Laid Bare: Surveillance, Eugenics, and Personhood

Laid Bare: Vulnerabilities & Vitalities at the Nexus of Religion, Science & Technology
Episode 3: Surveillance, Eugenics, and Personhood

Tuesday, April 20, 2021  •  3:00pm MST  •  Online, via Zoom

During the pandemic, our daily lexicon has included new and newly resonant phrases. Among the more revealing and troubling is “comorbidities”—the presence of two or more diseases in the same patient. At times during the pandemic medical professionals and those with chronic conditions have sometimes found themselves in crisis in under-resourced healthcare systems, facing impossible dilemmas over the allocation—and even rationing—of scarce medical resources. As scholars and activists attuned to disability, ageism, and race have warned, eugenic ideologies never went away, and they appear in starker light during crisis, exposing troubling logics that govern life and death.

Taking “comorbidities” as an entryway, this discussion will focus on surveillance, eugenics, and personhood to raise questions about biopower, which considers how people’s everyday lives are governed, and necropolitics, which examines how the state determines who may live and who must die:

  • How might we think about the good of “contact tracing” and other surveillance measures, given the consistently and perhaps even inherently racialized nature of surveillance in the U.S.? How has the pandemic exposed and exacerbated surveillance capitalism and the surveillance state?
  • In what ways has the pandemic further destabilized how we conceptualize “the human”? And what does the instability of the human, as a category, have to do with personhood and the ways we value others?
  • How do our societies value life, and how have those valuations been realized and contested in these times? Which actors, their roles made apparent in the context of the pandemic, really have the power to “make live and let die?” 

Join us for our third conversation in the "Laid Bare" series as we discuss these and other questions with Sylvester Johnson, professor in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech; founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities; vice provost for the humanities at Virginia Tech; and executive director of the university’s Tech for Humanity initiative, and Charles McCrary, postdoctoral scholar atthe Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at ASU.

Discussion will be moderated by Craig Calhoun, University Professor of Social Sciences at the School of Sustainability, College of Global Futures.

About the series:

Laid Bare: Vulnerabilities & Vitalities at the Nexus of Religion, Science & Technology is a series of conversations that will bring together unlikely pairings of guests from the worlds of science and religion, technology and public life to discuss the simple—but consequential—things of life that maybe didn’t get our shared attention, or not to the same degree, until the virus laid them bare. 

This series is hosted by Beyond Secularization: New Approaches to Religion, Science and Technology in Public Life, a CSRC project funded by Templeton Religion Trust.

Watch event video

Tuesday, April 20, 2021 • 3:00pm MST
Online, via Zoom (Link provided with registration)