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The Plasticity of Plasticity

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Organizer: Jenny Andrine Madsen Evang

Co-Organizer: Míša Stekl

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As the concept of plasticity has travelled across feminist science studies and new materialisms to Black, queer, and trans studies, its meaning has itself become unstable—or plastic. Jules Gill-Peterson and Kyla Schuller offer an appropriately plastic definition: “plasticity refers to the capacity of a given body or system to generate new form” (1). Many feminist and queer theorists have sung the praises of plasticity, which promises to destabilize fixed forms of power relations, across the registers of gender/sex, race, and (neuro)biology (from Catherine Malabou to Karen Barad to Judith Butler). Yet Schuller and Gill-Peterson demonstrate that plasticity is (at least) as central to (bio)power as it is to resistance; indeed, plasticity is the very substrate of biopower, which grounds its molding/management of individuals, populations, and life itself. As such, plasticity is inherently racialized—because “a key feature of biopolitical plasticity is that it unevenly distributes the capacity of corporeal malleability,” plasticity “lies at the heart of the idea of race in the Western world” (2).

This seminar invites approaches to the racialization of plasticity that interrogate the thorny politics, potentials, pitfalls, and histories of the concept. We are especially interested in analyses that highlight the tensions that haunt plasticity’s conceptualization. For example, while Gill-Peterson and Schuller argue that the hierarchy of racialized plasticity privileges the white body as the most plastic (as the most capable of dynamic transformation and evolution), Zakiyyah Iman Jackson articulates a seemingly inverse analysis of Black plasticity, as figuring “everything and nothing at the register of ontology such that form shall not hold. Blackness, in this case, functions not simply as negative relation but as a plastic fleshly being that stabilizes and gives form to human and animal as categories.” (48) What is the relationship between these opposed (white and Black/racialized) senses of plasticity? More generally, how should we understand the racialization of plasticity? What might different notions of racial plasticity reveal, and/or occlude?

Paper topics may include, but are not limited to:

Plasticity and racial fungibility
Plasticity and the Human
Plasticity and animality
Racial plasticity and disability
Plasticity and transness/gender trouble
Plasticity and capitalism’s self-transgressions
Plasticity and teleology
Plasticity and continental philosophy (deconstruction, psychoanalysis, etc.)
Plasticity in film and media (studies)
New materialisms (and their critics)

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