The Microbial State

The Microbial State

Global Thriving and the Body Politic

Stefanie R. Fishel

An innovative exploration of the metaphorical power of bodies on global politics and the potential for the planet’s future

192 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9781517900137
  • Published: July 15, 2017
  • eBook
  • 9781452955483
  • Published: July 15, 2017
  • Hardcover
  • 9781517900120
  • Published: July 15, 2017


The Microbial State

Global Thriving and the Body Politic

Stefanie R. Fishel

ISBN: 9781517900137

Publication date: July 15th, 2017

192 Pages


8 x 5

"How do bodies matter in international relations? In The Microbial State, Stefanie R. Fishel offers up a lively, timely, scientifically-engaged, philosophically-rich, and persuasive answer to that question. This wonderfully readable and teachable book presents ‘politics’ as a swarm of activities immanent to a biosphere, and ‘human agency’ as a power profoundly entangled with the goings-on of our microbial messmates."—Jane Bennett, author of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

"An important intervention that will contribute in powerful and novel ways to the ongoing debates on corporeality, materialism, and international relations. Stefanie R. Fishel's work is certain to become influential."—Mark B. Salter, editor of Making Things International 1 and Making Things International 2

"Fishel’s style of is not only academic; it shares new perspectives on crossing disciplinary boundaries through IR and biology while it remains enjoyable to read. This amusing book is full of possibilities and raises even more questions when it ends."—Politics, Religion & Ideology

"Fishel’s biopolitical project seeks to extend this kind of thinking about the immune system, as something much more than just a line of defence, from the body to the State as a way of challenging the exclusionary state’s presentation of outsiders as potential contaminants and threats." —Radical Philosophy

For three centuries, concepts of the state have been animated by one of the most powerful metaphors in politics: the body politic, a claustrophobic and bounded image of sovereignty. Climate change, neoliberalism, mass migration, and other aspects of the late Anthropocene have increasingly revealed the limitations of this metaphor. Just as the human body is not whole and separate from other bodies—comprising microbes, bacteria, water, and radioactive isotopes—Stefanie R. Fishel argues that the body politic of the state exists in dense entanglement with other communities and forms of life. 

Drawing on insights from continental philosophy, science and technology studies, and international relations theory, this path-breaking book critiques the concept of the body politic on the grounds of its very materiality. Fishel both redefines and extends the metaphor of the body politic and its role in understanding an increasingly posthuman, globalized world politics. By conceiving of bodies and states as lively vessels, living harmoniously with multiplicity and the biosphere, she argues that a radical shift in metaphors can challenge a politics based on fear to open new forms of global political practice and community. 

Reframing the concept of the body politic to accommodate greater levels of complexity, Fishel suggests, will result in new configurations for the political and social organization necessary to build a world in which the planet’s inhabitants do not merely live but actively thrive.

Stefanie R. Fishel is assistant professor of political and international theory in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama.


Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction: Involutionary Politics

1. Corporeal Politics

2. Lively Subjects, Bodies Politic

3. States in Nature, Nature in States

4. Posthuman Politics

Coda: New Metaphors for Global Living