Since the 1980s much of the focus of collecting studies has been on trajectories of objects and their careers within contexts of imperial domination and displays. This paper offers an alternative interpretive frame for the analysis of collecting as imperial practice by opening it up beyond the explorations of commodities and material objects, exoticism and cultural capital. Instead, it calls for thinking about collecting as a biopolitical technique, and makes the theoretical claim that imperial collecting practices can be understood along the lines of biopolitics. Focusing on practices of collecting particularly in the Neo Assyrian and the Persian Achaemenid Empires, the paper argues that these ancient practices bring to light the vital connection between bodies and things, people, objects and places as relations that are both operational for and inscribed within the techniques of sovereign power.
Zainab Bahrani is professor of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology at the University of Columbia.