This essay identifies and explores a new paradigm of imperial crime management (and eventually of colonial governance more broadly) in the second half of the nineteenth century that emerged at the cusp of criminal anthropology, imperial culture, and fiction. I call this new paradigm “somapolitics” because of its enormous emphasis on the materiality of the criminal body (the soma as opposed to the more elusive psyche) and suggest that it needs to be distinguished from Foucauldian notions of anthropolitics and biopolitics. Somapolitics proposes the criminal body as a readable text and offers various methods of reading and citation. Through specific readings of some of the influential authors of nineteenth-century criminology, including Cesare Lombroso, Alphonse Bertillon, Francis Galton, Havelock Ellis, and others, I argue that somapolitics developed in two phases: first, by comparing criminals with “lower races,” it established race as the governing principle for reading criminal bodies; and second, it developed a host of practices combining biology and statistics to decipher criminal/racial bodies. By the turn of the century, somapolitics gained exceptional popularity across disciplines and genres and attained its narrative cohesion through its complex relationship with fiction.
Somapolitics: A Biohermeneutic Paradigm in the Era of Empire
Baidik Bhattacharya is associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, India. He is the author of Postcolonial Writing in the Era of World Literature: Texts, Territories, Globalizations (2018) and coeditor of The Postcolonial Gramsci (2012). His essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, New Literary History, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Interventions, Postcolonial Studies, among other places.