Archive for January, 2015

Stephen J. Collier “Topologies of Power”

January 9, 2015 Leave a comment

Collier, Stephen J. 2009. Topologies of Power. Foucault’s Analysis of Political Government beyond ‘Governmentality’. Theory, Culture & Society 26(6): 78-108.

Here, the new case of scarcity and the grain trade proves crucial. Foucault’s analysis revolves around the physiocrat Abeille, who posits that scarcity in grain must be managed not through tight sovereign or disciplinary controls but through modulated interventions into the field of autonomous and mutually corrective decisions by growers, buyers, consumers and traders. In this context, the figure of ‘population’ emerges in a very different light from that found at the end of SMD. It is a field that precisely does not admit to control, that cannot be ‘possessed’ by the state, and that must be left alone to its own mechanisms and processes. In this respect the prior analysis is reversed: population is ‘discovered’ not as a target of state control but as a new ‘principle of limitation’ on state activity. If, in SMD, discipline and regulatory power are isomorphic and functionally interrelated, then in STP they are heterogeneous and in many ways opposed principles. (87)

In sum, if SMD posited a rigid architectonic of biopolitics, in which its elements, though distinct, were bound together as if through a kind of inner logic, then here [STP] we have a kind of analytical decomposition, in which different figurations of the town, of normalization, of criminality, are abstracted, initially, from any specific articulation in broader configurations of power. (87)

In DP Foucault analyzed a shift from sovereignty to discipline; in SMD, from sovereignty to
normalization, where normalization = discipline + regulatory power. Now we have a new series: sovereignty-discipline-security. (87)

In SMD, Foucault saw in the 18th century the emergence of a general logic of biopolitical government that was characterized by the spread of disciplinary and regulatory controls over the entire domain of the bio logical. By contrast, in the 1978 and 1979 lectures, equipped with much suppler analytical tools, Foucault tells a more nuanced story based on a distinction between the technology of power found in physiocracy and the topology of power in which it was articulated. (91)

[…] when Foucault returns to the Physiocrats in The Birth of Biopolitics we find that, in fact, physiocratic thought is not the pre-figuration of liberalism and it does not provide the matrix of a global logic of biopolitics. Rather, it is seen in what Foucault calls its ‘very interesting and very paradoxical’ singularity. The Physiocrats, he argues, presented a ‘strict critique of all the administrative rules and regulations through which the sovereign’s power was exercised on the economy’. Their doctrine of laissez faire proclaimed that the sovereign should be compelled ‘by reason, knowledge, and truth to accept the principle of freedom of economic agents’ (Foucault, 2008: 284–5). But at the same time – and this is crucial – the Physiocrats advanced this principle in the nameof sovereignty, of its aggrandizement and preservation. The ‘interesting and paradoxical’ character of physiocratic programming lies, thus, in the fact that a technology of security, which proposes a new principle of limitationon state intervention, is mobilized in the name of a sovereignty that is more absolute than ever. (92)

In this light, Foucault notes, we can understand how Adam Smith defined his invisible hand againstthe physiocratic laissez-fairedefined by economic freedom in a framework of political totalization. The political logic of physiocracy was critiqued; the technology of power redeployed. (92)

[…] the emerging emphasis on a topological and recombinatorial analysis in the 1978 and 1979 lectures can be linked to what Rabinow (2003: 45) calls a ‘simple but momentous shift’ in Foucault’s approach to thinking, whose beginnings can be traced to the same period. Increasingly Foucault understood thinking not as an ‘anonymous, discursive thing’ but as a ‘dynamic and heterogeneous process’ of critical reflection and intervention. In this view, thinking is not bound by a knowledge-power regime; it should not be analyzed, as Foucault argued in a late interview, as a ‘formal system that has reference only to itself’ (Foucault, 1984: 388). Rather, it is an activity that involves ‘a degree of constraint as well as a degree of freedom’, that makes possible a certain critical distance from existing ways of understanding and acting. In sum, the space of problematization is a topological space, and thinking is a driver of recombinatorial processes. (95-96)

