The Birth Of Biopolitics

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The Birth Of Biopolitics



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What is Biopolitics? (See link below a video lecture on \

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This field, Doucet-Battle shows, is shaped by the afterlife of slavery, and even more specifically, by the practices of racial segregation and domination associated with Jim Crow. The fourth reflection, by Menzel, focuses on the role of reproductive mastery as a contemporary form of racial domination. Finally, Davis herself responds to each author, and outlines the ways in which she wrote Reproductive Injustice as a form of disruption. Your email address will not be published. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This serves as something of a paradigm for the disciplinary imperative, though it was never realized completely in practice. Systems of monitoring and control nevertheless spread through all social institutions: schools, workplaces, and the family. While criminals had in a sense already been punished individually, they were not treated as individuals in the full sense that now developed. Disciplinary institutions such as prisons seek to develop detailed individual psychological profiles of people, and seek to alter their behaviour at the same level.

Where previously most people had been part of a relatively undifferentiated mass, individuality being the preserve of a prominent or notorious few, and even then a relatively thin individuality, a society of individuals now developed, where everyone is supposed to have their own individual life story. This constitutes the soul Foucault refers to. The thread of individualization runs through his next book, the first of what were ultimately three volumes of his History of Sexuality. He gave this volume the title The Will to Knowledge. It appeared only a year after Discipline and Punish. The next year, , Foucault gave a series of lectures entitled Abnormal. Parts of these lectures indeed effectively reappear in The Will to Knowledge. Like Discipline and Punish , the Will to Knowledge contains both general and specific conclusions.

Foucault allows the core historical claim that there has been sexual repressiveness, but thinks that this is relatively unimportant in the history of sexuality. Much more important, he thinks, is an injunction to talk about our sexuality that has consistently been imposed even during the years of repressiveness, and is now intensified, ostensibly for the purpose of lifting our repression. Foucault again sees a disciplinary technique at work, namely confession. This began in the Catholic confessional, with the Church spreading the confessional impulse in relation to sex throughout society in the early modern period.

Foucault thinks this impulse has since been made secular, particularly under the auspices of institutional psychiatry, introducing a general compulsion for everyone to tell the truth about themselves, with their sexuality a particular focus. For Foucault, there is no such thing as sexuality apart from this compulsion. That is, sexuality itself is not something that we naturally have, but rather something that has been invented and imposed. The interaction of Foucault and feminism is the topic of a dedicated article elsewhere in this encyclopedia.

Who and what is it that is responsible for the production of criminality via imprisonment? Although similar reflections on power can be found in Discipline and Punish and in lectures and interviews of the same period, The Will to Knowledge gives his most comprehensive account of power. Whenever we try to influence others, this is power. In this way, the social effects of our attempts to influence other people run quite outside of our control or ken.

This effect is neatly encapsulated in a remark attributed to Foucault that we may know what we do, but we do not know what what we do does. What it does is produce strategies that have a kind of life of their own. Thus, although no one in the prison system, neither the inmates, nor the guards, nor politicians, want prisons to produce a class of criminals, this is nonetheless what the actions of all the people involved do. Criticisms of him on this point invariably fail, however, to appreciate his true position or beg the question against it by simply restating the views he has rejected. He has been interpreted as thinking that power is a mysterious, autonomous force that exists independently of any human influence, and is so all-encompassing as to preclude any resistance to it.

Foucault clearly states in The Will to Knowledge that this is not so, though it is admittedly relatively difficult to understand his position, namely that resistance to power is not outside power. The point here for Foucault is not that resistance is futile, but that power is so ubiquitous that in itself it is not an obstacle to resistance. One cannot resist power as such, but only specific strategies of power, and then only with great difficulty, given the tendency of strategies to absorb apparently contradictory tendencies.

Still, for Foucault power is never conceived as monolithic or autonomous, but rather is a matter of superficially stable structures emerging on the basis of constantly shifting relations underneath, caused by an unending struggle between people. Foucault is nevertheless condemned by many liberal commentators for his failure to make any normative distinction between power and resistance, that is, for his relativism.

This accusation is well founded: he consistently eschews any kind of overtly normative stance in his thought. He thus does not normatively justify resistance, but it is not clear there is any inherent contradiction in a non-normative resistance. This idea is coherent, though of course those who think it is impossible to have a non-normative political thought which is a consensus position within political philosophy will reject him on this basis. For his part, he offers only analyses that he hopes will prove useful to people struggling in concrete situations, rather than prescriptions as to what is right or wrong.

The problem with this view is that society is not designed by anyone and consequently much of it is functionally redundant or accidental. His position in any case is not that society constitutes a totality or whole via any necessity: functions exist within strategies that emerge spontaneously from below, and the functions of any element are subject to change. This is for him what has happened in respect of sexuality in the case of the repressive hypothesis. Though we try to liberate ourselves from sexual repression, we in fact play into a strategy of power which we do not realize exists.

The two senses here are passive and active. On the one hand, we are subjected in this process, made into passive subjects of study by medical professionals, for example. On the other, we are the subjects in this process, having to actively confess our sexual proclivities and indeed in the process develop an identity based on this confessed sexuality. So, power operates in ways that are both overtly oppressive and more positive.

