Fear of entropy and the biopolitics of nanobiosensing technologies

Foucault described a “disciplinary society” that oversees and maximizes the life of populations as a function of national interest. To him, the ‘techniques of biopolitical government spread as a network of power that goes beyond the juridical spheres to become a horizontal, tentacular force, traversing the entire territory of lived experience and penetrating each individual body’. Drawing upon my Synapse collaboration with the Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility, I plan to take the notion of body politics—the practices and policies through which powers of society regulate the human body, as well as the struggle over the degree of individual and social control of the body—and use it to explore emerging nanotechnologies.

Biological art has been used to address biopolitical control in the contexts of immunisation, gene editing, and disease, however, waiting in the wings are new, smaller, more precisely engineered technologies of control. The idea that we might have nanobiosensing systems continuously circulating in the body and reporting information on biological components far beyond those considered pathogenic raises ethical and biopolitical questions. Think, for example, of a real-time system based upon nanoparticle sensors that allows the tracking of sex hormones in women.

The proposed research will investigate biopolitics and plan creative works that explore possible nanobiopolitical issues. This will extend existing practice and thinking at the bio-molecular level to the nanoscale to include scenarios of nanobiosensing technologies.

I believe that by interacting with science and technology using a form of engagement that might be considered active yet mutually productive disagreement, that art can develop a stronger ethical and political voice.  I am encouraged to think about how we might also use artistic practices to inform policies around nanotechnology adoption and dissemination.