Citizen robots: biopolitics, the computer, and the Vietnam period
The Vietnam War coincided with an intense period of technological change in the US that marked a significant turning point in the relationship between the citizen and the state. While computer technology found new and deadly uses on the field of battle, it also found its way into people’s homes, giving the state the means through which to monitor and control subjects like never before.
While Michel Foucault describes Vietnam as ‘the gates of our world’, this thesis argues that Vietnam stands rather as the gates of our biopolitical world – a period in which Foucault’s original concept of biopolitics is reborn in the computer age. To this end, this thesis examines some of the early impacts and implications of the computerized biopolitical state, and the robotized human subject. It offers an exploration of the ways in which biopolitical ideas can be used alongside science fiction texts to interrogate the cultural tendencies of the USA during the Vietnam War period, stretching from the start of the war in 1955 through to the war’s end in 1975 and the shadow cast in the years that follow. In doing so, it charts how human subjects are complicit in the means of their own oppression, and the ethical implications of the blurred distinction between the human and the machine. Thus, it calls for a new cybernetic form of biopolitical insight – a techno-biopolitics – that integrates the robotic with current understandings of the human, the non-human and the animal, and how they are used as a means of discursive control.
To find out more about this project and my other related interests, browse my research blogs. You can also see my researcher profile on the Lancaster University website.
Feedback for my work...
In 2014, I completed my MA in English Literature at Brunel University, Greater London. I received an A+ for my Masters dissertation, with the following feedback from my supervisor, Professor William Watkin:
I think it is safe to say this is the best dissertation I have marked on an MA program at Brunel. It is simply excellent in all areas and would easily function as a chapter in a PhD in my opinion. It also marks an important moment for me as a marker and teacher. It clearly develops ideas on Badiou, Deleuze, Agamben and Derrida that have featured as part of the undergraduate and graduate programs that I have been involved in in recent years. I know this because I know that they would not have met this kind of material anywhere else. To see a candidate take this material and make it their own in this way is of immense satisfaction to me, although all the credit should do to the candidate who has transformed everything he has read and produced a work of lasting originality. This is certainly all their own work.
As I specialise in these areas perhaps I should make some simple things clear. At present, there is almost no one even at a profession level writing across Agamben, Badiou, Deleuze, Foucault and in terms of mourning and animality, Derrida. That the author gets one or two of these right would be wonderful. If they related one thinker to another correctly that would be astonishing. That they do this across five thinkers each of which presents unique and complex challenges, I just haven't seen that. Alone this would excite me at a PhD level. So there is that. But then there is also a talent for relating the ideas to the texts in a clear, developmental and original fashion. Expertise in theory often hampers clarity of textual exegesis but here the two sit together absolutely perfectly in my opinion. I have to say I have nothing critical to say and that almost never happens (it never happens). Even when he speaks about Agamben and potential, where in my opinion most go wrong, he does it with subtlety and grace.
Then there are the four chapters. The third chapter on death, one of my other areas of research, is excellent. It takes the debate away from central concerns, refreshes the intellectual palate, raises a radical consideration of communicability/ intelligibility, and just transforms the debate by bringing in Butler, Derrida and so on. What is expressed there in terms of Butler's use of Agambenian discourse analysis would be a chapter on its own. When one returns to Chapter 4 which is more in line with the first two, it is then that Badiou is engaged. This is simply brilliant structural awareness as to how to build and develop and advance argument. And of course the conclusion is exceptional. Using a kind of side-comment from Hallward and locating the novels within this structure is totally original. To close, the grade here doesn't matter, it is work beyond the confines of an MA in my opinion. What should happen next is that someone intervenes and makes sure this person gets on a PhD course as soon as possible and develops this project to its full potential which, I am certain, is immense. Thank you for submitting something of this quality it was a privilege to read and I urge you to make sure this is not the last piece of theoretical work you ever write.