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Biopolitics is an intersectional field between human biology and politics. It is a political wisdom taking into consideration the administration of life and a locality’s populations as its subject. To quote Foucault, it is ‘to ensure, sustain, and multiply life, to put this life in order."
The term was coined by Rudolf Kjellén, a political scientist who also coined the term geopolitics, in his 1905 two-volume work The Great Powers. Kjellén sought to study "the civil war between social groups" (comprising the state) from a biological perspective and thus named his putative discipline "biopolitics". In Kjellén's organicist view, the state was a quasi-biological organism, a "super-individual creature".
In contemporary US political science studies, usage of the term is mostly divided between a poststructuralist group using the meaning assigned by Michel Foucault (denoting social and political power over life) and another group which uses it to denote studies relating biology and political science. The Nazis also used the term occasionally. For example, Hans Reiter used it in a 1934 speech to refer to their biologically based concept of nation and state and ultimately their racial policy.
The first modern usage of the term (in English) starts with an article written by GW Harris in an article for the New Age in 1911 in which he advocates the liquidation of "lunatics" by 'state lethal chamber'. The concept then starts to gather pace in the 19th century with Walter Bagehot's work Physics and Politics in which he reflects on the term as if he was a trained scientist in the form of Jakob von Uexküll. Bagehot didn't have a scientifically trained mind such as von Uexküll so he (Bagehot) falls rather short in the explanation of the term. Nevertheless the book has some novel points particularly on the subject of natural selection and politics. Previous notions of the concept can actually be traced back to the Middle Ages in John of Salisbury's work Policraticus in which the coined term body politic is actually used.
In the work of Foucault, biopolitics refers to the style of government that regulates populations through "biopower" (the application and impact of political power on all aspects of human life).
Robert E. Kuttner used the term to refer to his particular brand of "scientific racism," as he called it, which he worked out with noted Eustace Mullins, with whom Kuttner cofounded the Institute for Biopolitics in the late 1950s, and also with Glayde Whitney, a behavioral geneticist. Most of his adversaries designate his model as antisemitic. Kuttner and Mullins were inspired by Morley Roberts, who was in turn inspired by Arthur Keith, or both were inspired by each other and either co-wrote together (or with the Institute of Biopolitics) Biopolitics of Organic Materialism dedicated to Roberts and reprinted some of his works.
In the works of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, anti-capitalist insurrection using life and the body as weapons; examples include flight from power and, 'in its most tragic and revolting form', suicide terrorism. Conceptualised as the opposite of biopower, which is seen as the practice of sovereignty in biopolitical conditions.
According to Professor Agni Vlavianos Arvanitis, biopolitics is a conceptual and operative framework for societal development, promoting bios (Greek = life) as the central theme in every human endeavor, be it policy, education, art, government, science or technology. This concept uses bios as a term referring to all forms of life on our planet, including their genetic and geographic variation.
- A political spectrum that reflects positions towards the sociopolitical consequences of the biotech revolution.
- Political advocacy in support of, or in opposition to, some applications of biotechnology.
- Public policies regarding some applications of biotechnology.
- Political advocacy concerned with the welfare of all forms of life and how they are moved by one another.
- The politics of bioregionalism.
- The interplay and interdisciplinary studies relating biology and political science, primarily the study of the relationship between biology and political behavior. Most of these works agree on three fundamental aspects. First, the object of investigation is primarily political behavior, which—and this is the underlying assumption—is caused in a substantial way by objectively demonstrable biological factors. For example, the relationship of biology and political orientation, but also biological correlates of partisanship and voting behavior. (See also sociobiology.)