[…] first, the concept of governmentality has itselfprovoked (mis)applications of this work that commit the synechdocal error of confusing the ‘parts’ (techniques and so on) with some mysterious neoliberal ‘whole’; second, the problems of misinterpretation have been multiplied by an overvaluation of the concept of governmentality, which has obscured much of what is novel and important in Foucault’s 1978–9 lectures, specifically his shift to a more dynamic topological analysis of power relations. (98)

The British liberals rejected the physiocratic principle of sovereignty and combined the elements of ‘security’ with a new liberal programming that aimed to reduce the state. Today, by contrast, we find cases in which techniques of advanced liberal government that were invented to reduce an excessive and inefficient governmentality are redeployed either to strengthen the state (as, for example, in post-Soviet Russia, where neoliberal reforms of social welfare have actually intensified during the period of Putin’s rule) or in projects of social welfare that are mobilized, in part, as explicit responses to ‘neoliberalism’ (as, I would argue, is the case with programs like the Bolsa Familiain Lula da Silva’s Brazil). We can trace certain techniques and technical mechanisms from one context to the other. Indeed, such tracing is an essential contribution to rendering these new topologies of power intelligible. But there is no reason to assume that the resulting governmental ensembles can be read as playing out some internal logic of neoliberalism. (99-100)

Since ‘Foucauldian’ work on neoliberalism has been dominated by a concept of governmentality that focuses on ‘conditions of possibility’, thought, per se, appears as a passive thing and thus perhaps not a particularly interesting thing. But in the frame of a topological analysis it is precisely the specific activity of thought that would have to be examined to understand the processes of recombination and reproblematization through which contemporary government – beyond ‘advanced liberalism’ – is being refigured. (100)


Gordon Hull “Biopolitics Is Not (Primarily) About Life”

January 6, 2015 Leave a comment

Hull, Gordon 2013. Biopolitics Is Not (Primarily) About Life: On Biopolitics, Neoliberalism, and Families. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 27(3): 322-335.

In what follows, I argue, first, that modern biopolitics is marked less by the entry of biological life into the polisthan by a new consideration of the form of life proper to humans. This is because Foucault’s interest is less in life itself as an object than it is in the techniques—the dispositives—through which “life” becomes an object of political knowledge/power. These techniques are essentially those of risk management, where contingent, aleatory, and stochastic events are treated in statistical terms. Second, in this regard, economics—and neoliberalism specifically—can be read as an attempt to provide an answer to what form of life is proper to humans. (322-323)

“Security mechanisms have to be installed around the random element inherent in a population of living beings so as to optimize a state of life” (SMD 246); the goal is that these processes are “not disciplined, but regularized” (SMD 247). In a word, the point of biopolitics is the transformation of the aleatory into the stochastic, the statistically and governmentally tractable: “The phenomena addressed by biopolitics are, essentially, aleatory events that occur within a population that exists over a period of time” (SMD 246). (325)

Agamben’s conclusion is backward: zoe is doubly subordinated to bios. On the one hand, the act of living is in the service of strengthening the state and productivity, but the existence of „population” is entirely dependent on the techniques used to visualize it; there is nothing “bare”
about this life. On the other hand, the polis comes to govern the oikos, which is to say that the family becomes an object of political concern. (325)

If biopolitics in the eighteenth century politicized the household, neoliberalism appears to politicize individual bodies by imposing a theory according to which Homo economicus is the bios most appropriate to people. One result is that “biological life” and “health” are increasingly informatic, managed not in terms of disease but as problems of self-entrepreneurship and risk assessment. From this vantage point, the putative separation of biopolitics and economics appears to depend on a dubious assumption that biological processes can be understood independently of their constitution as objects of knowledge. As Judith Butler argued in the case of sex and gender, this sort of separation is highly problematic. In the case of biopolitics, what this means is that we need to focus on biopolitics as a form of knowledge/power, not on its object. As knowledge/power, biopolitics is about the management of uncertainty through statistical risk. (329)

