Bio-politics, biopower

Bio-politics and biopower are big issues right now. I don’t know how many articles I’ve seen recently that examine something through the notion of these concepts. Part of the reason seems to be that Giorgio Agamben picked them up from Foucault.

Both terms are used extensively as keywords in this year’s AAG Meetings.

Of particular interest are a small group of papers recently published, that use these notions to analyze borders and spatial partitioning, and the related issue of security (or “biosecurity”). For instance, this month’s Progress in Human Geography has an article by Jouni Hakli on Biometric Identities. He talks about the US VISIT program, and the “symbolic violence” being done to passengers due to bio-profiling.

See also L. Amoore 2006. Biometric Borders: Governing Mobilities in the War on Terror. Political Geography 25 (3): 336-351.

Alatout had a similar piece last year in Political Geography (Alatout, S. 2006. Towards a Bio-Territorial Conception of Power: Territory, Population, and Environmental Narratives in Palestine and Israel. Political Geography 25 (6): 601-621.)

These schemes are attracting attention because they place the body into a political matrix using biometrics (interestingly, the government is clear about this as their webpage,, shows).

Here are 28 articles that use the term “bio-politics” (or just “biopolitics”) in their title, keywords or abstract (from Scopus).


Bashford, A. 2006. Global biopolitics and the history of world health. History of the Human Sciences 19, no. 1: 67-88.

Biehl, J., D. Coutinho, and A. L. Outeiro. 2001. Technology and affect: HIV/AIDS testing in Brazil. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 25, no. 1: 87-129.

Boldureanu, D., C. Alexandru, and G. Andruseac. 2001. Analysis of attitudes about abortion. Revista medico-chirurgicala a Societatii de Medici si Naturalisti din Iasi 105, no. 1: 157-160.

Bourgois, P. 2000. Disciplining addictions: The bio-politics of methadone and heroin in the United States. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 24, no. 2: 165-195.

Buckingham, J. 2006. Patient welfare vs. the health of the nation: Governmentality and sterilisation of leprosy sufferers in early post-colonial India. Social History of Medicine 19, no. 3: 483-499.

Bull, M. 1996. Power and addiction: The making of the modern addict. Australian Journal of Social Issues 31, no. 2: 191-208.

Caple James, E. 2004. The political economy of ‘trauma’ in Haiti in the democratic era of insecurity. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 28, no. 2: 127-149.

Charkiewicz, E. 2005. Corporations, the UN and Neo-liberal Bio-politics. Development 48, no. 1: 75-83.

Crowley, U. M. 2005. Liberal rule through non-liberal means: The attempted settlement of Irish Travellers (1955-1975). Irish Geography 38, no. 2: 128-150.

Dennis, D. 1997. AIDS and the new medical gaze: Bio-politics, AIDS, and homosexuality. Journal of Homosexuality 32, no. 3-4: 169-184.

Ek, R. 2006. Giorgio Agamben and the spatialities of the camp: An introduction. Geografiska Annaler, Series B: Human Geography 88, no. 4: 363-386.

Gandy, M. 2006. Zones of indistinction: Bio-political contestations in the urban arena. Cultural Geographies 13, no. 4: 497-516.

Goodman, D. 2001. Ontology Matters: The Relational Materiality of Nature and Agro-food Studies. Sociologia Ruralis 41, no. 2: 182-200.

Goodman, D. 1999. Agro-food studies in the ‘Age of Ecology’: Nature, corporeality, bio-politics. Sociologia Ruralis 39, no. 1: 17-38.

Kjølsrød, L., E. Thornquist. 2004. From a liberal occupation to an occupation of the welfare state: Norwegian physiotherapy 1960-2000. Acta Sociologica 47, no. 3: 277-289.

Lacombe, D. 1996. Reforming Foucault: A critique of the social control thesis. British Journal of Sociology 47, no. 2: 332-352.

Lemke, T. 2001. ‘The birth of bio-politics’: Michel Foucault’s lecture at the Collège de France on neo-liberal governmentality. Economy and Society 30, no. 2: 190-207.

