Biopower - Foucault and The Concept of Biopower

Foucault and The Concept of Biopower

For Foucault, biopower is a technology of power, which is a way of managing people as a group. The distinctive quality of this political technology is that it allows for the control of entire populations. It is thus an integral feature and essential to the workings of—and makes possible—the emergence of the modern nation state and capitalism, etc. Biopower is literally having power over bodies; "an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations". Foucault elaborates further in his lecture courses on Biopower entitled Security, Territory, Population delivered at the Collège de France between January and April 1978

..."By this I mean a number of phenomena that seem to me to be quite significant, namely, the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power, or, in other words, how, starting from the 18th century, modern Western societies took on board the fundamental biological fact that human beings are a species. This is what I have called biopower"....

It relates to the government's concern with fostering the life of the population, and centers on the poles of Disciplinary institutions "an anatomo-politics of the human body a global mass that is affected by overall characteristics specific to life, like birth, death, production, illness, and so on. A production of generalized disciplinary society and regulatory controls a biopolitics of the population". In his lecture course Society Must Be Defended,Foucault's tentative sojourner into biopolitical state racism,and its 'brilliant' accomplished rationale of myth-making and narrative in which Foucault states the fundamental difference between biopolitics and discipline is:"Where discipline is the technology deployed to make individuals behave, to be efficient and productive workers, biopolitics is deployed to manage population; for example, to ensure a healthy workforce". Foucault then goes on further to investigate what was the reasoning behind this modern biopolitical state racism. Foucault claims that the previous Greco-Roman, Medieval rule of the emperors, Divine right of kings and Absolute monarchy model of power and social control over the body was an individualizing mode. However, all this was drastically and dramatically altered with the advent of Political power in 18th century Europe,the voting franchise and Political parties,(universal adult suffrage exclusively male,eventually extended to women in 1929 in Europe and people of African heritage in America in 1964 (African American descent) the discovery of the human sciences and its subsequent direction primarily aimed at modern western man and the society he inhabits, together with the invention of Disciplinary institutions, the transfer through forcible removal of various European monarchs into a 'scientific' state apparatus and the radical overhaul of judiciary practices coupled with the reinvention and division of those who were to be punished and those who worked (from the working population and its source labour power) and the advent of anatomo-politics of the human body which took place between the 16th and 18th centuries. A second mode for seizure of power was invented and discovered;while this type of power was Stochastic,this brand new version of power mutated from previous versions in the past which transformed into "massifying", not individualizing as in previous cases. This type of power,which Foucault calls Biopower contrasts differently with past traditional modes of power based on the threat of death from a sovereign. This power is no longer "directed at man-as-body, but at man-as-species". In an era where power must be justified both rationally and politically, biopower is utilized by an emphasis on the protection of life rather than the threat of death, on the regulation of the body, and the production of other technologies of power, such as the notion of sexuality. Regulation of customs, habits, health, reproductive practices, family, "blood", and "well-being" would be straightforward examples of biopower, as would any conception of the state as a "body" and the use of state power as essential to its "life". Hence the conceived relationship between biopower, eugenics and state racism.

With the concept of "biopower", which first appears in courses concerning the discourse of "race struggle"( Society Must Be Defended 1975-1976 courses), Foucault uses terms such as mechanism, dispositif, apparatus, Discourse, Genealogy in order to get us to think (and write about) of this version of power as continuous, penetrable, observable as opposed to the classical argument seeing man as:"inherent primate disposition for hierarchical social and authoritarian political systems.With a predisposition for social and political hierarchical structures. This is the classic viewpoint on man and power,other studies show this as too overly simplistic or over hasty and there is no universal agreement or consensus on what 'human nature' is or what it is supposed to be contrary to the classical view which views human nature as a continuum through time.Other research methods show Foucault's evidence as having sound basis towards Foucault's alleged minority or 'Utopian' 'unconventional' view

..."So the other half of Somit and Peterson's half-truth amounts to this: Although we may have a deep evolutionary legacy of behavioral proclivities and biases, these are complex in nature and are ultimately of less importance in understanding the interplay of authoritarianism and democracy in today's world than are the many cultural influences -- from child-rearing practices to "socialization", peer pressures, social customs, the political culture, the mass media, economic conditions, institutional protections, and, not least, the "power" resources and decision "calculus" of both the rulers and the ruled.So what's wrong with Somit and Peterson's argument? If their thesis about human nature and hierarchies may have some merit, then what's missing from this picture?

