In May, a 13-year-old named Izabel Laxamana took a selfie wearing a sports bra and some leggings, and sent it to a boy at her school. When school administrators heard about the picture, they contacted her parents. What happened next defies easy comprehension: delivering on a threatened punishment for breaking his social media rules, Izabel’s father cut off her hair. He then made a video of Izabel with her hair (in a pile on the floor), demanding that she say breaking their rules hadn’t been worth it. The video found its way to social media. Two days later, Izabel jumped off an overpass, and a day later, she died from her injuries. The reasons why Laxamana committed suicide are of course complex, and may or may not be because of the shaming (and the father may or may not be the one who posted it to social media).* But the videoed retaliatory haircut seems to be real. In a recent piece in Slate, Amanda Hess catalogues the sudden re-emergence of this medieval phenomenon – literally medieval; women were punished by having their hair cut off, often in public – and situates it as part of a more general re-emergence of the public shaming of teenagers by their parents:
In the current issue of Philosophy and Rhetoric, Kelly Happe has an interesting paper interpreting Occupy Wall Street (or at least the Zuccotti Park component) as an example of cynical parrhesia. In a time when all expression is always already co-opted by neoliberal capital as a source of surplus value (this point has been canvassed extensively by the autonomist Marxists as “complete subsumption,” and I’m going to take it for granted here. I summarize it here in my discussion of Hardt and Negri’s Empire), it becomes hard to know what kind of speech would count as protest. Anyone who has seen the branding of Che Guevera T-Shirts has some idea what the problem is. It’s also one that has been very difficult to address; in Empire, for example, which lays out the problem quite clearly, we are offered the somewhat discouraging example of Coetzee’s Michael K, a character who drops out and nearly starves to death in caves.
Happe’s move is to suggest that Occupy succeeds in avoiding cooption by way of its rejection of politically expressive speech. As she puts it, “what is striking is the time and space devoted to the material culture and everyday life of public, communal living. Indeed, in the various accounts of the Zuccotti moment of Occupy, the radical imagination is inseparable from the otherwise unremarkable practices of day-to-day living in an encampment” (214). That is, it is in the rejection of symbolic and explicitly “political” speech that Occupy evades neoliberal cooption. Such speech, she proposes, is a good example of the sort of ethical parrhesia that Foucault recounts in the ancient Cynics. For the Cynics, it is precisely the extent to which their speech is unintelligible to politics that makes it radical, suspends its subsumption into the political apparatus, and presents the contingency of a new way of life. Happe writes:
One of my summer projects is to work up my SPEP paper from last year, which used the school desegregation decisions (like Brown v. Board) as a way to think about the relations between juridical power and biopower in the courts. The role of the courts in the transition from hegemonic juridical power to hegemonic biopower hasn’t been studied a lot, and the tendency is to dismiss the courts as institutions along with juridical power. The centrality of the judiciary in school desegregation convinced me that there’s more to be said, however. Current litigation about whether corporate entities can use rights claims to deny contraceptive insurance coverage to their female employees seems to bear that intuition out. So I’ve been reading, and one thing that didn’t particularly strike me until now is the complexity of the relation between school desegregation policy in the U.S. and what Foucault calls a “race war” at the end of Society must be Defended.
It must be summer: Facebook has released a controversial study of its users. Last year, it was the demonstration that the emotional contagion effect did not require direct contact, and could in fact spread across social networks without direct, face-to-face contact (the controversy wasn’t in the result, it was in the fact that FB did the study by manipulating its users’ Newsfeeds to present more happy content) This time, Facebook’s research wing published a paper in Science purporting to demonstrate that Facebook wasn’t responsible for whatever online echo-chamber effect its users might demonstrate. Or, at least, if the site did contribute to an echo-chamber, it wasn’t the main contributor. From the FB blog discussing the paper:
The Affordable Care Act was in the Supreme Court again today, this time for oral argument in King v. Burwell. For those who don’t follow the ACA’s legal woes, the challenge in Burwell is this: under the ACA, states are supposed to establish exchanges where citizens can purchase healthcare on the individual market. For states that don’t want to run their own exchanges, the federal government steps up and does it for them. Healthcare is expensive, and so the federal government heavily subsidizes the premiums (on a sliding scale) for those in the middle class. However, buried in the part of the law to do with tax code, the statute says that subsidies are available for those purchasing from an exchange “established by the state.” The challenge is basically a big, fat gotcha! moment. If you say you’ll pay me back for “dinner,” and I show up with pizza and beer, then I can plausibly expect you to pay me back for both. On the other hand, if you say that you will pay me back for buying you a pizza, then I should understand that you don’t have to pay me back for beer. By the same reasoning, if the law says subsidies flow to those whose exchanges are established by “the state,” then those subsidies are not available to those whose exchanges are established by “the federal government.” Gotcha!
