Undergraduate Module Descriptor

POL3057: Biopolitics

This module descriptor refers to the 2017/8 academic year.

Module Content

Syllabus Plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • key ideas and theories of biopolitics from the early 20th century to today
  • Evolution and questions of ‘human nature’ (e.g. Darwin and his opponents; eugenics; sociobiology; cognitive science)
  • Environments, society and agriculture (e.g. food and food production; environmental politics; human/animal relations)
  • Health and medicine (e.g. ethical debates over life and suffering; infectious diseases and biosecurity)
  • New technologies and futures (e.g. GM foods; gene editing; reproductive techs; posthumanism; network societies)
  • Thinking about life through politics and politics through life: where can we go from here?

The module will be taught through 22 two hour seminars and 258 hours of independent study. 


While some sessions will be introduced by a short talk in order to outline core concepts and theories, and others may present primary material for analysis in class, this course will on the whole be discussion led.  As such, please come prepared to talk, think, listen and discuss your ideas.


All students will be expected to have prepared for each session by covering the reading scheduled for each topic and every student should expect to contribute to the discussion. We will explore primary source materials as well as secondary literature, so be ready to engage with both!


Every class will start with a brief rundown of the ‘biopolitics of the week’, so please keep your eyes open for relevant news stories. Bring these to class either as physical clippings or URLs. Please record these in a physical or electronic diary or folder - this will provide you with a key resource for class discussions and for preparing your assessments. Your news ‘scrapbook’ should be handed in alongside your policy report at the end of the course. MS Office One Note or Evernote (https://evernote.com/) are useful software tools for this purpose


Each week one student will be assigned to give a five minute presentation on a current biopolitics news story.

Learning and Teaching

This table provides an overview of how your hours of study for this module are allocated:

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

...and this table provides a more detailed breakdown of the hours allocated to various study activities:

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity4222x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study170Seminar preparation
Guided Independent Study88Coursework

Online Resources

This module has online resources available via ELE (the Exeter Learning Environment).


Somatosphere– Science, medicine, anthropology, bioethics: http://somatosphere.net/

Contagion– Historical views of diseases and epidemics: http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/contagion/

Making Science Public– science and society, biosciences: http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/

This View of Life– evolutionary perspectives: https://evolution-institute.org/this-view-of-life/

Earth in Vision– BBC archives of environmental coverage: https://earthinvision.org/


If you have any further questions please consult the Library staff.