In a nutshell, what is missing are (1) some other, countervailing elements of human nature, and (2) a more adequate conception of the role of "nurture" in political life. Somit and Peterson acknowledge the importance of an "interaction" between nature and nurture; it's the party-line among sociobiologists these days. But they reduce nurture to the truncated concept of "indoctrinability" -- which implies, perhaps unwittingly, a biological susceptibility to external manipulation by political operatives (or perhaps political science professors). In reality, "nurture" is a large and complicated domain that has many dimensions and plays a far more potent role in shaping human societies than Somit and Peterson suggest. Moreover, nurture is also a part of human nature -- a part of our evolved biological heritage -- although its precise content is obviously highly variable.

To begin at the beginning, our hominid ancestors diverged from the rest of the primate line more than five million years ago, and we have undergone a radical psychological make-over since then. Our primate instincts are overlain with a large, calculating ("Machiavellian") neo-cortex, as well as a greatly intensified degree of sociality -- propensities for social cooperation, sensitivity to social "approbation" (in Darwin's term) and even ethical sensibilities -- that are also biologically-grounded. As a rule, humans are neither exclusively competitive and hierarchical nor egalitarian and cooperative but an inextricable admixture of both. Moreover, the precise mix depends upon the context, including the influence of biologically-based personality differences -- which makes any gross generalizations about human nature extremely slippery"....

