Special issue on biopolitics

Culture Machine, a journal dedicated to “generating research in culture & theory” has a special issue on biopolitics.

From the Editorial:

It is all too often forgotten that Foucault was interested in a very specific articulation of political power and the biological, which he glossed as ‘state biopolitics’. The 1975-76 seminar looks at the convergence of state racism, practices of public health and evolutionary biology in the late nineteenth century. But Foucault was, as always, writing a history of the present, and his ‘now’ was the novel conjunction of vital practices and state power of the mid-twentieth century welfare state, the lingering colonialisms of the post-World War II era and the invention of human rights. More specifically, Foucault was interested in interrogating the welfare state from the point of view of its anomalous but often disturbingly specular others: the Nazi eugenic state or the state racism of various nationalist socialisms (questions that have since been taken up most thoroughly by Agamben). Again, it needs to be stressed that this project was outlined by Foucault but never carried out. However, some of the theorists he most closely collaborated with did deliver on some of these lines of enquiry.

A more sustained attempt to think through the vitalist politics of the mid-twentieth century welfare state can be found in François Ewald’s L’État-Providence (1986), largely overlooked in the fanfare of current work on biopolitics. Ewald demonstrated that the protective and preventative measures exercised by the welfare state ushered in a polis and temporality of managed life. In his account of these vital politics, life’s rhythms are organized around predictive, normalizing strategies (public health, Keynesian cycles of boom and bust, the juridical structuring of natality, longevity and morbidity) and ‘the technics of chance and accident’. Here we encounter a temporality in which the accident is both recognized in its absolute contingency (as virtual), but exorcized as such, subject to all kinds of strategies of prevention and control.

However we might want to take up Foucault’s legacy, it seems clear that the dominant politics of our time, ‘neo-liberalism’, singularly reworks the state biopolitics of mid-twentieth century paternalism. And it does so precisely by targeting its foundational articulation of life, law and time. All this suggests another hypothesis: that the terms of articulation between biology and politics – their exercise and operation at micro and macro levels – need to be reformulated. Even more urgently, it is the question of resistance to the singularity of the vital politics of the present that requires novel analysis.

(h/t Gary Sauer-Thompson)


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