Crisis, Conjuncture, and Biopolitics from Below

Seminars and Colloquia

A theory of crisis is insufficient to comprehend the current disorder and anarchy on the world stage, resembling a condition of chaos. It’s crucial to consider the correlation of forces during a crisis, the conjuncture of events and forces and their simultaneity, and hence the way contention materializes, resulting in rupture. This helps us better understand the contemporary history of colonial and postcolonial contentions, as well as certain narratives from the modern past when capitalism originated.

Against this background of crisis and conjuncture, we are now witness to a phenomenon that is at the heart of the question around crisis in the liberal procedure of governing. It is the phenomenon of “biopolitics from below,” which can only be understood and historically situated in the context of a crisis and a moment of conjuncture. Governing life through various procedures is a central repository of experiences of governance and statecraft throughout history. Life must be productive, and governments rely on stable life. Yet, what happens when life faces a crisis, as in regions where conditions of life appear to be unstable? These conditions may produce an unanticipated politics of life.

Drawing on Indian experiences, Ranabir Samaddar explored “biopolitics from below” within governments caught in crises, particularly in the neoliberal era. The presentation revolved around two themes: (a) the specific context of multiple crises – recent epidemiological, financial, and political crises culminating in a crisis of life; and (b) the emergence of “biopolitics from below” as a response to this conjuncture. It demonstrates how “biopolitics from below” manifests as a phenomenon specifically during moments of crisis and conjuncture. “Biopolitics from below” reconfigures our notions of care, protection, responsibility and solidarity. Traces of such politics momentarily appearing in the wake of a crisis may appear as utopias, but they are, to use an odd phrase, “necessary utopias.”

Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury provided the commentary for this Fellows' Colloquium.

Ranabir Samaddar is Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies of the Calcutta Research Group in Kolkata, India. He is a well-known political scientist in the field of South Asian Studies and adheres to the school of critical thinking. Samaddar, along with others, has launched several peace studies programs across South Asia and continues to combat injustices and conflicts within this region. His research focuses on forced migration and displacement, nationalism, and post-colonial statehood. His most influential works include The Marginal Nation: Transborder Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal (1999) and Karl Marx and the Postcolonial Age (2018). Samaddar regularly writes for Indian national newspapers where he participates in political debates over Southeast Asian and European relations.

Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury is Director of Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group and Vice Chancellor of the Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, India, where he is also the Director of the Centre for Nepal Studies, and Head of the Department of Human Rights and Human Development. His research focuses on international political theory and the politics of globalization, as well as issues of democracy, migration, and refugees as they pertain to the Global South. His most notable publications include Indian Autonomies: Keywords and Key Texts (co-edited with Ranabir Samaddar and Samir Kumar Das, 2005) and Internal Displacement in South Asia: The Relevance of UN’s Guiding Principles (co-edited with Paula Banerjee and Samir Kumar Das, 2005). Chaudhury is a regular contributor to academic journals, periodicals, and news channels.

Ayşe Çağlar, Permanent Fellow at the IWM, moderated the colloquium's discussion.


Fellows Colloquia are internal events for the IWM Visiting Fellows and Guests.