Understanding bioprecarity

This volume is concerned with the ways in which bioprecarity, here understood as the vulnerabilization of people as embodied selves, is created through regulations and norms that encourage individuals to seek or provide bodily interventions of different kinds. We explore this in particular in relation to intimacy and intimate labour, such as in the making of families and kin and in various forms of care work. Advances in biotechnology, medical tourism and the visibilization of minoritized communities have resulted in unsettling the norms around the gendered body, intimate relations and intimate labour. Bodily interventions have sociocultural meanings and consequences both for those who seek such interventions and for those who provide the intimate labour in conducting them. The purpose of this volume is to explore these. This exploration involves sociocultural questions of boundary work, of privilege, of bodily ownership, of the multiple meanings of want (understood both as desire, for example the desire to have children or to change one’s bodily appearance; and as need – as in economic need – which often prompts people to undertake migration and/or intimate labour). It also raises questions about different kinds of vulnerabilities, for those who engage, and those who engage in, intimate labour. We use the term ‘bioprecarity’ to analyse those vulnerabilities.

Chapter 1 sets out the racial infrastructure of Britain’s immigration law regime, explaining the relationship between colonialism, migration and law. British imperial administrations depended on the exploitation of hierarchies based on supposed differences between categories of people. The use of race as an ordering principle played an important part in enabling and justifying colonialism. I trace the line between the honing of processes of categorisation in the colonial era and immigration law as a practice of racial ordering in modern Britain. I argue that British immigration law is a continuation of colonial power as enacted in the former British Empire. The categorisation of people into those with and without rights of entry and stay sustains and reproduces colonial racial hierarchies. Contemporary immigration law thus maintains the global racial order established by colonialism, whereby racialised populations are disproportionately deprived of access to resources, healthcare, safety and opportunity and are systematically and disproportionately made vulnerable to harm and premature death. In this context recognition and refusal decisions in relation to claims for immigration status in Britain are the everyday work of the colonial state.

in (B)ordering Britain
A study in language politics

This chapter examines the British and Foreign Bible Society’s (BFBS) Arabic Bible translations in the context of European imperial expansion, the global missionary project and emergent Arab nationalism. Unlike the American Bible Society, the BFBS did not produce its own Bible in literary Arabic. They instead published editions in forms of Arabic that were regionally and socially variable and that closely resembled what people spoke. The choice of the BFBS to translate and publish in colloquial Arabic had political implications. By undermining the primacy of literary Arabic during an age of incipient anticolonial Arab nationalism, and by fostering a new and more popular culture of Arabic reading that included men and women from modest social classes, these BFBS editions had the potential to shift extant social hierarchies. The distribution of vernacular Arabic Bibles had the potential to make and remake communities of readers within territories that bore comparison to the colonial borders which Britain and France were imposing during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These colloquial North African Arabic Bibles contributed to a convoluted history that tied together Britain and America; North Africa and western Asia (or ‘the Middle East’); and other parts of the globe.

in Chosen peoples
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The Bible, race and empire in the long nineteenth century

Chosen peoples demonstrates how biblical themes, ideas and metaphors shaped narratives of racial, national and imperial identity in the long nineteenth century. Even and indeed especially amid spreading secularism, the development of professionalised science and the proclamation of ‘modernity’, biblical notions of lineage, descent and inheritance continued to inform understandings of race, nation and character at every level from the popular to the academic. Although new ideas and discoveries were challenging the historicity of the Bible, even markedly secular thinkers chose to explain their complex and radical ideas through biblical analogy. Denizens of the seething industrial cities of America and Europe championed or criticised them as New Jerusalems and Modern Babylons, while modern nation states were contrasted with or likened to Egypt, Greece and Israel. Imperial expansion prompted people to draw scriptural parallels, as European settler movements portrayed ‘new’ territories across the seas as lands of Canaan. Yet such language did not just travel in one direction. If many colonised and conquered peoples resisted the imposition of biblical narratives, they also appropriated biblical tropes to their own ends. These original case studies, by emerging and established scholars, throw new light on familiar areas such as slavery, colonialism and the missionary project, while opening up exciting cross-comparisons between race, identity and the politics of biblical translation and interpretation in South Africa, Egypt, Australia, America and Ireland. The book will be essential reading for academic, graduate and undergraduate readers in empire, race and global religion in the long nineteenth century.