A couple of weeks ago, in a post on Theranos, which has been developing a new - and very fast and cheap - technique for blood-testing, I mentioned the woes of 23andMe.com, a site which originally offered direct to consumer genetic testing, before the FDA shut it down for any medical claims (the FDA letter is here). As 23andMe put it (in a pre-shutdown version of its website), customers might “gain insight into your traits, from baldness to muscle performance. Discover risk factors for 97 diseases. Know your predicted response to drugs, from blood thinners to coffee. And uncover your ancestral origin.” That sort of claim, and its dubious scientific basis, was the basis of the FDA’s shutdown order, which also expressed concern about false positives and the difficulty in understanding negative results in isolation. In this, the FDA was echoing concerns of bioethicists, who have generally been alarmed about the spread of genetic testing outside of a clinical context. As a 2011 piece summarized the concerns, the lack of regulatory oversight of these practices, which trade upon the public’s fear of cancer and limited understanding of genetics, creates potential problems with inappropriate referrals, misinterpretation of results, excessive anxiety about positives, false reassurances about negatives, and even the confusion between diagnostic genetic variants and surrogate genetic markers (which account for very little risk).
Daniel Zamora’s interview in Jacobin (following the publication of a book he edited), in which he claims that Foucault ended up de facto endorsing neoliberalism, has generated a lot of renewed discussion about Foucault’s late work. Over at An und für sich, Mark William Westmoreland has organized a series of posts responding to Zamora. I’m one of the contributors; the others are Verena Erlenbusch (Memphis), Thomas Nail (Denver), and Johanna Oksala (Helsinki). My contribution is cross-posted below, but you really should start with the interview and then read Erlenbusch’s post – she lays out the context of the controversy, and discusses the book (which came out fairly recently, and which hasn’t been translated yet) in considerable detail.
I’ll update with links to Nail’s and Oskala’s contributions when they’re up.
The current New Yorker includes a profile of Theranos, a Silicon Valley start-up that is developing new techniques of blood-testing, and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. In the old way, you’d go to the doctor, who’d order some tests. You’d then get a blood draw of a couple of vials of blood, and they’d get shipped off to LabCorps or Quest. A few days later, you’d find out your lipid or other levels. Theranos claims to have developed the technology to get much, much more information out of a couple of drops of blood – at a fraction of the cost. Needless to say, such an innovation would be a game changer. There is serious money at stake: Quest and LabCorps apparently generate $75 billion a year in revenue. Medically, it’s not just that routine lipid screenings would be easier; it’s that as researchers discover blood markers for more and more diseases, routine blood testing could enable early detection of some that are currently very difficult to treat. For example, recent research suggests such biomarkers might enable early detection of the most common form of lung cancer (this follows the discovery of another lung cancer biomarker a year ago); such early detection is critical for treatment, and its absence is part of why lung cancer has such a high mortality rate. The automatic testing for cancer biomarkers could simply be folded into the lab result. Holmes puts it this way:
Over on Cyborgology, my colleague Robin James has a post up about Taylor Swift’s promotion of her new album. James focuses on two moments in that promotion: on the one hand, Swift has removed her music from the free streaming part of Spotify, on the grounds that it insufficiently compensates her (and others’) labor in producing it. On the other hand, she released a video, “Blank,” that watches more like an interactive video game. On James’ argument, both of these strategies amount to an effort on Swift’s part to control and otherwise dictate the terms of her affective labor. On the surface of it, that’s laudable enough, and certainly the Internet can readily be seen as an enormously complex vehicle for extracting surplus value from its users by getting them to work for free. As Terry Hart tirelessly points out on Copyhype, Silicon Valley makes a lot of money off of other people’s work, and shockingly little of that money finds its way back to the content industries: Silicon Valley obscures (and does not compensate) the enormous amount of affective labor on which it depends.
As I’ve suggested here before, one of the undertheorized aspects of biopower is the relation between biopower and the juridical power it supposedly supplants. Now, I think it’s a mistake to think that biopower simply replaces juridical power, at least not on Foucault’s considered view (for the sorts of reasons given in papers such as this one; nor do I think the relation should be read that way, whatever Foucault thought), but to say that is to then pose a problem concerning their interrelations.