At the same time, the oikos as the supposedly depoliticized site of biology continues its dispersal. Not only has government become economic management, but the statistical techniques of population management are now to be applied to the household. Foucault proposes that emerging discourses about race and sexuality show the emergence of biopower; I would propose here that the possibility of IVF followed by pre-implantation genetic diagnosis for BRCAcarriers shows its mutation under neoliberalism: for those whose existence becomes overdetermined by risk management, even the act of reproduction becomes something inseparable from and unintelligible outside of the biopolitical context in which it finds itself. (329)

Brett Levinson “Biopolitics in Balance: Esposito’s Response to Foucault”

January 5, 2015 Leave a comment

Levinson, Brett 2010. Biopolitics in Balance: Esposito’s Response to Foucault. CR: The New Centennial Review 10(2): 239-261.

[…] if the Other is posited as virus, and the Same as a strictly biological entity, then contamination of any “individual” within the whole (an organ relative to the complete body, an individual relative to a nation, a nation relative to the league of nations, and so on) threatens apocalyptically that whole. The Other is not the menace. The Other is carrier of the menace, of a certain untyped or unidentified body that, because “unmonitorable,” terrorizes absolutely. […] In the present battle, the human subject battles against an is not, a no thing that dwells neither within nor outside the contested field. (240)

[…] for Esposito, “our” biopolitics imperils because it tends to reverse into its opposite, a “thanatopolitics” such as Nazism: “Why does a politics of life always risk being reversed into a work of death?” (8). This reversal, nonetheless, is a contingency. Biopolitics as such, Esposito insists, is not nihilism. “Our” biopolitics, the biopolitics of our period, is. (241)

[…] thanatopolitics that shrinks life to survival, mere zoe. (241)

Biopolitics, Foucault says, is fundamentally a racism (2003, 261–62). It presents all alterity—whether sexual, geographical, economic, linguistic, religious, or ethnic—as “the dirty other,” bearer of a lethal, apocalyptic stain (much like the Jew for the Nazi). Th e purpose of the gesture,
as racism, is not the salvation of the state or the particular group. Th e goal is the rescue of “life as such.” (243)

Biopolitical racism, hatred without reason, hence grants itself a reason. It situates reason on racism’s side. Nazism is the model of modern racism, then, less because it opposes sanitary to unhygienic bodies than because its telos, rather thanan unpolluted German or Germany, rather than an immortal “selfish self,” is the reproduction and preservation of the best—life—for all. Nazism is intrinsically a moral act. (243)

Biopolitics, after all, reacts not to a germ but to its endless duplication: to virus as source of mass annihilation. Immunity sterilizes in order to interrupt not the bug’s production—the vaccine itself produces the disease: it introduces a little bit of the illness to prevent wider spread—but its reproduction. Esposito’s prime example of the process is especially instructive: the Hobbesian state, an artifice installed to immunize rational human beings from a destructive, irrational nature. The installation does not erase barbarism but interrupts its spread, its contamination of all. (244)

Suspension of law, never reasonable, is constitutive of the state’s constitution. Indeed, because no tenet can conceivably ground the difference between an emergency and more or less “regular” situation, any actual declaration of a state of exception—even if, ultimately, for the good—activates and reactivates a dose of illness/unreason, always already installed at the state’s origin. (245)

One might thereby speak (the terms are my own) of a sovereign biopolitics, a disciplinary biopolitics, and a security biopolitics. We have already seen how Esposito effectively reposits Hobbes’s state, or sovereignty, in biopolitical terms. He performs a similar operation upon discipline (27–28). Biopolitical discipline does not punish but “catches” and retrains the delinquent: the delinquent as a product of the immunity devices geared to educate him properly. (245)