Sexuality for Foucault has a quite extraordinary importance in the contemporary network of power relations. This class produced sexuality positively, though one can see that it would have been imposed on women and children within that class quite regardless of their wishes. From its beginning in the bourgeoisie, Foucault sees public health agencies as imposing sexuality more crudely on the rest of the populace, quite against their wishes. Why has this happened? He also elsewhere dispenses with the hyphens in these words, as it will in the present article hereafter. Biopolitics is a technology of power that grew up on the basis of disciplinary power. Where discipline is about the control of individual bodies, biopolitics is about the control of entire populations.

Where discipline constituted individuals as such, biopolitics does this with the population. Prior to the invention of biopolitics, there was no serious attempt by governments to regulate the people who lived in a territory, only piecemeal violent interventions to put down rebellions or levy taxes. As with discipline, the main precursor to biopolitics can be found in the Church, which is the institution that did maintain records of births and deaths, and did minister to the poor and sick, in the medieval period.

In the modern period, the perception grew among governments that interventions in the life of the people would produce beneficial consequences for the state, preventing depopulation, ensuring a stable and growing tax base, and providing a regular supply of manpower for the military. Hence they took an active interest in the lives of the people. Disciplinary mechanisms allowed the state to do this through institutions, most notably perhaps medical institutions that allowed the state to monitor and support the health of the population.

Sex was the most intense site at which discipline and biopolitics intersected, because any intervention in population via the control of individual bodies fundamentally had to be about reproduction, and also because sex is one of the major vectors of disease transmission. Sex had to be controlled, regulated, and monitored if the population was to be brought under control. This form of power was previously the way in which governments dealt both with individual bodies and with masses of people. While it has been replaced in these two roles by discipline and biopower, it retains a role nonetheless at the limits of biopower.

When discipline breaks down, when the regulation of the population breaks down, the state continues to rely on brute force as a last resort. Moreover, the state continues to rely on brute force, and the threat of it, in dealing with what lies outside its borders. For Foucault, there is a mutual incompatibility between biopolitics and sovereign power. Biopolitics is a form of power that works by helping you to live, thanatopolitics by killing you, or at best allowing you to live.

It seems impossible for any individual to be simultaneously gripped by both forms of power, notwithstanding a possible conflict between different states or state agencies. Foucault does not use this term in any of the works he published himself, but nevertheless does point in The Will to Knowledge to a close relationship between biopolitics and racism. By the early twentieth century, eugenics, the pseudo-science of improving the vitality of a population through selective breeding, was implemented to some extent in almost all industrialized countries.

It of course found its fullest expression in Nazi Germany. He returned in with a series of lectures that followed logically from his ones, but show a distinct shift in conceptual vocabulary. The lecture series of and , Security, Territory, Population and The Birth of Biopolitics , center on this concept, despite the somewhat misleading title of the latter in this regard. But this logic is for Foucault, in keeping with his genealogical perspective which he still affirms , not merely ideal, but rather encompasses institutions, practices and ideas.

Still, it is an important one. What is the meaning of this fuzzy concept then? Foucault never repudiates biopower. During these lectures he on multiple occasions reaffirms his interest in biopower as an object of study, and does so as late as , the year before he died. The meaning of governmentality as a concept is to situate biopower in a larger historical moment, one that stretches further back in history and encompasses more elements, in particular the discourses of economics and regulation of the economy. Foucault details two main phases in the development of governmentality. The question here is what the specifically political import of this ethics is. There is a grain of truth to such allegations, but no more than a grain.

In this way, his account relates to his previous work on government, with subjectivity a matter of the government of the self. It is thus closely linked to his political thought, as a question of the power that penetrates the interior of the person. In such practices, Foucault sees a potential basis for resistance to power, though he is clear that no truly ethical practices exist today and it is by no means clear that they can be reestablished. Ethics has, on the contrary, been abnegated by Christianity with its mortificatory attitude to the self.

English translations of works by Foucault named above, in the order they were originally written. The shorter writings and interviews of Foucault are also of extraordinary interest, particularly to philosophers. Mark Kelly Email: markgekelly gmail. Michel Foucault: Political Thought The work of twentieth-century French philosopher Michel Foucault has increasingly influenced the study of politics. Genealogy Foucault wrote The Archaeology of Knowledge while based in Tunisia, where he had taken a three-year university appointment in Discipline This research on prisons began in activism.

Sexuality The thread of individualization runs through his next book, the first of what were ultimately three volumes of his History of Sexuality. References and Further Reading English translations of works by Foucault named above, in the order they were originally written. Primary Mental illness and psychology. Berkeley: University of California Press, The History of Madness. London: Routledge, Birth of the Clinic.

The Order of Things. London: Tavistock, The Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Pantheon, Shapiro, ed. Translated by Ian McLeod. Psychiatric Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, Discipline and Punish. London: Allen Lane, London: Verso, Society Must Be Defended. New York: Picador, An Introduction. Security, Territory, Population. Foucault, ed. Translated by Richard McDougall. Faubion, ed. New York: New Press, , pp. The Hermeneutics of the Subject. The Government of the Self and Others.

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