This paper by Jack Balkin (law, Yale) offers some help in disentangling the various threads. Balkin’s concern is to outline the features of what he calls the “national surveillance state,” which he proposes is our current mode of governance, having taken over and transformed the governmental apparatus from the mid-century Welfare and National Security states. The former developed through the implementation of New Deal programs, and the latter through the Cold War. The two of them together, plus developments in computing power, enable the surveillance state, which is a “way of governing” that has developed over the last half of the twentieth-century (and thus long predates 9/11 and its aftermath):
Cloud computing – where users keep their data (and often their applications) online - poses significant theoretical and regulatory problems. Many of these concern jurisdiction: it’s very hard to even know at a given moment where data is kept, and it’s often unclear (in the case of privacy, for example), which jurisdiction’s privacy and data protection rules should apply (the one for the data subject? the company that collected the data? the companies processing it? etc.). Not only that, U.S. and EU law are wildly inconsistent on the point, even though any large big data company has to serve multiple jurisdictions.
A recent piece by Paul M. Schwartz does some valuable work disentangling these issues; here, I want to focus on one moment. Schwartz notes that cloud computing will likely induce significant changes in how firms are structured, and how they structure their data handling. Back in 1937, Ronald Coase proposed that companies will decide between doing something in house and outsourcing it based on a comparison of the costs of each. If it’s more efficient to do something in-house, using the hierarchical control structure of the firm and avoiding the complexities of dealing with markets, that’s what we can expect. If, on the other hand, it turns out that it’s more efficient to hire somebody else to do the job, we can expect companies to do that. Companies have to balance the difficulties of managing a project in-house versus the costs of negotiating contracts with independent vendors.
In a recent post, and by way of an important paper by Katherine Hayles, I suggested that “insofar as RFID chips negotiate the boundary between informatics and objects, and transitions between those, they should be studied as sites for the primitive accumulation of capital. That is, they are places where objects can become subsumed into capitalist market structures, while being dispossessed (following David Harvey's terminology) of whatever value they might have had before.” In the comments, Ed Kazarian suggested that the analysis also needs to think about the role of circulation and the ways that the wide diffusion of RFID tags facilitate the smooth circulation of commodities with the sorts of supply chain management techniques that characterize “just in time” capitalism. Here, I want to try to further that analysis a step or two, in part by complicating the sense in which I was using subsumption.
Several months ago, I argued here that big data is going to make a big mess of privacy – primarily because of a distinction between “data,” understood as the effluvia of daily life, generated by such activities as moving around town or making phone calls, and “information,” which implies some sort of meaning. Privacy protects the disclosure of “information,” since this can be an intentional act; big data allows surveillance of areas traditionally considered private without any act of disclosure, since the analytic computers will take care of turning the data into information. My standard talking-point here is a recent study of Facebook likes which determined that all sorts of non-trivial correlations could be deduced from what people “like:”
I’m teaching a course on privacy and surveillance this fall, and one of the things I’ve been doing is reading up on aspects of privacy theory that I didn’t know much about, such as the feminist critique of privacy. The basic feminist argument is that “family privacy” has been historically used as a cover to shield domestic abuse from legal scrutiny (and not only against women – see this disturbing Supreme Court case about a stepfather who beat a four year old into serious and permanent cognitive disability; the Rhenquist Court argues that state social services had no enforceable obligation to intervene because of family privacy). It is in this context that I ran across Reva Siegel’s (Law, Yale) fantastic article on the way that claims of domestic privacy emerged out of the collapse of a husband’s legal right to “chastise” (beat) his wife. Siegel’s larger purpose is to study the ways that legal reforms can serve to “modernize” status regimes, a process in which old hierarchies are given new justifications and (perhaps) weakened, but not eliminated. It’s not that the legal reforms don’t achieve anything – it’s that it’s very, very difficult to dismantle regimes of social privilege, and that (as Foucault noted), power always entails resistance.
Here, I want to focus briefly on the move from chastisement to privacy, because I think it suggests something important for our understanding of biopolitics. As Siegel outlines it, the basic story is that, over the course of the nineteenth century, a couple of groups made substantial inroads into the old common law right of chastisement: temperance groups used stories of horrific abuse of women by drunk husbands to advocate banning alcohol, and feminist groups use the same stories to advocate for the banning of wife-beating. The feminists eventually won, and a pair of state supreme court cases around 1870 (one in Alabama and one in North Carolina) emphatically – perhaps a little too emphatically – pronounced wife beating to be the unwelcome vestige of a primitive, bygone era.
