June 22-24, 2021
5:00-6:45 pm (GMT +2)

photo credits

“Immunity”, whether referring to the individual (the official, the diplomat, the patient, the police officer, the doctor) or to the group (civil officers, the police, pharmaceutical companies, the “herd,” or the population) has shuttled among the registers of language that are held responsible for human and social life—law, medicine, and the philosophical notions that underpin that which constitutes the human, its relation to the non-human, purity and danger, spatiality, and the living more broadly. If natural immunity is the ability to resist infection, legal immunity is the granting of an exemption by a higher authority.  In the case of ecclesiastical immunity (now largely obsolete but nonetheless with remaining characteristics), immunity is an exception from secular or civil liabilities or duties. The afterlife of that eccelesiatical model can ironically be found in, for example, the “qualified immunity” increasingly over the last five years given to police officers in the US who have murdered African-Americans. Immunity as a category has travelled, and its meanings have been mutually constitutive in the spheres it has shaped and curtailed.  In this course, we will read examples from “immunity theory,” from the astute scholarship in queer theory emerging from the AIDS epidemic, feminist theory on vaccines and immunity, biopolitical thought, critical race theory, as well as cultural products such as writing and art projects that have emerged over the last year and a half that have shifted and consolidated ideas of immunity.


  • Opitz, Sven. “Simulating the World: The Digital Enactment of Pandemics as a Mode of Global Self-Observation.” European Journal of Social Theory 20, no. 3 (August 2017): 392–416.
  • Wright, Lawrence. “The Plague Year: The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy.” The New Yorker, December 28, 2020.
  • From Smith, Zadie. Intimations. Penguin, 2020.
  • Cohen, Ed. “Immune Communities, Common Immunities.” Social Text 1 March 2008; 26 (1 (94)): 95–114. doi:
  • Haraway, Donna J. “The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Constitution of Self in Immune System Discourse,” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York, 1991).
  • Esposito, Roberto. Trans. Zakiya Hanafi (2013) “Community, Immunity, Biopolitic.” Angelaki, 18:3, 2013.83-90.
  • From Biss, Eula. On Immunity: An Inoculation Graywolf Press, 2014.
  • Martin, Emily. "Toward an Anthropology of Immunology: The Body as Nation State." Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, 4, no. 4 (1990): 410-26.
  • Williams, Patricia J. “The Color of Contagion.” The Nation. August 24, 2020.
  • We will also be looking at public artworks, for example by Carrie Mae Weems. (

Debjani Ganguly is Professor of English and the Director of the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures at the University of Virginia. She works in the fields of world literature, postcolonial studies and the South Asian Studies. Her research interests include the contemporary Anglophone novel, literary forms in the new media age, literature and human rights, caste and dalit studies, language worlds in colonial/postcolonial South Asia, and Indian Ocean literary worlds from 1750-1950. In recent years, Debjani has researched the links between globalism, information technology, ethnic violence and humanitarian connectivity through the genre of the novel, the result of which is a book with Duke UP entitled This Thing Called the World: The Contemporary Novel as Global Form (2016). She is the author of Caste, Colonialism and Countermodernity (2005) and coeditor of Edward Said: The Legacy of a Public Intellectual(2007) and Rethinking Gandhi and Nonviolent Relationality: Global Perspectives (2007). Debjani is the general editor of a recently commissioned, multi-volume Cambridge History of World Literature, and co-edits, with Ato Quayson and Neil Ten Kortenaar, the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry.Debjani has held visiting fellowships at the University of Chicago, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a Life Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and Member on the International Advisory Boards of the Harvard Institute for World Literature, the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI), and the Bologna-Duke-UVA Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory.

Ranjana Khanna is Professor of English, Women's Studies, and the Literature Program at Duke University. She works on Anglo- and Francophone Postcolonial theory and literature, and Film, Psychoanalysis, and Feminist theory. She has published widely on transnational feminism, psychoanalysis, and postcolonial and feminist theory, literature, and film. She is the author of Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism (Duke University Press, 2003) and Algeria Cuts: Women and Representation 1830 to the present (Stanford University Press, 2008.) She has published in journals like Differences, Signs, Third Text, Diacritics, Screen, Art History, positions, SAQ, Feminist Theory, and Public Culture. Her current book manuscripts in progress are called: Asylum: The Concept and the Practice and Technologies of Unbelonging.

Sarah Nuttall is the Director of WiSER since January 2013, where she was a prominent Senior Researcher from 2000 until 2010. Born in South Africa and educated at the Universities of (then) Natal and Cape Town, Sarah won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to read for a D.Phil. at Oxford. A literary scholar by training, Sarah’s varied research interests and prolific publication record have established her as a leading cultural commentator and critic as well as one of the leading scholars of her generation. She has lectured at the University of Stellenbosch and, for the past five years, has been a Visiting Professor at Yale University and Duke University. Sarah has edited several path-breaking books; her influential monograph, Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-apartheid, explores mutuality, transgression and embodiment in contemporary South Africa. Sarah has published in various journals including in Cultural Studies, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Journal of South African Studies, Public Culture, Third Text and Social Dynamics. She is a member of the editorial boards of Journal of Southern African Studies, Humanity, Cultural Studies, Social Dynamics, English Studies in Africa, and English Academy Review.