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The Politics of Life Itself

The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century

Nikolas Rose
Series: In-Formation
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Life Itself
    Book Description:

    For centuries, medicine aimed to treat abnormalities. But today normality itself is open to medical modification. Equipped with a new molecular understanding of bodies and minds, and new techniques for manipulating basic life processes at the level of molecules, cells, and genes, medicine now seeks to manage human vital processes.The Politics of Life Itselfoffers a much-needed examination of recent developments in the life sciences and biomedicine that have led to the widespread politicization of medicine, human life, and biotechnology.

    Avoiding the hype of popular science and the pessimism of most social science, Nikolas Rose analyzes contemporary molecular biopolitics, examining developments in genomics, neuroscience, pharmacology, and psychopharmacology and the ways they have affected racial politics, crime control, and psychiatry. Rose analyzes the transformation of biomedicine from the practice of healing to the government of life; the new emphasis on treating disease susceptibilities rather than disease; the shift in our understanding of the patient; the emergence of new forms of medical activism; the rise of biocapital; and the mutations in biopower. He concludes that these developments have profound consequences for who we think we are, and who we want to be.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2750-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    Nikolas Rose
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    At the close of the twentieth century, many predicted that “we” were entering a “biotech century,” an age of marvelous yet troubling new medical possibilities.¹ Some believed that the sequencing of the human genome would inaugurate an age of genetic manipulation with marvelous, perhaps terrifying consequences. Linking genomics with developments in reproductive technology, such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and cloning, they imagined a world of engineered people, with qualities and capacities fabricated on demand. Others believed that a new generation of psychopharmaceuticals would soon enable us to design our moods, emotions, desires and intelligence at will. Still others dreamed of...

  3. Chapter 1 Biopolitics in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 9-40)

    How might we approach the analysis of the biopolitics of the twenty-first century? I suggest that we might usefully approach this question along five lines, where significant mutations can be identified: molecularization, optimization, subjectification, expertise, bioeconomics. These will be explored in more detail in the chapters that follow. In this chapter I will introduce each of these themes and say a little about its significance. But first, a few words are in order about medicine itself.

    Michel Foucault’sBirth of the Clinic(1973) remains a path-breaking analysis of the ways in which illness and medicine came to be spatialized upon...

  4. Chapter 2 Politics and Life
    (pp. 41-76)

    Politics and life—these two words convey something that is neither self-evident nor unchanging. That is to say, while the words may remain the same, their meaning and function, in lay and professional discourses, has varied greatly over time, as have the practices associated with each. The histories of these two terms are intertwined, as are the practices associated with each. It is relevant for my argument in this book, therefore, to examine them in more detail. Such an examination would, if properly conducted, require a book of its own. Even focusing on the parts of that history relevant to...

  5. Chapter 3 An Emergent Form of Life?
    (pp. 77-105)

    Many social theorists, bioethicists, and philosophers worry that biomedical knowledge is effacing the distinction between the natural and the artificial and, in doing so, is raising fundamental questions about human nature, free will, human dignity, and crucial moral values.¹ For example, Leon Kass and his colleagues, in the October 2003 report of the President’s Council on Bioethics, entitledBeyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness(President’s Council on Bioethics [U.S.] and Kass 2003), identify four areas in which medical biotechnology is now moving “beyond therapy” to pursue goals of augmentation or transformation of life: (a) better children—prenatal diagnosis,...

  6. Chapter 4 At Genetic Risk
    (pp. 106-130)

    Among the many consequences of recent advances in the life sciences and biomedicine are some mutations in “personhood.”¹ These are not merely modifications of lay, professional, and scientific ideas about human identity and subjectivity, but shifts in the presuppositions about human beings that are embedded in and underpin many practices. In this chapter I focus on one of these: the human being who is “genetically at risk.” This kind of person is born at the intersection of at least three trajectories.First, we see the growing belief that many undesirable conditions—physical illnesses or behavioral pathologies—have a genetic basis....

  7. Chapter 5 Biological Citizens
    (pp. 131-154)

    A new kind of citizenship is taking shape in the age of biomedicine, biotechnology, and genomics.¹ This is a shift in what I term “biological citizenship.”² Since Marshall’s classic essay (Marshall 1950) it is conventional to think of a kind of evolution of citizenship since the eighteenth century in Europe, North America, and Australia: the civil rights granted in the eighteenth century necessitated the extension of political citizenship in the nineteenth century and of social citizenship in the twentieth century.³ This perspective is useful, to the extent that it breaks with political-philosophical considerations of citizenship and locates citizenship within the...

  8. Chapter 6 Race in the Age of Genomic Medicine
    (pp. 155-186)

    “Genetics for the Human Race” was the title of a special supplement ofNature Geneticspublished in November 2004.¹ This was based on a meeting held at Howard University on May 15, 2003, entitled “Human Genome Variation and ‘Race’—the State of the Science.” A month earlier, on April 14, 2003, announcing the release of the “essentially completed” human genome sequence, Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute had said, “All of this study of genotypes will have profound consequences on our understanding of race and ethnicity,” and told scientists they were obligated to translate what they...

  9. Chapter 7 Neurochemical Selves
    (pp. 187-223)

    In 2001 the American Psychiatric Association chose “Mind Meets Brain” as the title for its annual meeting in New Orleans.¹ This was at the end of the decade designated “The Decade of the Brain” by the U.S. Congress and President George H. Bush on July 17, 1990. But it was not—or not just—the brain that was at stake here, it was “ourselves,” or perhaps, our “selves,” thus events included “Understanding Ourselves: the Science of Cognition” in 1999 and “Discovering Ourselves: The Science of Emotion” in 1998.² A few years earlier, some thought that the computer would be the...

  10. Chapter 8 The Biology of Control
    (pp. 224-251)

    In our biologized culture, not merely the sicknesses of human beings, but also their personalities, capacities, passions, and the forces that mobilize them—their “identities” themselves—appear to be explicable, potentially at least, in biological terms.¹ In this chapter, I want to consider one key site for this biologization of the human soul—that of crime. In the closing decades of the twentieth century, a new biological criminology began to take shape. Newspaper reports, television documentaries, films, and novels have popularized this with claims about “the gene” for crime and speculative drama documentaries about a future where the criminal mind...

  11. Afterword Somatic Ethics and the Spirit of Biocapital
    (pp. 252-260)

    The events traced in this book are not episodes of a single narrative—there is and will be no single point of culmination or transformation. If mutations are occurring in the relation between life and politics, we are neither at the beginning nor at the end, but in the middle. No doubt many of the hopes embodied in these practices will be dashed, most fears will prove unfounded, many impediments and complications will block or divert “implementation,” and some quite unexpected or unanticipated things will occur. When innovations do reach the consulting room or the clinic, the procedures and interventions...