This 2-credit ONLINE course provides an introduction to the history of state-socialism through the lens of biopolitics and, more broadly, to modern state politics, concerned with the government of people as living beings. While the Foucauldian concept of biopolitics is most often applied to the analysis of (neo)liberal democratic contexts, there is a growing body of research that focuses on the governance of bodies and lives in socialist modernities. This work sheds light on the seemingly paradoxical character of the Communist political project: while on the one hand, the improvement of people’s everyday lives and the building of a better society was at its ideological core, on the other hand it also required the creation of disposable populations along the lines of class and ethnic belonging, the radical reconstruction of the self, and the control of nature and human bodies on an unprecedented scale.

Over the course of the semester we will ask how the modern power of socialist states manifested itself through control and discipline of bodies, in particular in the fields of health, labor, family life, procreation, sexuality and gender. The main focus will be on the Soviet Union, with some readings dedicated to East Central Europe and China. We will analyze the scientific, medical, psychiatric, and social engineering attempts at mastering “the forces of nature” and „primitive custom“, and the creation and perpetuation of new identities, desires, habits, perceptions, and (dis)abilities: from the politics of reproduction to the necropolitical logics of the Gulag. We will trace the development of socialist modernity from its revolutionary origins, to real socialism, up to the neoliberal (post-) communist present. Finally, we will discuss the benefits and shortcomings of the theoretical framework of biopolitics and ask what other perspectives can allow researchers to account for individual agency, embodied experience, and the exercise of state power under socialism.