Discipline disciplines, in other words, not by repressing but by generating—through training—the subject of delinquency. This same subjectivization, because it posits delinquency as a force, yields new and threatening social ills. Biopolitical security enters here. The regime neither eliminates in the name of law nor disciplines according to an ideal of normalcy. It manages “things” (“manage” and “things” are the two words Foucault stresses) in the interest of keeping track, identifying, and then staving off the worst menaces. Foucault’s analysis of the biopolitical approach to the curbing of drug addiction is thereby most illustrative (2008, 256–59). (246)

Unlike disciplinary society, biopoliticalcontrol does not concern itself with the addict as subject, with the direct censure or rectification of individual conduct. In the first place, it holds that no person is disposed to crime by nature or even by culture. “The criminal is nothing other than absolutely anyone whomsoever” (253). It does no good to “fix” one individual since the number of potential delinquents is infinite. “Absolutely anyone” might commit an unlawful act if he believes that the chance for reward exceeds the risk of loss. Biopolitics or governmentality, therefore, contains crime by attending to the conditions in which crime takes place. It tackles the crime rather than the criminal by making a given unlawful act unprofitable, not worth the risk, for the large majority of the population. (246)

In this fashion, a kind of “norm” is maintained, as with discipline. Yet the biopolitical norm is not a fixed one, like the moral code of discipline. It shifts according to the gradual rise and fall of numbers, calling for the repeated check-ups and recalculations, which maintain the mutable equilibrium. (247)

The overarching model for [Foucault’s] biopolitics or governmentality, in fact, is not the live body. It is the free market. Biopolitics is an economism before it is a biologism. (247)

[…] for Foucault, the fear of terror, spurring biopolitics, actually results from the appearance of a certain truth: the unpredictability of the market. (247)

Th is is why neoliberalism, according to Foucault, cannot adopt a laissez-faire attitude toward the economy. Neoliberal measures do not match laissez-faire ones since these measures must stand ready to intercede should a monopoly by chance materialize—and it always could. And herein lies the second threat to stability: chance itself. (248)

Th e point, for Foucault, is that the subject of biopolitics, the subject of interest, is quite diff erent from the subject of right, the subject of the sovereign. Th e latter sacrifices some of his own interests in exchange for the good of all; for this self-sacrifice, he receives protection offered by the sovereign. Th e good of all is best for me. The subject of the market surrenders no such liberties; he must not. For the ideal, here, is controlled pluralism. The ongoing pursuit and attainment of individual liberties—for example, the freedoms of this or that gender, sexual practice, ethnic minority, political ideal, interest group, school of thought, and so forth—continually “adds” new subjects, new freedoms, into the overall population. The individual exercise of self-determination, the quest in one’s own interest, guarantees multiple selves that determine themselves, hence the pluralism that assures the competition, and the competition that benefits the market as a whole. (248)

The negative that arises within this context, however, is obvious: the loss of protection, hence insecurity. Competition and pluralism may stabilize the market. Yet they do not guarantee the stability. (248)

Insecurity materializes not because the sovereign, who protects, has been forfeited. Rather, the sovereign has been forfeited because he cannot off er this protection. (249)

For the sovereign, Foucault says, governs by wisdom, or trust in his wisdom. He is believed to know the truth, what is good for all, and makes decisions on this basis. Th is is how and why the sovereign can decide on the exception: how and why he can decide, for example, which life threatens apocalyptically the whole, hence can and must be killed off, and which does not. He knows. However, the sovereign does not know about chance happenings to which each entrepreneur and the market itself are exposed. (249)

It is because his nature includes non-nature, communication, that the human being is not solely a biological creature. Biopolitics casts human life as purely biological life by denying the force of contamination to which nonlife exposes the living, indeed, that is nonlife, to wit, finitude. Civil society, because it cannot touch the economy as such, is the site upon which governmentality or biopolitics acts. And to act upon civil society is to act upon the fact of its power, which is its “spontaneous communication.” Biopolitics says No to communication, but the “No” itself is a communication: as delimitation, interdiction on language, it opens to more of it. In other words,
humans cannot limit the power of their own institution for that institution sets their limit. (251)

