UC San Diego
The biopolitics of the vegetative subject
- Author(s): Pelaprat, Etienne
- et al.
The aim of this thesis is to develop a critical understanding of shifting definitions of life and death in contemporary society, and to situate a set of arguments in the biopolitical literature of the humanities and social sciences. I have focused, in particular, on developing a "genealogy of the vegetative subject." By vegetative subject, I do not refer simply to the contemporary medical -legal status of the brain-dead patient or "end of life" care. I refer instead to the historical permutations of assemblages that produced a human subject on a threshold of life and death as a response to ways a discourse and knowledge of human life itself, located in the neural production of mind, posed concrete bioethical, legal, medical, scientific, and even economic problems. I argue that the vegetative subject's brain and body are historical figures through which we may trace and render visible how our complicated encounter with death today is negotiated and shaped by particular technical advances, knowledges of material life, cultural production, and relations of power. At its core, this thesis develops a genealogy of the vegetative subject along three axes. The first axis recovers the historical emergence of the rationality of "life itself" that animates a knowledge and discourse of human life, primarily articulated through the brain, neuroscience, consciousness and cognition. The second axis examines how this threshold life and death, and its articulation across particular kinds of bodies, produces concrete "biopolitical struggles" that are addressed by what Foucault called strategies of "governmentality." Finally, the third axis considers the vegetative subject as a site of cultural production, one where discursive "acts of seeing" govern the recognition of a human other and one's relation to it