Archive for the ‘biopoliitika’ Category

January 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Finlayson, James Gordon 2010. „Bare Life“ and Politics in Agamben’s Reading of Aristotle. The Review of politics 72: 97-126. doi:10.1017/S0034670509990982

[…] Arendt originated the thesis that the economic, biological, and instinctual bases of human association—because they are based in our physical and animal existence—areopposed to and excluded from political life, and the idea that what the Greeks called zoe is opposed to and excluded from bios. Arendt is also the person who first offers Aristotle’s Politics as evidence for this view. Persuaded by her account of ancient politics, Agamben complains that Arendt unfortunately failed to connect it with “the penetrating analysis she had previously devoted to totalitarian power.” By means of his thesis on the destiny of Western politics, Agamben accordingly takes up her ideas, increases their significance, and presses them into the service of a diagnosis of totalitarian power. (103)

Each of these three ingredients is, viewed from a source-critical point of view, controversial and open to objection. First, there is Agamben’s anachronistic and ahistorical reworking of Foucault’s notion of biopolitics mentioned above; second, his application of Arendt’s reading of Aristotle and her critique of the rise of the social to the phenomenon of twentieth-century totalitarianism; and third, his use of the idea of the state of exception to explain the suspension of aspects of international law, as well as the recent erosion of civil and human rights by executive and autocratic governance. That said, I shall leave these lines of objection to be pursued by scholars of Foucault, Arendt, Benjamin, and Schmitt respectively. (104, footnote 32)

Aristotle: „When several villages are united in a single complete community large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the polis comes into existence, originating in life itself [ginomene¯men tou ze¯n heneken] and existing essentially for the sake of the good life [ousa de tou eu ze¯n].“ (106)

First, Agamben reads Aristotle’s contrast in the passage between life (ze¯n) and the good life (eu ze¯n) as the original instance of the opposition between bare life and politics. Second, he claims that the contrast Aristotle makes is captured by the semantic distinction between two different Greek words for “life,” namely, “zo¯e¯” and “bios.” Third, he takes this sentence as evidence that Aristotle conceives these two distinct kinds of life—“bare life” and “political life”—to be exclusive and mutually opposed and, hence, to exemplify the logic of exception. Fourth, Agamben claims that the distinction between zoe¯ and bios was pandemic in the ancient Greek language. Fifth, he claims that actual politics in the ancient world was marked by this same relation. Finally, Agamben claims both that this passage is “canonical for the political tradition of the West” and that the opposition it contains defines the end of the political community. (106)

Although it is true that for Aristotle only human beings (among mortals) are capable of living the life of contemplation and practical virtue, it is not the case that only human beings have “ways of life,” and Aristotle does not reserve the term biosexclusively for humans. Throughout his biological writings (and Aristotle was as much a biologist as a philosopher), he refers to the different “ways of life” (and the different characters or dispositions) of various species of animal. (108)

The noun zoon, by contrast, literally means an ensouled, and in this sense living oranimated, being. It is more an ontological than an ethological noun. Its primary sense in fourth-century Greek is not “animal,” although many people including Heidegger have claimed that it is. Agamben, to give him credit, notes that the term is applied equally to “animals, men or gods.” The closely cognate noun zoe is more abstract and means life, or living, or (just like bios) way of living. For Aristotle, zoe and zoon do not carry the pejorative connotation they came to have when, much later, they came to denote the life of beings with a value below that of humans, that is, beings that lacked a Christian soul or human dignity, “animals.” (108-109)

For Aristotle, zoe and bios are not a conceptual pair like dynamis and energeia, nor are they systematically linked in Greek philosophy and political culture, as, for example, physis and nomos. They are just two ordinary polysemous Greek nouns with a slightly different, partially overlapping range of meanings. (109)

Aristotle’s argument is that, if all the constituent parts of a whole exist by nature, then a fortiori the whole exists by nature; that the polis (the whole) comprises the household and the village (its parts), and that, therefore, the household and the village exist by nature. This is clear enough from the sentence directly following the one on which Agamben bases his interpretation: „And therefore if the earlier forms of association are natural so is the polis, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end.“ (110)

