Biopolitics talk by Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean, who blogs at I Cite, has given an interesting-sounding talk on “Biopolitics is Post Politics” (hmm). One of her auditors posted the following summary:

Although the title was a reference to what Zizek said ‘somewhere’, the talk mostly focused on Foucault and his rethinking of biopolitics from his own earlier work from 1975-6 on state phobia in which he promotes a ‘sloppy move from social security to Nazi death camps’. Jodi’s point, as I saw it, was that Foucault turned away from such an analysis in the later work, The Birth of Biopolitics 1978-9, to account for the neo-liberal rejection of the state or raison d’Etat (as Foucault calls it) that leads to a concern with producing freedom in peculiar ways. This requires limiting the reaches of the state. In short, the question for Foucault in the biopolitics lectures seems to be: what are the stakes of liberalism taking the ‘risk’ of producing freedom?

More here.


2 Responses

  1. as commented on the yoke:

    “while all of this sounds interesting, I must say 1) Foucault’s “The Birth of Biopolitics” was a divergence from exploring biopolitics as such, according to his own comments late in the course; 2) confusing biopolitics with liberal governmentality seems to be sloppy scholarship in my mind, as the later (political-economy as a particular governmental strategy towards populations defined by freedom) is but one historical modulation within biopolitics as a mode of subjection that defines modernity (subjects as members to biological populations)”

  2. from a conversion on the Yoke:

    Blogger nOtoften said…

    Your remarks would only apply to my short summary of the lecture (and if that, really). JD did mention it in the talk, and it is certainly contained in the original paper: that is: Foucault continually defers addressing biopolitics in an abstract sense. He, rather, turns to an analysis, as im sure you know, to various historical forms of liberalism – so called German neo-liberalism, American and so on. If I recall, she discusses how the question of biopolitics in foucault’s text constantly turns into one of the emergence of neo-liberalism and a strange form of state in several contexts. So, if you insist on identifying ‘sloppy scholarship’ so readily, you might want to ask why Foucault himself does not address a topic that is supposedly central to a text that is now called in English ‘The Birth of Biopolitics’.

    11:26 AM
    Blogger Craig said…

    The practical matter of the courses should be kept in mind: the title is proposed long before the lectures are given. Foucault’s lectures tended to follow his current research, per the mission of the College de France. Consequently, by the time he came to his lectures, he had often lost interest in the proposed topic or found that the proposed topic was not entirely precise. Anyone who has written a long work can surely identify. How many dissertations resemble their proposals?

    4:03 PM
    Comment deleted

    This post has been removed by the author.

    6:14 PM
    Blogger William said…


    excuse my lack of clarity. I did, in fact, intend for my comment to be in response to the summary, rather than Dean’s work itself, which have I not seen of course — although her work which I have had the pleasure to read is quite excellent. As such, i intended the “sloppy scholarship” comment to be intended to the claims seemingly attributed to her in your post – not that your post is sloppy scholarship, as it is not scholarship, but the claims I addressed would be such if presented in a scholarly interpretation of Foucualt for the reasons I stated.

    I did not mean to be insulting toward Dean’s work. I link to her blog on my own for a reason 🙂

    as to your point on foucualt: I say again, he mentions the work diverged from its original purpose, such is the creative process. As for whether or not this divergence is significant for Foucault, there are two immediately obvious comments to make: 1) we will have to wait until his course lectures subsequent to the Birth of Biopolitics are made available, as the significance of that divergence depends upon where he later picks up, much like the scant mention of biopolitics in the conclusion of Society Must be Defended can not be understood as significant until one reads Security, Territory, and Population. 2) there does, however, seem to be a good answer as far as Foucault’s published corpus informs us. In Hist of Sexuality vol. 1 he defined biopolitics as a discursive “threshold” of modernity, the conditions of possibility for modern forms of power, subjectivity, etc. Thus, it may only be meaningful in an “abstract sense”, to use your characterization, because it is a
    “mode” of subjection which makes discursive forms possible on the basis of its general set of rules, much like what various forms of state strategies and forms of capitalism are to the capitalist mode of production.

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