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February 22, 2023

Introducing Keynote Speaker – Dr Lauren Wilcox

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“Territorial Bodies” Keynotes (1/2): Lauren Wilcox

When deciding the keynotes for “Territorial Bodies”, we had a number of key considerations in mind. Given the interdisciplinarity at the heart of the conference, we were keen to find keynotes who embraced this interdisciplinarity within their own work. Those academics who are redefining fields, thinking across disciplines, and breaking out of traditional silos were at the top of our list. We were also searching for the keynotes to bring a variety of perspectives on the central notion of “Territorial Bodies”, particularly considering the idea from across social, political and environmental frameworks. Introducing Dr Lauren Wilcox, Associate Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge...

Dr Lauren Wilcox

About Lauren

Lauren is an Associate Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge, and the Centre Director of the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies. Lauren’s research works through the disciplines of international relations, political theory and feminist theory, with a specific focus on what happens when we think through bodies and embodiment as a central framework for exploring violence and security at an international level.

Lauren is currently working on a monograph tentatively entitled War Beyond the Human, in which she is exploring, in her words, ‘the ways that the political and technological assemblages of bodies that make up the so-called ‘posthuman’ nature of war and political violence pose a theoretical and political challenge to how we theorize the relationship between violence, desire, embodiment, race, sex, and gender’.

Lauren has published on a range of relevant topics, including the destabilization of the idea of the body through suicide bombing (Wilcox 2013), the theorization of bodies in International Relations (Wilcox 2014), notions of ‘embodied’ and ‘embodying’ drone warfare (Wilcox 2016), and security and the gendered body (Wilcox 2017).

Lauren’s Keynote: On the Map, the Territory, and the Body

In this address, I begin the work of unpacking the entanglements of ‘the map,’ ‘the territory’ and ‘the body’ in modern international and political thought in order to provide an understanding of their co-constitution. I engage with Black and Indigenous feminist thought to critically analyse the foundations of these concepts and their implications for theorizing a global politics of ‘the body’. To start, I analyse Sylvia Wynter’s “On How We Mistook the Map for the Territory.” Wynter engages the map/territory metaphor to argue “systemic devalorization of racial blackness was in itself, only a function of another and more deeply rooted phenomenon” (1997, 115). Representing “the human” as a natural organism, for Wynter, “mistakes the representation for the reality, the map for the territory,” (Wynter 1997, 49) and overrepresents the bio/economic man associated with Europeans as the sole expression of humanity.

I engage the concept of the body as res extensa as in Hobbes and the mechanistic and calculative functions of the map were a condition of possibility for the political concept of territory to emerge (Elden 2013) through the work of Denise Ferreira da Silva. In her work, the Enlightenment project which produces the human body as the exteriorization of the mind and establishes the distinction between the ‘transparent I’ of Europe post-Enlightenment and the ‘affectable other’ institutes race as the signifiers of those spatialized subjects who subject to the universal reason of self-determining, Enlightened subjects even as they are not capable of grasping this reason. In Ferreira da Silva’s mappings of the analytics of raciality, “self-determination remains the exclusive attribute of the rational mind, which exists in the kingdom of freedom, where transcendentality is realised, namely where reside the ethical-juridical things of reason, modern subjects whose thoughts, actions and territories refigure universality.” (2009, 224).

I bring this and other work to bear on the concept of self-defence, both of territory and of self/body, and its links to property, to shed light on the racial and patriarchal roots that condition the violent production of territories and bodies, and of bordering practices that delimit, in Ahmed's (2007) terms, "where certain bodies are extended while others are stopped."

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