Aristotle only denies that these biological, instinctual, and material bases of association are sufficient conditions of political life. A properly political order has to have, in addition to this material, economic, and instinctual basis, a deeper (and more worthy) basis in citizenship, civic friendship, and justice. The political order proper is something that is inscribed in the constitution, laws, practices, institutions, and the collective life of the polis and instilled in the ethos or character of its individual citizens through education and upbringing. (111)

[…] far from conceiving the relation between mere life and the good life to be one of exclusion or opposition, Aristotle thinks of them as two internally related and continuous, albeit qualitatively distinct, layers of life. (112)

Mere life and the good life, in fact, relate to one another in much the same way that material, moving, formal, and final causes relate to one another in Aristotle’sPhysicsand Metaphysics: they cooperate in directing a being toward its essence and inner perfection. Broadly, Aristotle views i– iv above—”life,” “mere life,” or “life itself”—as the efficient cause of the polis; its citizens, territory, walls, and so forth as its material cause; the constitution, laws, and so on as its formal cause; and eudaimonia or the happiness of its citizens and the polis as a whole as its final cause. (112)

The property of beingpolitikoncannot be the specific difference that determines the genus zoon, for the simple reason that the attributepolitical, as Aristotle understands it, is not specific to human beings. In his biological writings, Aristotle maintains that there are several different kinds of “political animal.” For example in theHistory of Animals, he distinguishes between gregarious animals and solitary animals. Some gregarious animals, he notes (not those that merely herd or flock together or swim together in shoals), are political animals. (113)

„Animals that live politically are those that have any kind of activity in common, which is not true of all gregarious animals. Of this sort are: man, bee, wasp and crane.“ (Aristotle, 114)

The shared collective endeavor that marks human beings as political animals is organized on the basis of practical reason, which is peculiar to humans and makes them the most political among animals. Thus, man’s political nature has a biological, instinctual, and material basis, but also a deeper and more specifically human essence. If there is a definition here, it is that man is an animal with speech and reason, a capacity for ordering his political existence on the rational basis of mutual advantage and justice. (114)

Agamben follows Arendt’s view of the Greek household as a private realm of human labor and reproduction, which is opposed to and excluded from the public realm of speech and action, the bios politikos. However, Agamben’s analysis is vitiated by the insistence that the public/private distinction sits flush with, and indeed stems from, the alleged bios/zoe distinction. (122)


Jeffrey T. Nealon “The Archaeology of Biopower”

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Nealon, Jeffrey T. 2016. The Archaeology of Biopower: From Plant to Animal Life in The Order of Things. – Cisney, Vernon W.; Morar, Nicolae (eds). Biopower: Foucault and Beyond. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 138-155.

If discipline forged an enabling link between subjective aptitude and docility, biopower forges an analogous link between the individual’s life and the life of the socius: the only thing that we as biopolitical subjects have in common, one might say, is that we are all individuals, charged with the task of creating and maintaining our lives. (139)

At the dawn of the nineteenth century […] Foucault traces a mutation of the dominant epistemic procedures – from a representational discourse that maps external similitude and resemblance, to the emergence of a speculative discourse that takes as its object hidden internal processes. In short, we see emerge a discourse that „opposed historical knowledge of the visible to philosophical knowledge of the invisible“ (OT 138): knowledge’s privileged practices abandon the surface of objects to plumb their hidden depths instead. And first and foremost among those transcendental „invisibles“ was a little thing we like to call „life“: „The naturalist is the man concerned with the structure of the visible world and its denomination according to characters. Not with life“ (OT 161), Foucault insists, because life is not representable. Life is in fact a kind of unplumbable depth, animating the organism from a hidden origin somewhere within. This birth of biology – which is to say, the emergence of „life“ itself as a bearing area for discursive power and a depth to be explored – constitutes the first birth of biopower, this one in Foucault’s work of the mid-1960s. (143-144)

