- Forum Introduction:"Toward a Biopolitics of Early America"
Biopolitical frameworks have not yet received consistent or sustained attention in many subfields of early American studies. We therefore decided to include a forum to provide an opportunity for something of a prolegomenous discussion of new directions and possible interventions at the intersections of these spheres of inquiry. The forum comprises eight short pieces from scholars from a range of fields in the humanities, including literary studies, history, gender and sexuality studies, and the history of science, and who work on a range of historical periods. The intent of the forum was to create space in the special issue for writers to enact, or respond to, some of the provocations voiced by the introduction as well as a number of the full-length articles. Insofar as thinking with biopower introduces a framework to early American studies—and particularly to the study of the periods before 1800—that has not, historically, seen much integration into most early Americanist scholarship, the forum pieces offer a broad, but not comprehensive or exhaustive, representation of some of the unfinished business at the intersections of early American studies and scholarship on biopower. We solicited contributions that we hoped, in the aggregate, would broadly reflect on the promises and limitation of biopolitics as a framework or set of guiding questions.
The pieces included offer archival fragments and theoretical provocations that push forward the key insights of this special issue: that the turn of governance to managing the profitability of life depended on enslavement, capitalism, and settler colonialism. Expanding the biopolitical frame beyond the nation-state, our authors explore Asian immigrant laborers at sea, the far reach of the sugar plantation, and indigenous sovereignty all as key aspects of biopolitical management and resistance. The slippery meanings of "life, itself" in a period rife with major developments in the life sciences—indeed, the coinage of biology and species themselves as terms and concepts—find elaboration here, as do shifting targets of the scientific gaze, including black skin and the invention of the life stage of infancy. The rising power of scientific and secular authority are highlighted here as key aspects of biopolitical control and modes of power. [End Page 835]
We asked contributors to reflect broadly on the way that scholarship on biopolitics has emerged and changed, and encouraged submissions that consider the kinds of interventions that a shift toward thinking with the histories of biopolitical strategies of governance have made possible, or the kinds of interventions that this shift might have foreclosed. Drawn from the fields and subfields in which each of these scholars is situated, this collection of writings represents thinking that is at times gestural, speculative, and provocative, pointing to both possible points of departure as well as critical absences or holes in extant scholarly conversations surrounding both biopower and early America. If one of the problems with Michel Foucault's account of the rise and deployment of biopolitical tactics of government is, as Jason Chang suggests in his forum piece, its overly categorical explanatory power, our aim, in the forum, was to assemble a collection of pieces that resist any impulse toward a singular account, or categorical mastery. In what follows, then, the authors offer not answers but further questions, not explanations but explorations. We hope that the eclectic collection of scholarship here will encourage further scholarship that proceeds from just such a curious, impertinent posture. [End Page 836]
Greta LaFleur is associate professor of American studies at Yale University. Her research and teaching focus on early North American literary and cultural studies, the history of science, the history of race, the history and historiography of sexuality, and queer studies. Her first book, The Natural History of Sexuality in Early America, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2018. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Early American Literature, Early American Studies, American Quarterly, American Literature, Criticism, New Republic, BLARB: The Blog of the Los Angeles Review of Books, and on Public Books, and her research has been supported by fellowships at the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston), the William Andrews Clark Library at UCLA (Los...