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Scales of exception: Experiments with knowledge and sheer life in tropical Southeast Asia

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Editors' Note: The following is the seventh in the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography Lecture Series. It is based on the plenary presentation of 20 April at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in San Francisco in 2007.

New political spaces, I suggest, are generated by varied strategies that govern populations in and through multiple scales of exception. I identify biopolitical assemblages as a space of inquiry into the situated play of exceptions that territorializes different kinds of value. Scales of exception are produced when a neoliberal logic of economic growth articulates biopolitical problems of population security. Neoliberal and biopolitical decisions not only focus on accumulating values in space, but also anticipate the value of currently devalued spaces. By invoking exceptions, states alternately favour neoliberal or biopolitical values, thus investing spaces with different kinds of value. The interplay of biopolitical and neoliberal logics and the resulting configuration of scales of exception are well illustrated in Southeast Asia in an age of pandemics. In Singapore, a technomedical hub assembles networks for capturing knowledge capital and property rights, configuring an ecology of expertise. This is a site of scientific prowess in a region increasingly viewed as a space of ‘third world’ exception to global health norms. In Indonesia, health crises have prompted a logic of ethical sensibility to basic human survival whereby political leaders invoke bio-sovereignty, configuring a national scale of ethical exception that challenges the global power of biocapital and the World Health Organization over the supply of vaccines. In contrast to approaches that foreground spaces of capital accumulation, I attend to diverse logics that differently valorize scales of exception, thus giving visibility to situated mechanisms that animate and mutate political cartography.

Keywords: Southeast Asia; bio-sovereignty; experimental assemblages; human security; neoliberal logic; scales of exception

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2008-07-01

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