In short, Foucault argues that with the emergence of the human sciences at the birth of biopower, the animal is not excluded or forgotten, but quite the opposite: animality comprises the dominant apparatus for investigation both what life is and what life does. The living is no longer primarily vegetable (sessile and awaiting mere categorization), but understood as evolving, appetite-drive, secret, discontinuous, mendacious, inscrutable, always on the prowl, looking for an opening to break free. As Foucault puts it, „Transferring its most secret essence from the vegetable to the animal kingdom, life has left the tabulated spac of order and became wild once more“ (OT 277). (145)

Foucault, of course, parts ethical company from Derrida […] around the binary pathos of „totalization or non-totalization“, which constitutes nearly the whole field of ethics in a deconstructive context: if totalization or the violent desire for completion can be disrupted, if an originary différance of undecidability can be mobilized and demonstrated, then some positive deconstructive work has been accomplished. However, such a supposedly ethical gesture toward the unfathomable or untotalizable other, as Foucault will insist throughout his work, poses no essential question (ethical or otherwise) to the human sciences because those contemporary sciences do not require or even desire totalization. As Foucault demonstrates in his work on the emergence of life in Europe, the Western human sciences need constantly to refashion an unfathomable depth, and inexhaustible other, so they can continue to do their work. The insistence on the primacy of some nontotalizable „other“ does not cripple the human sciences, but rather constitutes an essential component of their work: as Foucault concisely puts it, „an unveiling of the non-conscious is constitutive of all the sciences of man“ (OT 364). (149-150)

(Economics, for example, does not know what value is any more than theology knows what God is or biology knows what life is – that is why you have a robust discourse to study it.) So the trading-places game of ethical alterity – the nonhuman other is best figured as the unconscious, the animal, the plant, the earth, the robot, and so forth – tends primarily to extend and deepen the constitutive work of the human sciences (the production of undecidability, which in turn produces more commentary), rather than to disrupt that work in some essential way. (150)

This, then, is Agamben’s „correction“ of Foucault: Agamben rejects the idea that power has become more subtle and effective, suffused through our everyday lives (even in our sexuality and our everyday consumer existence); he argues instead that power remains sovereign, brutal, literally animalizing its others so they can be eradicated. We in the first-world West live not in a panopticon or in an endless marketplace, but in a concentration camp. (151)

[…] when Foucault insists that there is an „animalization of man“ involved in biopower’s birth and functioning, he mean quite literally: we have incorporated the beast into the contemporary biopolitical definition of „man“ as endless, unthematizable animal desire, with the practices of sexuality and neoliberal capitalism its two most intense markings in the present. […] For Agamben, on the other hand, bestialization constitutes less a contemporary set of practices or a historical phenomenon and remains primarily a transhistorical metaphor or simile for the human condition, as are (despite Agamben’s protests to the contrary) his emphasis on the concentration camp or sovereign power. For Agamben, twenty-first-century Western society is like a concentration camp or like an absolute monarchy; we are treated like animals when we have to surrender our DNA or fingerprints. (152)

[…] sovereign power, while notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to resist, tends to be relatively easy to spot, diagnose, and denounce: in short, someone else is always wielding „sovereign power“. On the other hand, the biopolitics of „making live and letting die“ is a regime in which all of us are implicated: who gets health care and who doesn’t? (153)

Paul Patton “Agamben and Foucault on Biopower and Biopolitics”

Patton, Paul 2007. Agamben and Foucault on Biopower and Biopolitics. – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 203-218.
His “correction” of Foucault consists of the claim that the entry of bare life into the sphere of political calculation and the exercise of sovereign power involved no radical transformation of political-philosophical categories. (205)

His “completion ” of Foucault draws upon his own account of the manner in which bare life was originally included in the political realm, namely in the fo rm of an “inclusive exclusion,” in order to suggest that the decisive feature of modernity is not so much the emergence of biopolitics as the manner in which a phenomenon originally situated at the margins of poli tical order “gradually begins to coincide with the poli tical realm” (HS, 9). (205)

Whereas police government operated on the principle that there could never be too much government regulation, liberalism operated on the converse principle that there is always too much government. Instead or supposing that the population was in need of detailed and constant regulation, liberalism relied upon a conception of society and the economy as naturally self -regulating systems that government should leave alone. (207-208)