Here at least explains, from the Classical viewpoint,its approximate method with a large amount of traditional rationality for its oeuvre heavily reliant on tradition to make conclusions 'as final decisions' towards conclusions.Foucault uses a rather unusual method involving oeuvre de la obscure meaning the 'obscure' is seen as the building block for human rationality functioning as norms which become familiar to people,giving the uninformed their 'view' and 'truth' of the world.The uninformed means the uninformed who have no direct access to policy decision making therefore condemning those who work into a continuous comatose ignorance producing this network of power systems creating what Marx called 'labour power' which recreate and recycle a functioning society (comparable to a living breathing organism) and the population of producers who have no monetary resources and ownership of capital wealth; ownership of mines, banks, transportation equipment and machinery, such as aeroplanes car manufacturers and industry and therefore are confined to the bottom of the hiercharchical pyramid,producing the problematization of a society comparable to Ants or Bees which inform evolutionary biology,for example of human nature.While inaccurate and now known to be scientifically flawed, nevertheless it remains 'true' from the classical perspective as opposed to the working population who are not uneducated or illiterate a wall which can be pieced. Foucault investigates the functioning of the 'obscure' in history and human society which informs human thought and becomes familiar to humans(populations) who have no direct access to say,policy making and policy decisions(they are excluded) of government and states which operate as Raison d'état in 'their' name and therefore functions as governmental reasoning and society's institutions leaving a functioning civil society as the populations 'truth' and their 'norm'. This is the direct exact opposite to the classical method which however,sees human nature through a series of different mirrors and knowledge of man as being interpreted as having biological phenomena rather than historical phenomena, with sociological and sociocultural characteristics viewed through the process of human rationalization as opposed to complex interplay, spontaneous dialectic, interactions, mechanisms and networks. This is obviously inconsistent with its view on 'biological' human nature. This 'human nature',by no means universally agreed upon incidentally,thus,leaving social patterns and practices along with their preceding and 'essential' hierarchical structures as impenetrable to any 'rational' gaze. Unfortunately, from the classical standpoint investigative work is viewed upon as having difficulty to interpret; data with no end product isolating power and then man,as either in a position of interpretation by the classical theorists as the final conclusion or man having anthropological characteristics with ancient relic features borrowed from the Pleistocene era which have never altered with additional evolutionary, cultural and biological salient features rather than having a real historical and social character involved.Or to investigate critically this power, with man and his involvement with his interactions with the environment making it impossible to have any rigorous explanation or conclusions.Political systems,or knowledge systems in general,from the classical perspective, become too large to be comprehended interpreting the environment of man as an anachronism;information and data produced surrounding man as poorly understood viewing historical information as having no,or absence of history.Obviously from the classical point of view, modern research methods (all from "Social sciences,Sociology,Humanities")cannot be used to penetrate observation leaving gaps in our knowledge and an accepted taken for granted approach to any analysis.Foucault views this as the exact opposite of rational analysis, with its operations (power) as nothing more than a series of contingencies and networks. Foucault then develops a holistic account of power and uses methods not too dissimilar to the astonishing and outstanding Medieval Islamic polymaths scholars Alhazen, Ibn Sīnā,and Ibn Khaldūn and to a lesser extant prominent science figures from 20th century science such as;Gregory Bateson, James Lovelock(the founder of Gaia hypothesis) and Robert N. Proctor(Proctor who coined the term Agnotology) and urges us to think outside the box of this new kind of power, therefore, opening up the possibilities of further investigations into this new perceived, impenetrable nature of biopower and according to Foucault he asks us to remember,this type of power is never neutral nor is it independent from the rest of society but are embedded within society functioning as embellished 'control technology' specifics.Foucault argues; nation states, police, government, legal practices, human sciences and medical institutions have their own rationale, cause and effects, strategies, technologies,mechanisms and codes and have managed successfully in the past to obscure there workings by hiding behind observation and scrutiny. Foucault insists social institutions such as governments, laws, religion, politics, social administration, monetary institutions, military institutions cannot have the same rigorous practices and procedure with claims to independent knowledge like those of the human sciences;such as mathematics,chemistry, astronomy, physics,genetics and the biological sciences for example so its workings (and therefore,its rationale and acceptance) consent to making it imperative that its 'substance' has too function as axiomatic strategic logic to be accomplished by other methods obscurity, invisibility, sanctions and if necessary by 'cohesion' (by those caught within the networks) or, failing that, coercion not coercion through threat but by your own rationality as "what is the alternative"? This explains why their history,networks, mechanism and organization is still to be written and is still relatively unknown, Foucault saw these differences in techniques as nothing more than 'behaviour control technologies', and modern biopower as nothing more than a series of webs and networks working its way around the societal body. This is in direct opposition to the classicaland Marxist understanding of power who saw power being weaved or wielded through either a sovereign ruler or an executive committee controlled by a ruling elite deliberately producing brutal oppression suppressing a docile working class who refuse to fight back or alternatively basically bland, non-intrusive, neutral, unknown or class-based relationships with basically negative associations, or related to censorship. Sexuality for example, Foucault argues, far from having been reduced to silence during the Victorian Era, was in fact subjected to a "sexuality Dispositif" (or "mechanism"), which incites and even forced the subject to speak about their sex. Thus, "sexuality does not exist", it is a discursive creation, which makes us believe that sexuality contains our personal truth (in the same way that the discourse of "race struggle" sees the truth of politics and history in the everlasting subterranean war which takes place beneath the so-called peace).

Furthermore, the exercise of power in the service of maximizing life carries a dark underside. When the state is invested in protecting the life of the population, when the stakes are life itself, anything can be justified. Groups identified as the threat to the existence of the life of the nation or of humanity can be eradicated with impunity. "If genocide is indeed the dream of modern power, this is not because of the recent return to the ancient right to kill; it is because power is situated and exercised at the level of life, the species, the race, and the large-scale phenomena of the population."

Read more about this topic:  Biopower

Famous quotes containing the words foucault and/or concept:

    The strategic adversary is fascism ... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.
    —Michel Foucault (1926–1984)

    the full analysis of the notions of saying something and understanding what one said inevitably involves a concept which, as I will show in detail, essentially corresponds to the Cartesian idea of thought.
    Zeno Vendler (b. 1921)