Suspecting that a disappointing Court decision is coming doesn’t make it any better when it arrives, as did the Hobby Lobby opinion this morning, in which a 5-4 majority (led by Justice Alito) said that it violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1992 to require a “closely held corporation” (“family-owned,” but expect lots of litigation; apparently some 90% of American corporations may qualify!) to purchase a health insurance policy that provided free contraception to which the owners of that corporation object on religious grounds (nice summary here). There is a substantial silver lining, which is that the Court seems to endorse an opt-out like the one provided for non-profits: certify that you object to providing contraception coverage, and you don’t pay for that part of the plan. Either the insurer or the government does. Accordingly, today’s ruling would also appear to pre-emptively resolve (see also here) the next round of religious objections to the ACA, where some of those non-profits contend that even signing the paperwork saying they object to providing contraception somehow violates their religious beliefs, because signing the paperwork means they start a process the end of which is contraception (so would employing women at all, but never mind that, apparently).
I am increasingly convinced that any Foucauldian effort to understand neoliberalism needs to focus on it as a strategy of subjectification (more specifically, it’s the strategy of subjectification specific to contemporary biopower, and it says that the truth of the human being is as homo economicus). One reason I think this is that one finds repeated examples of where policy or governmental prescriptions specific to neoliberalism conflict with neoliberalism as a strategy of subjectification; in such cases, the strategy of subjectification generally seems to win. Let me explain with an example which will hopefully serve as proof of concept of the admittedly very big thesis I’ve just announced.
An important and somewhat neglected topic is what happens when biopolitics intersects with juridical power in courts of law. Today, we got a good example of one way it can happen. Several years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not execute the “intellectually disabled.” They also let the states decide what that meant. Today, they specified (5-4, with the usual lineup for a “liberal” Kennedy opinion) that, although using an IQ score of 70 or below as evidence of such disability is ok, it’s not ok to draw a bright line cutoff at a score of 70 because one had to take into account the 5 point margin of error in the test itself. In so doing, the SCOTUS spared the life of a Florida inmate with a measured IQ of 71.
There is a lot to say here (and for me, quibbling about where the IQ cutoff should be distracts from the larger point, which is that we shouldn’t be executing people. And, IQ testing is its own set of problems), but I do think it’s notable the extent to which the decision is expressly biopolitical, and not juridical. Recall Foucault’s claim one symptom of the emergence of biopower is a decline in the death penalty (History of Sexuality 1, p. 138). Here, we see how that decline can manifest itself even within the judicial system.
A few days ago, the Federal Court of Appeals issued a decision denying patentability to Dolly the Sheep. Dolly, as one will recall, was the first successful mammalian clone from an adult somatic cell. Essentially, researchers at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh took an unfertilized donor egg, replaced the nucleus with one taken from a different animal, induced the clone egg to divide, and implanted it into a surrogate. Dolly thus came into the world with nuclear DNA identical to that of the sheep from which the donor nucleus was taken, although you could also plausibly say she had three “mothers:” the egg donor, the nuclear donor, and the surrogate.
Biopolitics – even when understood in its narrow sense of life itself being a political issue – comes in at least two different strands. The first, which historically precedes the second, was concerned with what Foucault called a “politics of public health.” In so doing, it takes on standard biopolitical issues of population optimization, public health and so forth as mass issues. The resulting policies included mass vaccination campaigns, the installation of proper municipal sewage systems, and so forth. These programs resulted in demonstrable and substantial gains in typical measures of public health, such as life expectancy.
Gary Becker, the Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago, has died.
Becker is perhaps best known for "human capital" theory, which talks about how one might, for example, come to think of education as an investment in one's future earnings. As the absolute normalcy of a statement like this would suggest, I think it's probably hard to overstate how influential Becker has been on the development of the neoliberal world we all inhabit. Foucault's analysis in Birth of Biopolitics is essential, as are the exchanges (here and here) between Becker, Bernard Harcourt (whose Illusion of Free Markets ought to be required reading), and the Foucauldian Francois Ewald.
As readers of this blog will know, I'm no fan of neoliberalism. But, as I tell my students, if you don't see neoliberalism at least as a temptation, you didn't get it.
