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Block Four

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ANTH 227
Tobias Rees

Block Four: WHAT WAS BIOPOWER AND WHAT (IF ANY) FORM DOES IT ASSUME TODAY? 12/5/12 12:48 AM What does Foucault mean by bio power? Block Four: less focused on culture and nature – than on the social and the vital. On the one hand society on the other hand life itself/biology. The Challenge: Conceptual Thinking Do not take society as a given Do not take life as a given Think of Strathern and what she said about culture or nature Don’t begin with anthropological certainty but rather with anthropological curiosity à instead of presupposing that humans are social beings one could also ask: When did the concept of society emerge? Since When are humans seen as social beings à as beings that cannot exist but in societies? At what point did the assumption emerge that a major key for understanding how people think, live, get sick is to be found in the way a society is organized? When was it first articulated, that a political intervention in societies would be a major remedy to diseases? Since when is medicine and medically relevant biology integrated into social politics? Politics is a time specific idea, what was politics before, what did they exist of Human Rights: only have human rights as a citizen of a country The exact same question on could ask for life itself/biology: since when are humans biological beings? Michel Foucault (1926-1984) “What difference does today make with respect to yesterday?” This is conceptual question Are new things happening today? New in the sense that we cannot understand them with established concepts? Precisely because they upset the logic, the logical coherence, that organizes our existing concepts? Ex. IVF Logical breakdowns Are there openings, movements, changes? What are the consequences for how we can think and know about humans? Think of ‘society’ or ‘life itself’/ Foucault’s chair at the College de France was called – chair of the history of systems of thought. You will note, no doubt, that the business of such a chair is to – thinking about thinking. We focus here on just one very small aspect of Foucault’s work – bio power. Biopower is a marginal concept in Foucault’s published (23) It was not taken up by others before the mid 1990s – but ever since then it has been a major concept in anthropological studies of medicine and life sciences. Biopower is in most of these studies taken literally – life itself has entered politics. This is, at best, a purely associative use of Foucault, and, often times, it gets Foucault profoundly wrong. Take for example – life itself. Life Biopower is a form of power Biological concept of life did not exist before 1800 A focus on ruptures – on the breaking open of a new conceptual space Only once biology – understood as an epistemic space -- emerged could humans come into view as biological beings A focus on Knowledge It is not that life itself – after thousands of years – got politicized. According to Foucault, biology is a new form of knowledge Allows to know humans in new ways, think humans in new ways, to govern them in new ways Life entered politics? The politicization of the fact of living? NOPE. Not accord to Foucault. Instead, life is a new concept. The analysis takes a place at a purely conceptual level. On that level, life is not a universal, but a historical category. What difference does today make with respect to yesterday – conceptually speaking. What was biopower, for Foucault? It is a new form of power. It is a form of power that is beyond the sword, beyond the sovereign, beyond the law, in short – it is beyond classical politics. The sovereign: the king à negative form of power, exercised his right to life only by his right to kill (before biopower) French Revolution: a new form of power emerges “Power” was now “no longer dealing with legal subjects over whom the ultimate dominion was death, but with living beings, and the mastery it would be able to exercise over them would have to be applied at the level of life itself; it was the taking charge of life, more than the threat of death, that gave power its access even to the body” “A power that exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavors to administer, optimize, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise control and comprehensive regulations.” Emergence of population statistics, public clinic, health, This is not a politicization of life. Instead it is the emergence of a new form of knowledge, of a new way of thinking –which produced humans in new ways (anthropology = anthropos + logos). This is what Foucault calls – power. Beyond the sovereign/king/sword: population (society) Society is a new actor in history. From legal realism, to social/vital/realism – a realism that grounds in the bloody wars between races/societies (populations). Do you see any parallels with biopower? th In the late 18 century it is assumed that history is produced by a power struggle that comes in the form of a war of races. à The French Revolution Biological existence and political existence coincide à biopower Society emerges as a vital object – which requires bio-political attention Eugenics à degeneration à concentration camps DAY 2 Final: 2 pages max, double spaced 1) Explain what thinking about thinking is. Use a concrete example and author discussed in class 2) Explain why thinking about thinking is important for anthropology. Foucault talks about the emerge of society, before everything was focused on the king. Society emerged when people banned together to fight the power of the king. Society was understood as a biological entity. Society was made up of one blood, so therefore society is a biological reality. You are defined as a part of society, by your blood. Unity, society, and nation did not exist before the biological human being. The emergence of biology as a discipline can not be reduced to this, but when it did emerge it immediately had political consequences. Politics of the king was negative, the politics of society wanted to foster the human, wanted them to grow. The Breaking open of a new space: a new way of thinking emerged à society This concept – this way of thinking about humanity (as divided into societies) or about humans (as belonging to societies) did not exist before. Likewise, very important, the emergence of this concept of society radically transformed what politics is all about Before, politics was all about kings. We wage war because the king was in danger. Once societies came about, war was raged when a whole society is in danger. French Revolution: the emergence of the nation state Modernity begins after the French Revolution: biopower. Example: French Revolution Observation 1: Before the late 18 thcentury, the term society, as we use it today, did not exist. Societies were not known to exist, humans were not thought of as societal (or social) beings. However, in the late 18 thcentury people suddenly start thinking about things human – this includes politics – th in terms of society. The example Foucault gave was the way, in the late 18 century, history was though about and understood. A shift from a concern with the King towards a concern with Society. Observation 2: In the late 18 thcentury, and throughout must fo the 19 th century, terms that were used as synonyms for society were race, nation, people. When taking a closer look, Foucault notes that a key moment in the consolidation of the society concept – as a new way of thinking – was the th French Revolution. To be more precise, the race-war as which, in the 18 century, people appear to have understood it. As two different races fought each other to form the nation state. One society/race kills two other societies/races and says we, we alone, we the Gaul are the people of France. We are constitutive of the French nation. The state – the government – has henceforth only one reason to exist: to make the Gaul flourish. Now, given that the Gaul are a society/race, on way of making the Gaul flourish is their health. Observation 3: 1800 is the year in which biology comes into existence. What is more, he notes that the idea of medicine as a political technology – as a tool for making the Gaul flourish – is emerging around 1800 as well. Observation 4: People now start thinking of themselves, very slowly, as biological organisms at home in a living environment, in need of hygiene. Humans become subjects of society and biology. A new form of power has come into existence: biopower. From the King and the Sword to Society and Medicine/Biology. Why Biopower is provocative? Method: A history of the present à writing the history of the present Writing the history of the concepts that we, today, take for granted Foucault documents that society emerged as a concept – as a new king of reality principle. To care for society, which became the raison d’etre of modern politics, was a bio political concern and Foucault problematized that. How? The concern with the social has had a racial quality. Even when the racial or biological focus was not stressed, when everything was focused on things social – the racial was still the unarticulated grounds of any concern with society. What does that do to social activism? Foucault was introducing motion – motion into a conceptual field. How to liberate thinking from the social? The need to defend thinking against society. Thinking about thinking is political and social. Instead of undermining our concepts, he looks into the past. How to be a social scientist without being a racist? Does one want to really hold on to the concept of society? Does one want to use it as a category of thought, as a methodological tool, as an analytical term? à Global humanity? Society splits people up. Paul Rabinow Anthropology of Modernity à anthropology of reason à anthropology of the contemporary Free of any philosophy of history à linear time line History of the present à anthropology of the contemporary Writing the history of the contemporary, is Foucault’s history breaking open? Are new things happening today? Is something mutating or exploding our past concepts? Focused on the here and now. Foucault was focused on the history of now, based on the past. Artificiality and Enlightenment: This text introduced the concept of bio power
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