In comparison with the techniques of disciplinary power, biopower required the development of new mechanisms and new forms of knowledge to identify its objects and to facilitate its exercise. However, it remained a technology of power exercised by the state over people insof ar as they are living beings and insof ar as they belong to populations. In this sense, it enabled effective government by the sovereign of the biological life of the subjects. In the context of Foucault’s definition of the concept, this is how Agamben’s phrase “the entry of zoe into the sphere of the polis” must be understood. (209)

Homo sacer is not the same as simple natural life, since it is, as Agamben later notes, the natural lif e of an individual caught in a particular relation with the power that has cast him out from both the religious and the political community. (210)

In this sense, homo sacer is not simply pure zoe bur zoe caught up in a particular “status.” This status is defined by “the particular character of the double exclusion into which he is taken” (H S, 82). The double exclusion in terms of which this figure is defined mirrors the exceptional status of rhe sovereign; hence Agamben’s hypothesis that the figure of the sovereign and the figure of homo sacer are inextricably linked. (210)

In eff ect, Agamben’s argument relies on an equivocation with regard to the two senses of the term bare lift. While in the context of his analysis of sovereign ty, “bare life” is identified with the sacred lif e or status of homo sneer, in the context of his critical remarks about modern democratic politics he identifies it with the natural life of zoe. (211)

This right is strange because, ro the extent that the sovereign really does have the right to decide whether subjects live or die, the subject is, as it were, suspended between life and death. Qua subject, he or she has no right to live or die independently of the will of the sovereign: “in terms of his relationship with the sovereign, the subject is, by rights, neither dead nor alive. From the point of view of lif e and death, the subject is neutral, and it is thanks to the sovereign that the subject has the right to be alive or, possibly, the right to be dead.” In this sense, since the lif e of the subject is entirely encompassed within the sp ere of the sovereign’s power, it is biopolitical power in Agamben’s other sense of the term (homo sacer) . (213)

The life of the subject in the terms of the classical theory of sovere ignty , as Foucault defines it, is structurally identical to the bare lif e of the homo sacer : it is biological existence doubled by its exclusive inclusion within the political sphere. In this sense, Foucault’s analysis of classical sovereign right removes the need for any correction on this point. (214)

In the end, the difference between his approach and that of Foucault is not so much a matter of correction and completion as a choice between epochal concepts of biopolitics and bare
life and a more fine-grained, contextual, and historical analysis intended to enable specific and local forms of escape from the past. (218)

William E. Connolly “The Complexities of Sovereignty”

Connolly, William E. 2007. The Complexities of Sovereignty – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 23-42.

Agamben contends that biopolitics has become intensified today. This intensification translates the paradox of sovereignty into a potential disaster. The analysis that he offers at this point seems not so much wrong to me as overly fo rmal. It reflects a classical liberal and Arendtian assumprion that there was a time when politics was restricted to public life and
hiocultural lif e was kept in the private real m. What a joke. Every way of life involves the infusion of norms, judgments, and standards into the affective lif e of participants at both private and public levels. Every way of life is bioculrural and biopolitical. (29)

Biocultural life has been intensified today with the emergence of new technologies of infusion. But the shift is not as radical as Agamben makes it our to be. In !are-modern life, new technologies enable physicians, biologists, geneticists, prison systems, advertisers, media talking heads, and psychiatrists to sink deeply into human biology. They help to shape the
cultural being of biology, although not always as they intend to do. (30)

If I am right, biocultural life displays neither the close coherence that many theorists seek nor the tight paradox that Agamben and others discern. Bioculcural lif e exceeds any textbook logic because of the nonlogical character of its materiality. It is more messy, layered, and complex than any logical analysis can capture. The very illogicalness of its materiality ensures that it corres ponds entirely to no design, no simple causal pattern, no simple set of paradoxes. Agamben displays the hubris of academic intellectualism when he encloses pol itical culture within a tightly defined logic. (31)

Ernesto Laclau “Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?”

Laclau, Ernesto 2007. Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy? – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 11-22.

