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Title: Biopolitics  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Michel Foucault, Thomas Lemke, Giorgio Agamben, Biopower, Roberto Esposito
Collection: Bioethics, Biopolitics, Michel Foucault
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Biopolitics is an intersectional field between biology and politics.

The term is commonly attributed to Rudolf Kjellén in the 1920s who also coined the term geopolitics;[1] however, it appears in print at least as early as 1912.[2] In contemporary US political science studies, usage of the term is mostly divided between a postmodernist group using the meaning assigned by Michel Foucault (denoting social and political power over life) and another group who uses it to denote studies relating biology and political science.[3]


  • Various definitions of biopolitics 1
  • Foucault and biopolitics 2
  • Notes 3
  • Further reading 4
  • External links 5

Various definitions of biopolitics

  1. In Kjellén's [4]
  2. The Nazis also used the term occasionally. For example, Hans Reiter used it in a 1934 speech to refer to their biologically based concept of nation and state and ultimately their racial policy.[3]
  3. Morley Roberts in his 1938 book Bio-politics used to argue that a correct model for world politics is "a loose association of cell and protozoa colonies".[3]
  4. [5]
  5. In the work of Foucault, the style of government that regulates populations through "biopower" (the application and impact of political power on all aspects of human life).[6][7]
  6. In the works of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, anti-capitalist insurrection using life and the body as weapons; examples include flight from power and, 'in its most tragic and revolting form', suicide terrorism. Conceptualised as the opposite of biopower, which is seen as the practice of sovereignty in biopolitical conditions.[8]
  7. The political application of bioethics.[9][10]
  8. A political spectrum that reflects positions towards the sociopolitical consequences of the biotech revolution.[9][10]
  9. Political advocacy in support of, or in opposition to, some applications of biotechnology.[9][10]
  10. Public policies regarding some applications of biotechnology.[9][10]
  11. Political advocacy concerned with the welfare of all forms of life and how they are moved by one another.[11]
  12. The politics of bioregionalism
  13. The interplay and interdisciplinary studies relating biology and political science,[12] primarily the study of the relationship between biology and political behavior.[13] most of these works agree on three fundamental aspects. First, the object of investigation is primarily political behavior, which—and this is the underlying assumption—is caused in a substantial way by objectively demonstrable biological factors. For example, the relationship of biology and political orientation, but also biological correlates of partisanship and voting behavior.[14] (See also sociobiology.)

Foucault and biopolitics

French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault first discussed his thoughts on biopolitics in his lecture series "Society Must Be Defended" given at the Collège de France from 1975–1976.[15] Foucault's concept of biopolitics is largely derived from his own notion of biopower, and the extension of state power over both the physical and political bodies of a population. While only mentioned briefly in his "Society Must Be Defended" lectures, his concept of biopolitics has become prominent in social and humanistic sciences.[16]

Foucault described biopolitics as "a new technology of power...[that] exists at a different level, on a different scale, and [that] has a different bearing area, and makes use of very different instruments."[17] More than a disciplinary mechanism, Foucault's biopolitics acts as a control apparatus exerted over a population as a whole or, as Foucault stated, "a global mass."[17] In the years that followed, Foucault continued to develop his notions of the biopolitical in his "The Birth of Biopolitics" and "The Courage of Truth" lectures.

Foucault gave numerous examples of biopolitical control when he first mentioned the concept in 1976. These examples include "ratio of births to deaths, the rate of reproduction, the fertility of a population, and so on."[18] He contrasted this method of social control with political power in the Middle Ages. Whereas in the Middle Ages pandemics made death a permanent and perpetual part of life, this has shifted around the end of the 18th century. The development of vaccines and medicines dealing with public hygiene allowed death to be held (and/or withheld) from certain populations. This was the introduction of "more subtle, more rational mechanisms: insurance, individual and collective savings, safety measures, and so on."[19]


  1. ^  
  2. ^  
  3. ^ a b c Liesen, Laurette T. and Walsh, Mary Barbara, The Competing Meanings of 'Biopolitics' in Political Science: Biological and Post-Modern Approaches to Politics (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper SSRN 1902949
  4. ^  
  5. ^ John P. Jackson, Jr. (1 August 2005). Science for Segregation: Race, Law, and the Case against Brown v. Board of Education. NYU Press. pp. 63–64.  
  6. ^ Michel Foucault, edited by Jeremy R. Carrette (1999). Religion and culture: Michel Foucault.  
  7. ^ Michel Foucault: Security, Territory, Population, p.1 (2007)
  8. ^ Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2005). Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Hamish Hamilton.
  9. ^ a b c d Hughes, James (2004).  
  10. ^ a b c d  
  11. ^ Tiqqun, translated by Alexander R. Galloway and Jason E. smith (2010). Introduction to Civil War.  
  12. ^ Robert Blank (2001). Biology and Political Science. Psychology Press.  
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Albert Somit; Steven A. Peterson (2011). Biology and Political Behavior: The Brain, Genes and Politics - The Cutting Edge. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 232.  
  15. ^ Michel, Foucault (2003). Society Must Be Defended. Picdor. pp. 242–243. 
  16. ^ Lemke, T., Casper, M. J., & Moore, L. J. (2011). Biopolitics: an advanced introduction. NYU Press.
  17. ^ a b Foucault, Michel (1997). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. p. 242.  
  18. ^ Foucault, Michel (1997). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. p. 243.  
  19. ^ Foucault, Michel (1997). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. pp. 243–244.  

Further reading

  • Research in Biopolitics: Volume 1: Sexual Politics and Political Feminism Editor Albert Somit (1991)
  • Research in Biopolitics: Volume 2: Biopolitics and the Mainstream: Contributions of Biology to Political Science Editor Albert Somit (1994)
  • Research in Biopolitics: Volume 3: Human Nature and Politics Editors Steven A. Peterson Albert Somit (1995)
  • Research in Biopolitics: Volume 4: Research in Biopolitics Editors Albert Somit Steven A. Peterson (1996)
  • Research in Biopolitics: Volume 5: Recent Explorations in Biology and Politics Editors Albert Somit Steven A. Peterson (1997)
  • Research In Biopolitics: Volume 6: Sociobiology and Politics Editors Albert Somit Steven A. Peterson (1998)
  • Research In Biopolitics: Volume 7: Ethnic Conflicts Explained By Ethnic Nepotism Editors Albert Somit Steven A. Peterson (1999)
  • Research In Biopolitics: Volume 8: Evolutionary Approaches In The Behavioral Sciences: Toward A Better Understanding of Human Nature Editors Steven A. Peterson Albert Somit (2001)
  • Research In Biopolitics: Volume 9: Biology and Political Behavior: The Brain, Genes and Politics - the Cutting Edge; Editor Albert Somit (2011)

External links

  • Steinmann, Kate. Apparatus, Capture, Trace: Photography and Biopolitics in: Fillip. Fall 2011.
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