Muller, B. 2004. Globalization, security, paradox: Towards a refugee biopolitics. Refuge 22, no. 1: 49-57.

Phelps, C. F. 1984. Bio-politics and the mature professional. Natural resource administration : 147-154.

Philo, C. 2005. Sex, life, death, geography: Fragmentary remarks inspired by ‘Foucault’s population geographies’. Population, Space and Place 11, no. 4: 325-333.

Pottage, A. 1998. The inscription of life in law: genes, patents, and bio-politics. The Modern law review 61, no. 5: 740-765.

Pullman, D. 2005. Research governance, bio-politics and political will: recent lessons from Newfoundland and Labrador. Health law review. 13, no. 2-3: 75-79.

Sandstrom, K. L. 2005. What is the truth of death and dying? Reflections on Fulton, Foucault, and Finitude. Illness Crisis and Loss 13, no. 1: 63-73.

Tallio, V. 2006. Humanitarian assistance as a mean of implementing a territory. The example of the Angolan refugee camp of Nkondo in D.R.C. Bulletin d’Association de Geographes Francais 83, no. 1: 39-49.

Turner, B. S. 2006. Body. Theory, Culture and Society 23, no. 2-3: 223-229.

Van Der Ploeg, I. 2003. Biometrics and governance. 2003 International Symposium on Technology and Society: Crime Prevention, Security and Design, ISTAS/CPTED 2003 – Proceedings 25.

Wahlberg, A. 2006. Bio-politics and the promotion of traditional herbal medicine in Vietnam. Health 10, no. 2: 123-147.

Weiss, M. 1998. Conditions of mothering: The bio-politics of falling in love with your child. Social Science Journal 35, no. 1: 87-105.

2 Responses

  1. Hi there,

    Just a quick note to let you know about the publication of my book that (hopefully) will cross your research interests:
    Human Genes and Neoliberal Governance: A Foucauldian Critique” (Routledge-Cavendish, 15/11/2007). Here is the blurb:

    Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, among others, Human Genes and Neoliberal Governance shows how the privileging of genetic explanations bout individual risks, over environmental and socioeconomic factors, reflects both a metaphysical and a political complicity between ‘ geneticization’ and neoliberalism.

    The ‘new’ human genetics does not transform what it is to be human as much as it shift the place we look at whan we try to characterize commonalties and varitions among the human species. The ‘genetic revolution’ is above all a perceptual revolution, and in the first part of this book, Antoinette Rouvroy explores the social, political and economic conditions and consequences of this new ‘perceptual regime’.

    In the second part of this book, she pursues her analysis through a consideration of the impact of ‘geneticisation’ on political support for the welfare state, and on the operation of private health and life insurance. Genetics and neoliberalism are complicit, she argues, in fostering the belief that social and economic patterns have a fixed nature beyond the reach of democratic deliberation, and that the characteristics of individuals are unusually plastic, and within the scope of individual choice and responsibility. ‘Geneticisation’, it is concluded, has come to provide a questionable and largely unacknowledged support for neoliberal governance.

    Part I The Production of Genetic Knowledge and the
    Rise of Genetics as New Perceptual Regime
    1. The Production of Genetic Knowledge
    2. Scientific and Economic Strength of Genetic Reductionism
    3. Policy Implications: Discourses of Genetic Enlightenment as
    New Disciplinary Devices
    4. Genetic Conceptualisations of ‘Normality’ and the Idea of
    Genetic Justice
    5. Beyond Genetic Universality and Authenticity, the Lure of the
    ‘Genetic Underclass’
    Part II The Socio-Economic Life of Genes: Genetic Risks
    and Insurance
    6. Commonalties and variations in Regulation of genetic
    Information Flows
    7. Previews of the Future as Background
    8. Economic and Actuarial Perspectives on Genetics and
    9. Practical and Normative Arguments Against ‘Genetic
    Exceptionalist’ Legislation
    10. The Changing Social Role of Private Insurance: ‘Risk’ as a
    New Representational Regime

  2. […] Comments Antoinette Rouvroy, … on Bio-politics, biopowerortho stice on A third new paper: Foucault&#8…a very public sociol… on History of Sexuality […]

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