In the colonial setting
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Biopolitics, read as a variation of Foucault’s Biopower, has proven to be a substantive concept in the field of postcolonial studies. Foucault’s term refers to the intersection between power (political, economic, judicial etc.) and the individual’s bodily autonomy. According to postcolonial theorists, present within the colonial setting are various mechanisms of power that consolidate the political authority of the colonizer; Biopolitics is thus the means by which a colonising force utilises political power to regulate and control the bodily autonomy of the colonized subject, who are oppressed and subaltern. Edward Said, in his work Orientalism, analysed the means by which colonial powers rationalised their relationship with the colonized societies they inhabited through discursive means, and how these discourses continue to influence modern day depictions of the Orient. Franz Fanon applied a psychoanalytic frame to his theories of subjectivity, arguing that the subjectivity of the colonized is in constant dialogue with the oppressive political power of the colonizer, a mirroring of the Oedipal father-son dynamic. While not using the term himself, Fanon’s work has been cited as a major development in the conceptualisation of biopolitics in the colonial setting.
Catastrophes are periodically mobilized as vehicles for historical transformation. European states often found themselves grappling with sociobiological propensities of populations. Mercantilism and capitalist modes of production led to a modern biopolitical approach to famine: the modern state depended on providing a diet sufficient to keep the biological machines of industrial capitalism running. The British developed biopolitics in tandem with colonization to help solidify their control over the Irish.
The French Third Republic in Western Africa also employed biopolitics in their colonial efforts. The fin-de-siecle revolution in microbiology and specific developments in public health legislation aided the French. Furthermore, thanks to the germ theory of disease pioneered by Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur, the etiology of some of the most deadly diseases—cholera and typhoid—began to be understood in the 1890s, and the French used this new scientific knowledge in the tropics of West Africa. Illnesses like bubonic plague were isolated, and vectors of malaria and yellow fever were identified for the political purpose of public health. They passed public health laws to introduce up-to-date health standards. The goal was for African subjects to respond in exactly the same way as metropolitan citizens to market incentives and new technologies imposed by a progressive state. Thus, public health was a political concern in the sense that the state hoped citizens would be more productive if they lived longer.
French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault first discussed his thoughts on biopolitics in his lecture series "Society Must Be Defended" given at the Collège de France from 1975 to 1976. Foucault's concept of biopolitics is largely derived from his own notion of biopower, and the extension of state power over both the physical and political bodies of a population. While only mentioned briefly in his "Society Must Be Defended" lectures, the conceptualisation of biopolitics developed by Foucault has become prominent in social science and the humanities.
Foucault described biopolitics as "a new technology of power...[that] exists at a different level, on a different scale, and [that] has a different bearing area, and makes use of very different instruments." More than a disciplinary mechanism, Foucault's biopolitics acts as a control apparatus exerted over a population as a whole or, as Foucault stated, "a global mass." In the years that followed, Foucault continued to develop his notions of the biopolitical in his "The Birth of Biopolitics" and "The Courage of Truth" lectures.
Foucault gave numerous examples of biopolitical control when he first mentioned the concept in 1976. These examples include "ratio of births to deaths, the rate of reproduction, the fertility of a population, and so on." He contrasted this method of social control with political power in the Middle Ages. Whereas in the Middle Ages pandemics made death a permanent and perpetual part of life, this was then shifted around the end of the 18th century with the introduction of milieu into the biological sciences. Foucault then gives different contrasts to the then physical sciences in which the industrialisation of the population was coming to the fore through the concept of work, where Foucault then argues power starts to become a target for this milieu by the 17th century. The development of vaccines and medicines dealing with public hygiene allowed death to be held (and/or withheld) from certain populations. This was the introduction of "more subtle, more rational mechanisms: insurance, individual and collective savings, safety measures, and so on."
- Foucault, Michael (1976). History of Sexuality (The Will to Knowledge: History of Sexuality).
- Roberto Esposito (2008). Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy. U of Minnesota Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-8166-4989-1.
- Gunneflo, Markus (2015). "Rudolf Kjellén: Nordic biopolitics before the welfare state". Retfærd. 35 (3). ISSN 0105-1121.
- Thomas Lemke (2011). Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction. NYU Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-0-8147-5241-8.
- Liesen, Laurette T. and Walsh, Mary Barbara, The Competing Meanings of 'Biopolitics' in Political Science: Biological and Post-Modern Approaches to Politics (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper SSRN 1902949
- The New Age 28 December 1911
- Walter Bagehot Physics and Politics pp. 40-65 1872
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- Michel Foucault: Security, Territory, Population, p. 1 (2007)
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- Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2005). Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Hamish Hamilton.
