From ancient Athens to the present, the human body has served as a compelling metaphor for political community and the nation state. This course interrogates the mechanisms of this metaphor in its various articulations across classical, modern, and contemporary Western political thought. We will read works of canonical and contemporary political theory to ask how the metaphor of a purportedly “universal” human body has worked to justify particular distributions of political power within a given population. We will also look to a variety of texts—philosophical, historical, cinematic, and scientific—that challenge models of the human body that have been privileged by much of the Western political tradition as the model of the political community. We will consider what resources might be available for re-thinking the character of “the body politic”—and the distributions of power that it authorizes—if we conceive of the human body as, for example, a site of the negotiation of multiple gender and sexual identities, marked by ascribed racial identities, constituted within systems of economic inequality, evaluated by alternative notions of mental and physical “health,” or increasing ‘cyborg’ in its relations to technology.
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