Home > Uncategorized > Bruce Braun “Biopolitics and the Molecularization of Life”

Bruce Braun “Biopolitics and the Molecularization of Life”

Braun, Bruce 2007. Biopolitics and the Molecularization of Life. Cultural Geographies 14(1): 6–28.


On the one hand, I will argue that Rose relies on a singular and somewhat simplistic account of what has transpired with the rise of molecular biology and genetics; namely, that the body has come to be figured in terms of a genetic cod that belongs to the individual alone – its own ‘proper’, so to speak, which is both its own property, and that which forms the basis for its life. For Rose, the individual self and the genetic body coincide; the body is conceived as a bounded entity whose molecular existence is internal to it […] (7)


It is here, at the intersection of the molecularization of life with the individualization of risk, that Rose locates ethopolitics as the dominant biopolitical regime of the present. […] Risk becomes ‘individualized’; the individual becomes ‘intrinsically somatic’; and ethical practices ‘increasingly take the body as a key site for work on the self’. (11)


Is the body really the bounded and autonomous entity that Rose makes it out to be, constituted only in terms of an internal genetic essence that is its own ‘proper’, and that contains its future within it? […] at the same time that molecular biology and genetics have given us a body known at the molecular scale, and thus made the physical mechanisms of ‘life’ available to political and economic calculation in new ways, they have also, in conjunction with the science of immunology and virology, given us another way to conceive of our biological existence, no longer in terms of a self-contained body whose genetic inheritance is to be managed and improved, but in terms of a body embedded in a chaotic and unpredictable molecular world, a body understood in terms of a general economy of exchange and circulation, haunted by the spectre of newly emerging or still unspecifiable risks. […] This conjunction of biopolitics and geopolitics, of the molecularized body and the question of biosecurity, finds no place in Rose’s ethopolitics […] (14)


For Massumi the ‘virtual’ has a precise meaning, taken from Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze. It refers not to a nonexistent or immaterial entity, as in popular usage, but to a potentiality that is immanent in every object and in every situation. Unlike the ‘possible’, which is opposed to the real, the virtual is real, which is to say that it exists as concretely in the present. It is immaterial yet real, abstract yet concrete, a ‘future to come’ that is already with us, but which remains ungraspable. (17)


[biosecurity]: a set of political technologies that seek to govern biological disorder in the name of a particular community, through acts that are extraterritorial. Or, to say this differently, biosecurity under the auspices of the CDC and HHS retains the ideal of territoriality while simultaneously seizing on deterritorialization as the solution. (22)

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