Research group on biopolitics, University of New South Wales

Activities and research

Biopolitical Studies Research Network

How is biological life socially and politically organised? This question has come to dominate the fields of contemporary philosophy, the social sciences, and literary studies. How we understand life, its mechanisms and processes as economically, politically and socially constituted, and how we respond to new forms of biopolitical intervention and government, are among the leading questions of humanities and social science inquiry.

The UNSW Arts and Social Sciences Biopolitical Studies Research Network brings together strength in Contemporary Philosophy, Environmental Humanities and Social Sciences. Our purpose is to produce innovative research in international publications that cuts across established disciplinary frontiers. We seek to challenge traditional dualisms, such as those between nature and culture, animal and human, organic and inorganic, immanence and transcendence in order to chart new territories of intellectual inquiry.

The Biopolitical Studies Research Network includes researchers from Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science, and Literary Studies with expertise in Social Scientific Methods and Continental European Philosophical approaches ranging from Phenomenology, Critical Theory, Poststructuralism and Deconstruction to Recognition Theory. Our researchers develop and apply concepts to contemporary issues in the Humanities and Social Sciences that draw from the neurosciences, particle and quantum physics, epigenetics and theoretical biology and recent trends in ethnography and ethology.

The impact of our work

The ‘biological’ turn in the humanities and social sciences is already transforming the nature of philosophical and intellectual inquiry. Human exceptionalism as the special site of agency, cognition and intention is now under interrogation, as too is the meaning of “the social.” Some of this work is already affecting public debate and public policy. Our internationally renowned network of researchers is actively engaged in cutting-edge research in the following broad areas:

Life beyond the animal-human divide. The study of the animality of human beings based on the principle of a thorough-going continuum of forms of life and the refusal of any transcendence or “outside” of nature. This research overlaps with analyses of forms of life as a function of cross-cultural, cross-species encounters in social and political theory.

Life and social ontologies. Research directed by the hypothesis that social relations can obtain between different species of living beings as well as between living and non-living beings. These new possibilities for social ontology are closely related to new advances in the philosophy of events, centred on the observation of the generative transformation of parties in encounters.

Life and new materialisms. Research on the “life” of inanimate objects and informationally-enriched materials, as much as on the materiality of signs and symbols that structure cultural forms of life. Such modes of inquiry seek to question anew the distinction between nature and culture.

Life and the sources of normativity. Does the phenomenon of life open up new meanings of normativity? How can one ascribe agency and responsibility to non-human life forms? How does the connection between life and normativity intersect with the philosophy of economics, both through the idea of species-life and through the idea of human capital?

Life and new frontiers of anthropology, ethnology, and ethology. How does recent work in anthropology, theoretical biology, and “multispecies ethnography” help to understand the wider implications of questions that concern the extinction of life species or the community and political formations of other species-life?

Life and the problem of death and transcendence. How does the perspective of a radical immanence of life change the ways in which we think about the traditional problems of suffering and its meaning, as much as the analysis of sympathy and habit, and questions related to the eternal and the infinite? If one begins with the notion of system rather than the atomic individual, what becomes of limits, notions of death and discontinuity, or even failure?

Life and governmentality, biocapitalism and post-colonialism. How does a biopolitical perspective offer new insights into the crisis of the welfare state and the new forms of capitalism? How are we to analyze the exploitation of biological life in biocapitalism, biotechnology, theories of security, risk, and surveillance, as well as theories of human reproduction?

Life, embodiment and language. New advances in the study of life, embodiment, and the capacity for language highlight the highlight the generality of language, not simply as instrument and capacity, but as ontological structure. Such a perspective undermines anthropocentric conceptions of language, all of which are crucial in the emergence of an “experimental humanities.”

Evidence of excellence

The researchers in the Biopolitical Studies Network have published over 45 sole or co-authored books and 25 edited or co-edited books with leading international publishers including Acumen, Ashgate, Cambridge, Continuum, Duke, Edinburgh, Elsevier, Fordham, Oxford, Palgrave, Stanford, SUNY and Wiley-Blackwell; and over 160 articles in refereed journals. Members of the Network regularly collaborate with prominent researchers from top ranked universities in the Americas, Europe and Asia. They serve on the editorial advisory boards of more than 10 international journals.

Several researchers in the Network currently hold or have held ARC grants and prestigious international research grants.

Researchers from the Network currently supervise over 30 PhD candidates.

Our researchers regularly work in collaborative research schemes in Europe and the US which intersect with feminist theory, ecological centres and extinction studies group ( and, legal research, as well as natural science research consortia. The Network is closely affiliated with the International Research Network on Biopolitics, now sponsored at UNSW, with over 200 international members, and with the Society for the Study of Bio-political Futures sponsored by the Humanities Corridor, Central New York (includes Cornell University, Syracuse University, and Pennsylvania State University).



The Biopolitical Studies Research Network is supported by research in:

Within the Faculty’s Disciplines and Research Areas:

Network Researchers (open to new additions)

From UNSW Law