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Roberto Esposito “Community, Immunity, Biopolitics”

Esposito, Roberto 2013. Community, Immunity, Biopolitics. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 18(3): 83-90.

In the late 1980s in France and Italy, a discourse on the concept of community took form that was radically deconstructive toward the way the concept-term had been used in twentieth-century philosophy as a whole – first by the German organicist sociology on Gemeinschaft (community), then by the various ethics of communication, and finally, by American neocommunitarianism. Despite significant differences, what linked these three conceptions was a tendency – which could be defined as metaphysical – to conceive of community in a substantialist, subjective sense. Community was understood as a substance that connected certain individuals to each other through the sharing of a common identity. Based on this understanding, community seemed to be conceptually linked to the figure of the “proper”: whether it was a matter of appropriating what is in common or communicating what is proper, the community was still defined by a mutual belonging. What its members had in common was what was proper to them – that of being proprietors of their commonality. (83)

If communitas is what binds its members in a commitment of giving from one to the other, immunitas, by contrast, is what unburdens from this burden, what exonerates from this responsibility. In the same way that community refers to something general and open, immunity – or immunization – refers to the privileged particularity of a situation that is defined by being an exception to a common condition. (84)

By overlaying the legal and medical semantic fields, one may well conclude that if community breaks down the barriers of individual identity, immunity is the way to rebuild them, in defensive and offensive forms, against any external element that threatens it. (85)

[…] the type of politics that we are speaking about in this case can only be a form of biopolitics. Since the phenomenon of immunity is inscribed precisely at the point of intersection between law and biology, between medical procedure and legal protection, it is clear that the politics that it gives rise to, in the form of action or reaction, must be in direct relationship with biological life. (85)

This constitutive nexus is what I have sought to identify in the paradigm of immunization. In its dual appearance in the legal and biological realms, this paradigm is the exact point of tangency between the spheres of life and politics. This is where the possibility arises of filling the gap in principle between the two extreme interpretations of biopolitics – between its deadly version and its euphoric version. Instead of two opposing, irreconcilable ways of understanding the category, they constitute two internal possibilities, in a horizon that is unified precisely by the bivalent character of the immune dispositif, which is both positive and negative, protective and destructive. (86)

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