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Biopolitics is an intersectional field between biology and politics.

While the term is commonly attributed to Rudolf Kjellén in the 1920s who also coined the term geopolitics,[1] it was actually coined by G.W.Harris as early as 1911.[2][3] In contemporary US political science studies, usage of the term is mostly divided between a postmodernist group using the meaning assigned by Michel Foucault (denoting social and political power over life) and another group who uses it to denote studies relating biology and political science.[4]

Various definitions of biopolitics[edit]

  1. In Kjellén's organicist view, the state was a quasi-biological organism, a "super-individual creature". Kjellén sought to study "the civil war between social groups" (comprising the state) from a biological perspective and thus named his putative discipline "biopolitics".[5]
  2. 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.[4]
  3. Morley Roberts in his 1938 book Bio-politics used to argue that a correct model for world politics is "a loose association of cell and protozoa colonies".[4]
  4. 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.[6]
  5. In the work of Foucault, the style of government that regulates populations through "biopower" (the application and impact of political power on all aspects of human life).[7][8]
  6. 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.[9]
  7. The political application of bioethics.[10][11]
  8. A political spectrum that reflects positions towards the sociopolitical consequences of the biotech revolution.[10][11]
  9. Political advocacy in support of, or in opposition to, some applications of biotechnology.[10][11]
  10. Public policies regarding some applications of biotechnology.[10][11]
  11. Political advocacy concerned with the welfare of all forms of life and how they are moved by one another.[12]
  12. The politics of bioregionalism
  13. The interplay and interdisciplinary studies relating biology and political science,[13] primarily the study of the relationship between biology and political behavior.[14] 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.[15] (See also sociobiology.)
  14. According to Professor Agni Vlavianos Arvanitis,[16][17][18] 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.[19]

Foucault and biopolitics[edit]

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 1975–1976.[20] 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, his concept of biopolitics has become prominent in social and humanistic sciences.[21]

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."[22] 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."[22] 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."[23] 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 has shifted around the end of the 18th 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."[24]


  1. ^ Roberto Esposito (2008). Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy. U of Minnesota Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-8166-4989-1. 
  2. ^ G.W.Harris The New Age 1911
  3. ^ Marius Turda (2010). Modernism and Eugenics. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-2302-3083-5. 
  4. ^ a b c 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
  5. ^ Thomas Lemke (2011). Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction. NYU Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-0-8147-5241-8. 
  6. ^ John P. Jackson, Jr. (1 August 2005). Science for Segregation: Race, Law, and the Case against Brown v. Board of Education. NYU Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-8147-4382-9. 
  7. ^ Michel Foucault, edited by Jeremy R. Carrette (1999). Religion and culture: Michel Foucault. ISBN 0-415-92362-X. 
  8. ^ Michel Foucault: Security, Territory, Population, p.1 (2007)
  9. ^ Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2005). Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Hamish Hamilton.
  10. ^ a b c d Hughes, James (2004). Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-4198-1. 
  11. ^ a b c d Rifkin, Jeremy (January 31, 2002). "Fusion Biopolitics". The Nation. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  12. ^ Tiqqun, translated by Alexander R. Galloway and Jason E. smith (2010). Introduction to Civil War. ISBN 978-1-58435-086-6. 
  13. ^ Robert Blank (2001). Biology and Political Science. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-20436-1. This book demonstrates the increasing convergence of interest of some social scientists in the theories, research and findings of the life sciences in building a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of politics. It discusses the development of biopolitics as an academic perspective within political science, reviews the growing literature in biopolitics, and presents a coherent view of biopolitics as a framework for structuring inquiry across the current subfields of political science. 
  14. ^ Thomas Lemke (2011). Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction. NYU Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-0-8147-5241-8. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ Global Marshall Plan Foundation "Towards a World in Balance: A Virtual Congress for a Better Balanced World", pg.169. ISBN 3-9809723-7-2
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ John L. Pellam Bibliotheque: Worldwide International Publishers "Encyclopedia Intelligentsia A Compendium of Great Thinkers and Bright Minds of the 21st Century", pg.43. ISBN 978-1-882292-39-4
  19. ^ UNESCO Eolss Publishers Co. Ltd , (2001) OUR FRAGILE WORLD Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development Vol.1, Pg.1027. ISBN 0-9534944-7-0
  20. ^ Michel, Foucault (2003). Society Must Be Defended. Picdor. pp. 242–243. 
  21. ^ Lemke, T., Casper, M. J., & Moore, L. J. (2011). Biopolitics: an advanced introduction. NYU Press.
  22. ^ a b 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. 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ 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. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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)

External links[edit]