Biopolitics names an effort to protect the one from its contamination by the one more, by another,
which is an artifi ce; yet the oneness is itself the artifice. Th e biopolitical adds on individual subjects, strives to protect one from the other one, from more one and more than one, in the interest of protecting all from the add-on. Its limit is its possibility and impossibility. (251)

Biopolitical nihilism, stated differently, is defined by a drive to rescue both the human and the category of the human from technology and language, on the one hand, and animals and instinct, on the other. Before it subverts human sovereignty or state sovereignty, biopolitics affirms the sovereignty, the absolute distinction and right of “the human,” of “human life.” (252)

Biopolitics is oversight in the business of the production of more “I’s” since tracking, trackability, identification (a stamp on the body, racialization) is the condition of any such “I.” Sovereignty compels the subject to obey. Discipline demands that he behave. Biopolitics insists that he beware: beware of the source of terror, which is the One or nothing, the One (form) that is nothing, the mark that is unmarked. (253)

And Esposito’s emphasis is on the fact that no two lives emerge in like fashion. Th e difference between the two can manifest itself, we must therefore say, solely as fashion itself: as style. And style, like the grain of the voice or the penmanship of the letter, is not a sign but an insignificant additive to the sign. It is the more of the sign, repeating in every sign, akin to a tic. Communicated in every “live” communicative act, every performative utterance, every real existing communication, style inserts a “meaningless” artifice into meaning—in fact, every meaningful sign (constative utterance) appears in a certain style(the performative)—and is the condition of that meaning. (255)

Human being-alive commences with a sign-making device that, although bodily—the air of the cry from the mouth—and although common (like a boundary between) to all parties, is not a property of anybody, not a human property but the division of the “me proper,” the “me life,” from the other. Th at split, moreover, is the opening of the unconscious, of an artificial intelligence and power.Esposito expresses a certain agreement with such thesis as he situates techne as the betwixt of human life, lodged between biosand zoe, political animal and mere animal, holding them together as it sets them apart: “. . . if a natural life doesn’t exist that isn’t at the same time technological as well; if the relation of biosand zoeneeds by now (or has always needed) to include a third correlated term, techne. . .” (15). Yet, the alternative life Esposito advocates overcomes this third term, which emerges for Esposito as just an “if,” something for human thought to speculate upon. (256)

The human does not appear live. Human beings do not make, much less change history. Making makes history. Humanity is the response and responsibility to its making: its institutions and forms. (257)

Esposito notes of Heidegger that he has “no concept of human nature—[human nature] autonomous from the being to whose custody man seems called” (2008, 156). Th is is true, of course; and it is just as true for Foucault, who holds that man is the body/techne, life/language interface; and thatthe interface itself, the and, the too, is being, the fact of its power. Th e copula beingis the linking and:human being is not an autonomous being because being is and, the one more or extra, the force of repetition, the form or program, that drives the human beings who incorporate or introject it. (257)

Esposito humanizes, cuts finitude and death into human proportions so that they work for the division between thanatopolitics and biopolitics, so that they work for life. If Foucault has failed to espouse a “biopolitics of life” over a “biopolitics over life,” as Esposito charges, it is because he has failed to distinguishthe first from the second, then to weigh or balance their difference. But, we add again: if Foucault has failed in this manner, it is because he presents this very distinction, this cut, as the more of balance: difference is the force of the nonlive in life, of artifice in human nature, death in the organic body. Difference-between, or the border, opens unconditionally, without measure, with too much strength, to the other, hence admits no balance between two, no justice. (259)

Amanda Hodgson “Defining the Species”

January 4, 2015 Leave a comment

Hodgson, Amanda 1999. Defining the Species: apes, savages and humans in scientific and literary writing of the 1860s. Journal of Victorian Culture 4(2): 228-251.

