Biotypologies of terrorism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the key burdens in contemporary work on the body and new technologies is that the bio-materiality of the body is being inexorably superseded by technological innovations that render the limitations and constraints of the bio-body redundant. For instance, in his discussion of 'the effects of technological acceleration arising from digital processing and computer-mediated communications', the cultural theorist Paul Gilroy argues that these effects 'mean that the individual is even less constrained by the immediate forms of physical presence established by the body'. In this essay, I challenge this claim by focusing on the virulent redeployment of the most reductive empirico-positivist conceptualisations of the body by such organisations as law enforcement authorities and military institutions. In the context of the so-called 'war on terror' and the increasing use of biometric technologies in order to secure 'identity dominance' in the fighting of this war, I examine the manner in which essentialised biotypologies are mobilised and reproduced within the discursive practices of such organisations in order, pre-emptively, to identify and capture targeted subjects. Biotypologies, I argue, function to constitute targeted subjects in terms of biometric 'signatures' of essentialised corporeal features, behaviours and practices; these essentialised biometric 'signatures' are constrained precisely by 'the immediate forms of physical presence established by the body'. Genealogically tied to such seemingly outdated disciplines as anthropometry, craniology, phrenology and criminal anthropology, the use of biotypologies by both military and law enforcement authorities reproduces a disciplinary biopolitical regime premised on normative conceptualisations of race, gender, (dis)ability and bodily behaviour. Situated within the domain of policy documents and new technologies, I proceed to examine how these biotypologies of targeted subjects are instrumental in fomenting cultural panics concerning the Arab and/or Muslim and/or figure 'of Middle Eastern appearance'. I conclude by drawing on the work of Reza Aramesh, a contemporary British Iranian artist, in order to address what is at stake for targeted subjects who are compelled to embody these biotypologies in the lived reality of their everyday lives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-66
Number of pages18
JournalCultural Studies Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


Dive into the research topics of 'Biotypologies of terrorism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this