Charlotte Epstein

Habeas What Kind Of Corpus? Locating Privacy and the Body in the Making of the Modern Subject

Wednesday 6 August, 3.30 pm - 5.00 pm
Bankstown Campus
, Room 3.G.27
All welcome


In this paper I consider how our experiences of bodily privacy are changing in the contemporary surveillance society. To this end I use biometric technologies as a lens for tracking the changing relationships between the body and privacy that underwrite our modern democratic polities. Adopting a broader genealogical perspective, however, I begin by retracing the role of the body in the constitution of the modern liberal political subject. I consider successively two quite different understandings of the subject, the Foucauldian political subject as theorized by Michel Foucault, followed by the subject of psychoanalysis analysed by Jacques Lacan. My genealogy of the modern political subject begins with the habeas corpus, and observes a classically Foucauldian periodization, the historical succession of a regime of sovereignty¹ with a regime of governmentality¹ within which our surveillance societies are currently taking shape. In the final part of the article, instead of the unidirectional Foucauldian gaze, I switch to a two-way scopic relationship, by way of Lacan¹s analysis of the mirror stage. I locate both the place of the body and the function of misrecognition in the constitution of the psychic subject. The psychoanalytic perspective, in which the powerful gaze is revealed as that of the Other, serves to appraise the effects upon the subject of excessive exposure. I conclude to the importance of the subject¹s being able to hide, even when she has nothing to hide. By considering these two facets of subjectivity, political and psychic, I hope to make sense of our enduring, and deeply political, passionate attachment to privacy, notwithstanding the increasing normalization of surveillance technologies and practices.

My interests are in the areas of International Relations theory, particularly in post-structuralist approaches and discourse theory, critical security studies and global environmental politics. In my book, The Power of Words in International Relations: Birth of An Anti-Whaling Discourse, I approach the topic of whaling both as an object of analysis in its own right and as a lens for examining the role of discursive power in international relations.