The scientific study of humankind – anthropology – was an emergent discipline in the 1860s. The Anthropological Society of London was founded in 1863 and defined its aims as follows: „to study Man in all his leading aspects, physical, mental, and historical; to investigate the laws of his origin and progress; to ascertain his place in nature and his relations to the inferior forms of life; and to attain these objects by patient investigation, careful induction, and the encouragement of all researches tending to establish a de facto science of man.” (230 – Prospectus of the Anthropological Society of London, 1)

The Athenaeum of 11 May 1861 carried a long review of du Chaillu’s book, in which it singled out for extensive quotation passages where du Chaillu recognised the strong and disturbing resemblance between humans and the gorillas he is hunting: „Suddenly I was startled by a strange, discordant, half human, devilish cry, and beheld four young gorillas running toward the deep forests. . . . I protest I felt almost like a murderer when I saw the gorillas this first time. As they ran – on their hind legs – they looked fearfully like hairy men; their heads down, their bodies inclined forward, their whole appearance like men running for their lives.” (231)

Reason, religion and morality: these are the things which no beast possesses, however similar to ours might be the physical structure of its brain. These are the things which will enable humankind to retain its sense of superiority over the animal kingdom – else we might, as the philologist Friedrich Max Müller put it, ‘not unreasonably feel somewhat uneasy at having the gorilla so close on our heels’. (235)

In the prevailing climate of doubt as to the existence of a dividing line between animals and
humankind, and with the further possibility that humankind itself might be made up of separate species, it is not surprising that there was also some confusion about the precise relationship between man-like apes and the ‘savages’ whose appearance and way of life seemed to Victorians so disturbingly alien from their own culture. Some, like Hunt, came to the conclusion that there were a number of significant analogies between apes and black humans. (238-239)

This blurring of the distinction between black humans and apes was not always, or merely, the result of unthinking racial distaste. It was important for mid-Victorians to define themselves with reference to an ‘other’ that was both bestial and savage, because they had to forge an identity that could cope with the newly historical perspective in which they had to view themselves. It was no longer possible simply to assert the superiority of European civilised humankind as if it were an obvious fact, when notions of creation were being challenged by the idea of a morally neutral evolution. (239)

However, if humans could be seen as coming at the end of a progressive line of development, at the head of the procession as Huxley’s skeletons imply, moral evolution could be linked, as it is in The Water-Babies, with physical evolution. But in order to do this, it was necessary to prove that modern human societies were ‘better’ than ancient ones. Hence the importance of the idea of the savage. (239)

[Edward] Tylor equates contemporary savages with early humankind, persistently describing them as standing to civilised cultures as children do to adults, and he recognises the logical monogenesist corollary: speaking of the apparent universality of gesture-language, he concludes that its prevalence ‘bears against the supposition that specific differences are traceable among the various races of man’. (240)

Tylor stresses his conviction that the different degrees of civilisation visible among different groups of people ‘are rather differences of development than of origin, rather of degree than of kind’.40 Yet it is their evolutionary and monogenesist standpoint which requires these anthropologists to represent savages as bestial. In his seminal work Primitiue Culture (1870) Tylor devotes chapters to language, religion and counting, clearly following the prescribed rules for defining civilised humankind against both savage and beast. (240)

If savages were remnants of prehistoric societies, and if humans were descended from ape-like ancestors, then savages were, logically, intermediaries between these apish ancestors and evolved humankind. To think otherwise would be to question progress. (241)

It is difficult for linear narrative in the past tense not to appear driven towards a goal, a conclusion, an end. The linearity of most Victorian prose fiction engaged (particularly when the narrative was serialised) with the contemporary ideology which identified process as progress, moralising the transformation described by science and thus rendering it palatable. I have tried to show how the anthropologists who saw prehistoric humans as savages were implicated in this procedure, and how The Water-Babies endorsed it. Poetry such as Browning’s, which struggles to evade narrative, may the more readily subvert the prevailing valorisation of change as progress – at least for as long as it takes to read the poem. (247)