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- John L. Pellam Bibliotheque: Worldwide International Publishers (2011) "The Preeminent 500: 500 Exceptional Individuals of Achievement in Commerce Science & Technology, Medicine and the Arts & Letters" pg. 53. OCLC 779830043
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- Hughes, James (2004). Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-4198-1.
- Rifkin, Jeremy (31 January 2002). "Fusion Biopolitics". The Nation. Retrieved 16 March 2008.
- Tiqqun, translated by Alexander R. Galloway and Jason E. smith (2010). Introduction to Civil War. ISBN 978-1-58435-086-6.
- Robert Blank (2001). Biology and Political Science. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-20436-1.
- Thomas Lemke (2011). Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction. NYU Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-0-8147-5241-8.
- Albert Somit; Steven A. Peterson (2011). Biology and Political Behavior: The Brain, Genes and Politics - The Cutting Edge. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-85724-580-9.
- Schirato, T., Danaher, G., & Jen, W. E. B. B. (2012). Understanding Foucault: A critical introduction. Allen & Unwin. p. 90
- Said, E. W. (1979). Orientalism. Vintage. p.113
- Fanon, F. (2008). Black skin, white masks. Grove press.
- Nayar, P. K. (2019). Fanon and Biopolitics. In Frantz Fanon and Emancipatory Social Theory (pp. 217-230). Brill.
- Michel, Foucault (2003). Society Must Be Defended. Picador. pp. 242–243.
- Lemke, T., Casper, M. J., & Moore, L. J. (2011). Biopolitics: an advanced introduction. NYU Press.
- Foucault, Michel (1997). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. p. 242. ISBN 0312422660.
- Woodrow Wilson (1918) The New Freedom pp.45-48 Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall
- Michel Foucault (2007) Security, Territory, Population 1977-1978 pp. 311-332 pp. 333-361 pp. 378-380
- Foucault, Michel (1997). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. p. 243. ISBN 0312422660.
- Michel, Foucault (2007). Security, Territory, Population Lectures At The College de France. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 55–86, 20, 27 (Note 37).
- Michel, Foucault (1975). Society Must Be Defended. pp. 241–244, 252.
- Foucault, Michel (1997). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. pp. 243–244. ISBN 0312422660.
- Research in Biopolitics: Volume 1: Sexual Politics and Political Feminism Editor Albert Somit (1991)
- Research in Biopolitics: Volume 2: Biopolitics and the Mainstream: Contributions of Biology to Political Science Editor Albert Somit (1994)
- Research in Biopolitics: Volume 3: Human Nature and Politics Editors Steven A. Peterson Albert Somit (1995)
- Research in Biopolitics: Volume 4: Research in Biopolitics Editors Albert Somit Steven A. Peterson (1996)
- Research in Biopolitics: Volume 5: Recent Explorations in Biology and Politics Editors Albert Somit Steven A. Peterson (1997)
- Research In Biopolitics: Volume 6: Sociobiology and Politics Editors Albert Somit Steven A. Peterson (1998)
- Research In Biopolitics: Volume 7: Ethnic Conflicts Explained By Ethnic Nepotism Editors Albert Somit Steven A. Peterson (1999)
- Research In Biopolitics: Volume 8: Evolutionary Approaches In The Behavioral Sciences: Toward A Better Understanding of Human Nature Editors Steven A. Peterson Albert Somit (2001)
- Research In Biopolitics: Volume 9: Biology and Political Behavior: The Brain, Genes and Politics - the Cutting Edge; Editor Albert Somit (2011)
- Steinmann, Kate. (2011). Apparatus, Capture, Trace: Photography and Biopolitics in: Fillip. Fall 2011.
- Verde Garrido, Miguelángel. (2015). Contesting a biopolitics of information and communications: The importance of truth and sousveillance after Snowden in: Surveillance & Society (volume 13, number 2; pages 153-167).
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