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Techniques of Life: zoology, psychology and technical subjectivity (c.1820-1890)

Quick, T.R.; (2011) Techniques of Life: zoology, psychology and technical subjectivity (c.1820-1890). Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis associates the cultural elevation of discourse articulating physiologically-centred conceptions of self in mid-nineteenth-century Britain with a shift in power relations. I contend that the proliferation of zoologically- and neurologically-oriented texts, themselves embodying politics of natural truth, constituted a condition of possibility for the emergence of what I portray as a 'technicalization' of power. The articulation of organically determined notions of subjectivity are associated with the constitution of a technical ideal of knowledge production. Further, technical assemblages upon which physiological conceptions of self relied are shown to have helped constitute modes of resistance to discourse concerned with the organic determination of mind and life. Technical entities played an active role in the constitution of organic subjectivities, and organic subjectivities in turn participated in the constitution of technical modes of being. The historical narrative represents the formation of two related disciplines, zoology and psychology, as contingent upon the relative status of different kinds of epistemic equipment. In a natural philosophic context pervaded by uncertainty regarding the relation of matter to spirit, claims that could be made regarding nature were circumscribed by what 'gentlemanly' equals could agree to have 'witnessed.' Gentlemen appealed to differing forms of epistemic equipment in attempts to constitute zoology and psychology as disciplines. The relative success of such appeals was determined not only by the political valency of the claims themselves, but also by the conditions constituted by the types of equipment used to make them. The thesis then goes on to highlight ways in which the disciplined consideration of body and mind as entities determined by nature constituted conditions of possibility for the articulation of tool- and technique-centred subjectivities. The epistemic tools and representational claims appealed to as proof that the self is inherently organic (have) paradoxically participate(d) in the constitution of modes of being that extend the self into the realm of the technical. By the late nineteenth century, the capacities of cognition and replication are beginning to be attributed to the combination of technical and organic entities.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Techniques of Life: zoology, psychology and technical subjectivity (c.1820-1890)
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Biosciences (Division of)

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