Biopolitics
Heather Dewey-Hagborg
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Thesis Supervisor
Kathy High
Supervisor e-mail
highk AT
Other Supervisor(s)
Mary Anne Staniszewski, Michael Century, Michael Fortun
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Electronic Arts
Languages Familiar to Author
URL where full thesis can be found
genomics, postgenomics, genetics, biopolitics, identity, Foucault, race, visual art, 3d printing, forensics, surveillance, counter-surveillance, critical engineering, social practice, speculative design, bioart
Abstract: 200-500 words
This dissertation is a tour through a series of biopolitical sites where the production of power and knowledge of and about bodies is viewed through a molecular lens. Biopolitics, as described by Michel Foucault, combines the surveillance, normalization and classification of individuals with a view of bodies as instances of a species and constituents of a population, which is governed so as to encourage health and productivity as defined by the truth discourses of biology and public health. Framing DNA as a mode of translation from and ascription to the body it is extracted from, I examine the ways in which DNA data is used as a form of visibility, to segment, categorize, and ultimately to mitigate social, economic, and political uncertainty through the production of knowable populations. This dissertation is primarily concerned with subjectification in what has been termed the “postgenomic” era, the time since the sequencing of the human genome. The particular nexus I aim to investigate, in my artistic and scholarly work, concerns surveillance, forensics, race, and social justice in relation to human genomics today. Along the way I have interwoven a narrative describing my own artistic practice and a body of work that attempts to reveal and to problematize the often obscure and naturalized practices characterizing these sites. I designate the term “parrhesiastic biopolitically engaged art,” or simply “biopolitical art,” to describe a practice which refuses the epistemic authority of biopower, and I use this framework to evaluate several historical examples as well as my own work. Finally, I conclude with the proposition that art can utilize techniques of public amateurism, critical engineering, and speculative design to pose a subversive epistemic challenge to the biopolitical status quo.