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From ‘Proletarian Lungs’ to Classed Nonhumans? Or, Does Class Have a Substance?

Fri, September 1, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Gardner A


Rather than framing death as a disruptive fissure that determines the end of a living protagonist, both forensic entomologists and blowflies arrive on scene to a story well underway, one ritually told in no small part by the lysosomal enzymes and gun bacteria. Upon entering this milieu, forensic entomologists are informed that categories such as ‘socioeconomic class’ do not in fact end at death, and that they are maintained by the interests of nonhuman-life (Canguilhem) with our decomposing bodies. Boundaries that thus divide ‘subjects,’ their ‘internal’ organs, and their ‘environment’ (Alaimo), as well as life and death, are traversed by class inscriptions.

If, as Catherine Malabou states with Foucault, “the emergence of biopolitics is inseparable from the emergence of biology as a science,” what does the ritualization of turning macabre milieus into institutionalized knowledge by the forensic sciences tell us about regimes of dominance?

Rather than treating death as being a returning – ‘from dust to dust’ –, a continuous flowing of vital material, or an absolute existential limit, attending to the rituals of nonhuman life that provide temporal and classed knowledge of deaths, offers an understanding of the posthuman character of class. Using Malabou’s distinction between ‘plasticity’ and ‘negative plasticity,’ an understanding of class’ substance is provided.