Tuesday’s execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma has many people wondering just how far the state is willing to go to kill its own citizens.
I think @gideonstrumpet said it best:
It’s tempting to understand the torture of Clayton Lockett as a “botched” execution, an unfortunate exception to the rule. But it's important to remember that, even before the shortage of standard lethal injection drugs, the appearance of a cruelty-free execution has always been just that: a carefully-crafted appearance. The clean, quiet execution of a person who falls asleep under the supervision of trained professionals, never to wake again, has remained until quite recently a tightly-controlled performance of legitimate(d) state violence.
But the visibly gruesome execution of Clayton Lockett and, three months before him, of Dennis McGuire, should move us to reflect not only on the present and future of state killing in the US, but also on its past. How many of the over 1300 apparently normal and legitimate executions in the post-Furman era might have counted as “botched” and torturous if not for the injection of a paralytic drug to prevent any visible signs of suffering?
A petition is circulating online asking Gov. Bill Haslam to veto SB 1391. The bill would modify the Tennessee criminal code to allow for criminal assault charges to be brought against women who use illegal narcotics while pregnant, should their drug use lead to harm or death for the fetus or child. These charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. But the bill is so badly written, it could affect all pregnant women in Tennessee, whether or not they use drugs, should something go wrong during their pregnancy. In effect, SB 1391 threatens to criminalize pregnancy in Tennessee.
Policy analysts and political commentators across the world have voiced their concerns with SB 1391, arguing that it could have far-reaching consequences (Reality Check, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, and NPR). Even some pro-life groups recognize that SB 1391 could incentivize abortions for women who use drugs, since women risk up to 15 years in prison by continuing their pregnancy, especially if they are unable to access drug treatment programs (All Our Lives).
If we really want to support the flourishing of children in Tennessee, then we need to move beyond the pro-life/pro-choice framework to seek reproductive justice for everyone, based on “the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments” (SisterSong). For example, rather than punishing women who use illegal drugs while pregnant, we should be extending the Safe Harbor Act to support women who use either prescription drugs or non-prescription drugs to get the treatment they need, and to stay clean for the sake of their families and themselves.
In a famous essay, Deleuze suggests that our society has moved beyond Foucauldian disciplinary power to a more fluid “control society,” where the various sites of disciplinary control merge into a modulated network of interlocking sites of power, the primary technique of which is access control. As Deleuze notes, the move is “dispersive,” and “the factory has given way to the corporation.” Hence, “the family, the school, the army, the factory are no longer distinct analogical spaces that converge towards an owner – state or private power – but coded figures – deformable and transformable – of a single corporation that now has only stockholders.” (6) The most vivid image of such a society he attributes to Guattari, who:
“has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position – licit or illicit – and effects a universal modulation” (7)
This thesis has been most widely applied to surveillance and security and is easily evidenced by things like NSA “don’t fly” lists and the number of passwords one has to generate online. That said, I would like to suggest here that, at least in one respect, we’re moving past the control society. Or, perhaps, we’re seeing the truth of the control society in an unexpected way. One feature of the move from the dungeon to the panopticon is regulatory efficiency: it costs a lot less to get people to police themselves than to coerce them with brute force. The move to control is similarly efficient in that multiple, closed panoptic systems are much less efficient than a more modular arrangement where panoptic technologies are (as Foucault said they would be) completely diffused into society and work together, rather than separately.
The Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the craft store chain is suing for exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. According to Hobby Lobby, it has religious objections to certain forms of contraception, and so should be exempt from the mandate on First Amendment grounds. According to Dahlia Lithwick – who is usually pretty good at this sort of analysis – the oral argument didn’t go well for the government. Conservatives on the court were signaling their support of Hobby Lobby, and Justice Roberts even has a way to apply the case narrowly (by declaring that only tightly-controlled or family-run companies can make the religious-objection argument). This case has broader implications than it might look like on the surface.
Why do things like "professional development," "continuing education," "team-building," and (yes, this too) "assessment" always have to tend towards infantalizing the poor people subjected to them?
It's one thing to bureaucratically humiliate people by making them waste huge gobs of time. But this business of making them engage in ritualistic idiotic performances (which always involve to some extent enthusiastically presupposing that everyone is not in fact wasting time) is a much higher echelon of evil. How can the adult human beings in this video (courtesy Washington Post) have any self-respect?*
Mark my words. First they came for the high school teachers. . .**
[*To be fair, everyone involved in making the video and smuggling it to the Washington Post gained back their self-respect fourfold.
