Reviews of the Birth of Biopolitics

Here is a nice review of the Birth of Biopolitics by Francesco Guala in 2006 in Economics and Philosophy (h/t Test Society).

doi:10.1017/S0266267106001052 or here if your library doesn’t take that journal.


His goal is to lay bare the “savoir” of liberalism. The concept of savoir is perhaps Foucault’s most enduring legacy to epistemology and the philosophy of science. The customary way to present it to an Anglo-American audience is by way of a contrast with Thomas Kuhn’s notion of scientific paradigm (e.g. Hacking 1979). Like a Kuhnian paradigm, a savoir is a changing historical entity that is mostly invisible to those who live and work within its boundaries. As with Kuhn’s revolutions, there’s a high degree of incommensurability across the “ruptures” (the term is Bachelard’s) that separate different savoirs. Unlike a paradigm, however, a savoir isn’t organized around exemplary achievements. Its role is less in determining what ought to be done within a certain discipline, than what can be done. A savoir defines primarily the conditions of possibility of science, by making certain kinds of entities amenable to a certain type of discourse. More precisely, with the birth of a savoir, an entity or domain becomes a legitimate object for a discourse that can be evaluated in terms of truth and falsity.

What other reviews are available?


7 Responses

  1. The best over-view of the course actually predates its publication in French:
    Lemke, Thomas. 2001. ‘The birth of bio-politics’: Michel Foucault’s lecture at the Collège de France on neo-liberal governmentality. Economy and Society 30 (2):190-207.

    [Corrected volume number–JWC]

  2. oh, and I forgot to add Peters (2007), which focuses almost exclusively on ordo-liberalism:

    Peters, Michael A. (2007) ‘Foucault, biopolitics and the birth of neoliberalism’, Critical Studies in Education, 48:2, 165 – 178

  3. There was an edition of Political Geography with a number of articles looking at both the ‘Security, Territory & Population’ lectures, and the new ones:

    Political Geography, Volume 26, Issue 1, January 2007

  4. Thanks Will. Let’s also add Stuart Elden’s critique:

    Environment and Planning D June 2007
    Governmentality, calculation, territory

    as well the PG material you cite.

  5. I’m so confused with Amazon. It previously indicated that the English translation of the Birth of Biopolitics lecture was coming out in April, now it says June. However, someone in a Facebook group wrote they had tried to preorder the book and the publisher said something about delaying the release until 2009! Anyone know anything about this?

  6. It has a June publication in the USA, but an April one in the UK. I have ordered mine from the UK.

  7. Yup. Mine was dispatched today. Maybe you’re looking at Amazon’s mythical paperback that they’ve been advertising for a bit. That may be out in 2009 or never. But the hardback is definitely out now and you should be able to get a copy from British sellers.

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