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‘Go home’ as an invitation to stay

The conclusion considers the way in which immigration law and its violent enforcement is both authorised and reinforced by street racial terror. State and street racism is in part propelled by the idea that Britain is a place divorced from its colonial history. Immigration law casts the British Empire into shadow, obscuring its role in making Britain and driving people to move in its direction. I offer a counter-pedagogy to that of law, one that rejects immigration law’s lesson of differentiation in human worth and instead understands ‘host states’ as colonial spaces and irregularised movement as anti-colonial resistance. This reframing troubles white supremacist structures, challenges mythological narratives about British colonial history, rejects a politics of recognition and paves the way for a more empowering and radical politics of racial justice and migrant solidarity.

in (B)ordering Britain
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Myth, memory and minority history

This chapter concludes the study by situating the Irish experience, and the approach employed to analyse it, within the context of current debates on British national identity and the critical potential of minority history. It argues that while the recovery of marginalised histories remains important in challenging sanitised myths of British fairness and beneficence, a vital contribution of minority history concerns its capacity to illuminate the workings of ‘identity’ as an intrinsically historical and dynamic process. In this, it is argued, Popular Memory Theory offers a useful dialogic framework, enabling the processes of migrant memory to be mobilised as a resource for analysing the production, reformation and diversification of migrant subjectivities under changing historical conditions.

in Life history and the Irish migrant experience in post-war England
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The conclusion outlines how the different chapters in the volume have contributed to elucidating the concept of bioprecarity. This involves analysing the complex entanglements created by the relationship between the body, life, the production, maintenance and application of categories and intimate labour. These entanglements exist in a context of uneven distribution of power, which means that particular social groups and individuals are rendered more bioprecarious than others through their positioning as biosubjects. The volume shows that bioprecarity extends beyond contemporary, disenfranchised groups. It was also a key dimension of eugenicist histories, for example. At the same time, however, we also indicate that bioprecarity is sometimes co-produced by those who install it and those who seek to benefit from bodily interventions and intimate labour. This means that questions of biocitizenship need to be addressed more widely since biotechnologization will remain a fact of contemporary life.

in Bodily interventions and intimate labour
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The Veda as an alternative to the Bible

The Western quest for origins received an initial formulation in the recognition of a philological relationship between Sanskrit, Latin, Greek and other languages of Europe. Already in the Enlightenment, there was much speculation regarding India, its culture, language and peoples. Many of the uninformed assessments of this time would resurface in subsequent Orientalist scholarship, Romantic mythography, nineteenth-century linguistic science, and race theory. Excited by the linguistic affinity between Sanskrit and other languages, Orientalist scholars fostered the comparative science of religion and mythology that developed a vision of an Aryan race as the originator of Indian and European culture. The belief in Indo-European origins further spurred European interest in Vedic Aryan sources. The chapter focuses on the work of Voltaire, Herder, German Romantic mythographers and Max Müller, who established a vision of the Aryan through their reading the Veda and posited Sanskrit scripture as an alternative to the Bible. Speculation regarding the Aryan provided a means whereby Indian history could be used to create a fresh historical tradition that expressed specifically European political and ideological interests. What Europeans sought in India, the chapter argues, was not Indo-European religion but a reassessment of Judaeo-Christianity.

in Chosen peoples
The nineteenth-century roots of segregationist folk theology in the American South

Scholarship on the Christian defence of Jim Crow-era racial segregation has tended to downplay its similarities with antebellum support for slavery. The prevailing view is that religious apologies for segregation had little if anything in common with the robust pro-slavery arguments from Scripture developed in the nineteenth century. However, slavery apologists had compensated for the absence of biblical racism by interpreting one text (Genesis 9:20–7) in ways that would prove a boon to segregationists. Although the so-called curse of Ham would lose its appeal with the demise of slavery, proslavery interpreters’ habit of racialising Noah’s descendants made this section of Scripture of continued interest to racist Bible readers in the century after the Civil War. Understood as a narrative disclosure of God’s will for distinct ethnic groups in the postdiluvian dispensation, Genesis 9–11 became basis for a biblical defence of Jim Crow. Surveying examples from both elite and non-elite contexts makes it possible to identify the dominant forms and persistent themes of a ‘distinction and dispersal’ tradition of biblical interpretation that reveals surprising connections between the religious defences of slavery and segregation.

in Chosen peoples

In the highly politicised world of nineteenth-century Russian religious culture, translation of the Bible became a source of major conflict. Who had the right to translate the Bible? What base texts were authoritative? What was to be the language of the modern Russian Bible? This chapter focuses on the controversy dividing Russian prelates in the 1850s over the renewal of Russian biblical translation efforts following the thirty-year hiatus imposed by Emperor Nicholas I. The chapter explores four touchstone moments when the politics of empire and nation came to be sharply represented in conflicts over biblical translation: (1) the conflict in the early nineteenth century over the imperially sanctioned Russian Bible Society; (2) the internal debate of the 1850s in the Holy Synod over the reopening of modern Russian biblical translation; (3) the conflicts linking the Jewish question with biblical translation in the last half of the nineteenth century; and, briefly, (4) the contemporary issue of biblical translation in the context of the current international conflict over Ukraine. The chapter argues that these fault lines reflected deep divisions over how best to accommodate ethnic diversity and incipient secularisation within Russian religious culture from the nineteenth century to the present day.

in Chosen peoples