Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction

Thomas Lemke
Translated by Eric Frederick Trump
With a preface by Monica Casper
Lisa Jean Moore
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 158
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The biological features of human beings are now measured, observed, and understood in ways never before thought possible, defining norms, establishing standards, and determining average values of human life. While the notion of biopolitics has been linked to everything from rational decision-making and the democratic organization of social life to eugenics and racism, Thomas Lemke offers the very first systematic overview of the history of the notion of biopolitics, exploring its relevance in contemporary theoretical debates and providing a much needed primer on the topic. Lemke explains that life has become an independent, objective and measurable factor as well as a collective reality that can be separated from concrete living beings and the singularity of individual experience. He shows how our understanding of the processes of life, the organizing of populations and the need to govern individuals and collectives lead to practices of correction, exclusion, normalization, and disciplining. In this lucidly written book, Lemke outlines the stakes and the debates surrounding biopolitics, providing a systematic overview of the history of the notion and making clear its relevance for sociological and contemporary theoretical debates.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5337-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)

    In creating the “Biopolitics” book series for New York University Press, we hoped to achieve several intellectual and pragmatic goals. First, we wanted to solicit and encourage new book projects examining the potent intersection of medicine and technoscience with human bodies and lives. Second, we wanted to foster interdisciplinary scholarship in this field, realizing that contemporary “problems of the body” as they relate to technoscience and biomedicine can only be understood through diverse, overlapping, even competing analytical lenses. In this vein, the book series becomes a site for discourse about accounts of the body in relation to technologies, science, biomedicine,...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Thomas Lemke
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The notion of biopolitics has recently become a buzzword. A few years ago it was known only to a limited number of experts, but it is used today in many different disciplines and discourses. Beyond the limited domain of specialists, it is also attracting increasing interest among the general public. The term is used to discuss political asylum policies, as well as the prevention of AIDS and questions of demographic change. Biopolitics may refer to issues as diverse as financial support for agricultural products, promotion of medical research, legal regulations on abortion, and advance directives of patients specifying their preferences...

  6. 1 Life as the Basis of Politics
    (pp. 9-22)

    Although the concept of biopolitics has now become familiar, it may not be widely known that it has nearly a hundred-year history. Its initial appearance was as part of a general historical and theoretical constellation. By the second half of the 19th century,Lebensphilosophie(the philosophy of life) had already emerged as an independent philosophical tendency; its founders were Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche in Germany and Henri Bergson in France. The individualLebensphilosophen(philosophers of life) represented quite diverse theoretical positions. They shared, however, the reevaluation of “life” and its adoption as a fundamental category and normative criterion of...

  7. 2 Life as an Object of Politics
    (pp. 23-32)

    In the 1960s and early 1970s, the meaning of biopolitics assumed another form. It was not so much focused on the biological foundations of politics but rather disclosed life processes as a new object of political reflection and action. In light of the ecological crisis that was increasingly being addressed by political activists and social movements, biopolitics now came to signify policies and regulatory efforts aimed at finding solutions to the global environmental crisis. These efforts received an important stimulus from the Report to the Club of Rome (Meadows et al. 1972), which demonstrated through scientific modeling and computer simulations...

  8. 3 The Government of Living Beings: Michel Foucault
    (pp. 33-52)

    In the 1970s, the French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault introduced a concept of biopolitics that broke with the naturalist and politicist interpretations that were discussed in the preceding chapters. In contrast to the former conception of biopolitics, Foucault describes biopolitics as an explicit rupture with the attempt to trace political processes and structures back to biological determinants. By contrast, he analyzes the historical process by which “life” emerges as the center of political strategies. Instead of assuming foundational and ahistorical laws of politics, he diagnoses a historical break, a discontinuity in political practice. From this perspective, biopolitics denotes a...

  9. 4 Sovereign Power and Bare Life: Giorgio Agamben
    (pp. 53-64)

    For some time now, the work of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has been receiving growing attention and appreciation.¹ Yet it was only with the appearance ofHomo Sacerin 1995 that he became known to a wider audience (Agamben 1998). The book was an international bestseller, and its author became an intellectual star. The reason for this lay not least in the work’s brilliance in bringing together philosophical reflection with political critique. Above all, however, his fundamental thesis is provocative enough to have earned him greater notice outside of philosophical circles. For Agamben asserts nothing less than the “inner solidarity...

  10. 5 Capitalism and the Living Multitude: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
    (pp. 65-76)

    If for agamben biopolitics is marked by a catastrophic history that led to the Nazi extermination camps, it receives a very different treatment in yet another attempt at updating the concept. For the literary theorist Michael Hardt and the philosopher Antonio Negri, biopolitics does not stand for the overlapping of rule and exception but rather for a new stage of capitalism characterized by the disappearance of the borders between economics and politics, production and reproduction. In Hardt and Negri’s cowritten worksEmpire(2000) andMultitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire(2004), they link their arguments to the...

  11. 6 The Disappearance and Transformation of Politics
    (pp. 77-92)

    There can be no doubt that the writings of Giorgio Agamben and the works of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are the most prominent contributions to the debates concerning the further development and actualization of Foucauldian biopolitics. However, numerous other attempts to grapple with the concept have been made. One can generalize by saying that there are two primary threads by and through which the term has been adopted. The first, which is introduced in this chapter, is to be found above all in philosophy and social and political theory. This area of inquiry concentrates on the mode of the...

  12. 7 The End and Reinvention of Nature
    (pp. 93-104)

    A second significant line of reception linked to Foucault’s concept of biopolitics focuses on the manner in which new scientific knowledge and the development of biotechnologies increase the control of life processes and decisively alter the concept of life itself. The common starting point for work in this field is the observation that the image of a natural origin of all living organisms is gradually being replaced by the idea of an artificial plurality of life forms, which resemble technical artifacts more than they do natural entities. The redefinition of life as text by geneticists, advancements in biomedicine that range...

  13. 8 Vital Politics and Bioeconomy
    (pp. 105-116)

    The concept of vital politics, which Nikolas Rose employs in his discussion of the molecularization and informatization of life, was already in use much earlier in a completely different context. The term played a prominent role in the work of Wilhelm Röpke and Alexander Rüstow, two significant representatives of postwar German liberalism and architects of the social market economy (soziale Marktwirtschaft). In the 1950s and ’60s, they used the term “vital politics” to refer to a new form of the political that was grounded in anthropological needs and that has an ethical orientation. The negative point of reference here is...

  14. 9 Prospect: An Analytics of Biopolitics
    (pp. 117-124)

    The overview of the history and contemporary uses of “biopolitics” presented in this book reveals that the term is a combination of apparently contradictory elements. If politics in the classical sense refers to a state beyond existential necessities, biopolitics introduces a reflexive dimension. That is to say, it places at the innermost core of politics that which usually lies at its limits, namely, the body and life. Seen this way, biopolitics again includes the excluded other of politics. Indeed, neither politics nor life is what it was before the advent of biopolitics. Life has ceased to be the assumed but...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 125-128)
  16. References
    (pp. 129-138)
  17. Index
    (pp. 139-144)
  18. About the Author
    (pp. 145-145)