**If I was doing my normal thing and putting a rock video in the upper right hand corner, it would probably have been Jane's Addiction's "Idiots Rule." But I realized that it didn't scan because even if team-builder/professional development/assessment types are self-deluded enough to believe in the rightness of what they make the rest of us do, it takes quite a bit of intelligence to get people so complicit in their own immiseration.]
In his critique of Posner’s economic analysis of law, the late Ed Baker offers some remarks that might help us to understand current developments in educational policy. Posner defends what we will now recognize as a number of the core commitments of neoliberal policy, in particular the fundamental efficiency of markets and the price mechanism for the optimal allocation of social goods. The more people want something, the more they are willing to pay, and so goods get bought and sold (as they move from those who value them less – sellers – to those who value them more – buyers) until everyone is as happy as they can be, given constraints on resources.
In a series of earlier posts (here, here, and here), I suggested that big data is going to pose problems for privacy, insofar as privacy depends on a distinction between information and data. Here, I want to look at how that problem plays out in a specific 4th Amendment case on thermal imaging devices.
In 2001, Justice Scalia, writing for a 5-4 majority in Kyllo v. U.S.,struck down the use of thermal imaging devices without a warrant. Danny Kyllo grew marijuana inside his home, an endeavor that involved the use of high intensity lamps. A police officer had used a thermal imaging device from his squad car on the street to detect the heat from the lamps. On that basis, the police obtained a warrant to search the home. The question before the Court was thus whether the original use of the thermal imaging device constituted a “search.” Scalia reasoned that the Court had consistently held that “visual surveillance” did not constitute a search. However, “the present case involves officers on a public street engaged in more than naked-eye surveillance of a home. We have previously reserved judgment as to how much technological enhancement of ordinary perception from such a vantage point, if any, is too much.” Scalia reasoned that this case crossed the line:
If anyone still doubted that Agamben’s thesis - according to which biopolitics today is about the reduction of politics to biological existence (zoe), shorn of anything to do with the form (bios) of life – needs revision, this arrives about big-data employee screening that operates with an amalgam of questionnaires and biometrics. Salon’s Andrew Leonard relates:
This article by Laurie Penny on women and short hair, which in turn is a response to another article claiming that women with short hair are ‘damaged’, has been making the rounds on the internet (H/T Gillian Russell on Facebook). It makes a number of very important points concerning ideals of femininity, and the kind of policing that women are submitted to, by men and women alike, concerning their appearance.
Wearing your hair short, or making any other personal life choice that works against the imperative to be as conventionally attractive and appealing to patriarchy as possible, is a political statement. And the threat that if we don’t behave, if we don’t play the game, we will end up alone and unloved is still a strategy of control.
(There is a lot of serious, interesting scholarship on hair out there (not only restricted to hair that grows in heads), which I am not able to address here – but do go check it out, for example this book).
I’ve had fairly long hair for most of my life, but when I was 17 and a bit of a capoeira fanatic I had my hair cut really short (I felt all that hair was in the way for my capoeira moves). Reactions were mostly positive (including my boyfriend at the time), but one comment I got was epic. The guard at my high school (!!) deemed himself in the right to comment on my new haircut, in fact to ask a question: “Is this a penitence?” Why else would any woman want to wear her hair so short?
Schliesser thought he could escape the Borg, but a senior philosopher elsewhere has tracked him down for us here. In this very interesting reflection, he writes about the head-lice inspection all Dutch kids undergo at school, and connnects it to Foucaultian analyses of biopolitics (or, with less fancy terms, that government rationality that licences, among other things, involvement in public health). But, as Schliesser recognizes, it's hard to be simply "against" public health -- what, you *want* your kids and other kids to have lice?
Also, any objections, like his about evidence of the effectiveness of school level inspection, share much the same rationality -- what's the most effective means of obtaining a health-managed population? Now we could do some sort of neoliberal twist here: some sort of market in private insurance against the costs of head lice treatment with a tax penalty for non-compliance might fit -- a AHLIA (Affordable Head Lice Inspection Act), if you will -- but would this neoliberalization not still fit within a biopolitical horizon?* Or, if you prefer more direct means, do we continue at the level of schools or centralize ("up") to the level of the city or state, or further de-centralize ("down") to the level of the household with say, random house visits?**