This is the perspective from which we want to question Agamben’s theoretical approach: his genealogy is not sensitive enough to structural diversity and, in the end, it risks ending in sheer teleology. (12)

[…] the ban holds together bare life and sover eignty. And it is important for Agamben to point our that the ban is not simply a sanctio n-which as such would still be representable within the order of the city-but that it involves abandonment: the homo sacer and the other figures that Agamben associates w him are simply left outside any communitarian order. That is why he can be killed bm nor sacrificed. In that sense the ban is non-relational: their victims are lef t to their own separatedness. This is for Agamben the originary political relation, linked to sovereignty. It is a more originary extraneousness than that of the foreigner, who still has an assigned place within the legal order. (13)

[…] has not Agamben chosen just one of those possibilities and hypostatized it so rhar it assumes a unique character? (14)

What remains as valid from the notion of ban as defined by Agamben is the idea of an uninscribable exteriority, bur the range of situations to which it applies is much wider than those subsumable under the category of homo sacer. I think that Agamben has not seen the problem of the inscribable/uninscribable, of inside/outside, in its true universality. In actual fact, what the mutual ban between opposed laws describes is the constitutive nature of any radical antagonism – radical in the sense that its two poles cannot be reduced to any super-game which would be recognised by them as an objective meaning to which both would be submitted. (15)

[…] it is enough that we introduce some souplesse within the Hobbesian scheme, that we accept that society is capable of some partial self -reg ulation, to im mediately sec that its demands are going to be more than those deriving from bare lif e, that they are going to have a variety and specificity that no “sovereign” power can simply ignore. When we arrive at that point, however, the notion of “sovereignty” starts shading into that of “hegemo ny.” This means that, in my view, Agamben has clouded the issue, fo r he has presented as a political moment what actually amounts to a radical elimination of the poli tical: a sovereign power which reduces the social bond to bare life. (16)

What is, anyway, wrong in the argument about a rigid opposition between political sovereignty and bare lif e is the assumption that it necessarily involv es an increasing control by an over-powerful state. All that is involved in the notion of a politicization of “natural” lif e is that in creasing areas of social lif e are submitted to processes of human control and regulation, but it is a non sequitur to assume that such a control has to crystallize around a tendentially totalitarian instance. (18)

This teleologism is, as a matter of fact, the symmetrical pendant of the “ethymologism” we have ref erred to at the beginning of this essay. Their combined effect is to divert Agamben’s attention from the really relevant question, which is the system of’ s truc tural possibilities that each new situation opens. The most summary exam ination of that system would have revealed that: (1) the crisis of the “automatic rules fo r the inscription of lif e” has freed many more entities than “bare lif e,” and that the reduction of the latter to the former takes place only in some extreme circumstances that cannot in the least be considered as a hidden pattern of modernity; (2) that the process of social regulation to which the dissolution of the “automatic rules of inscription” opens the way involved a plurality of instances that were far from unified in a single unity called “the State”; (3) that the process of State building in modernity has involved a far more complex dialectic between homogeneity and heterogeneity than the one that Agamben’s “camp-based” paradigm reflects. (21-22)

By unifying the whole process of modern political construction around the extreme and absurd paradigm of the concentration camp, Agamben does more than present a distorted history: he blocks any possible exploration of the emancipatory possibilities opened by our modern heritage. (22)

To be beyond any ban and any sovereignty means, simply, to be beyond politics. The myth of a fu lly reconciled society is what governs the (non-)political discourse of Agamben. And it is also what allows him to dismiss all political options in our societies and to unify them in the concentration camp as their secret destiny . Instead of deconstructing the logic of political institutions, showing areas in which fo rms of struggle and resistance are possible, he closes them beforehand through an essentialist unification. Political nihilism is his ultimate message. (22)

Julian Vigo “Biopower and Security”

Vigo, Julian 2015. Biopower and Security. CounterPunch, May 5. online:

No longer is it the institution seeking out individuals to normalize, for there is neoliberal social nexus where individuals voluntarily seek out their legitimacy within the structures of various institutions. The body, part of this panorama of securitization, is now procured by the subject who seeks to consolidate her identity through institutional narratives of legitimation.

Biopower is the bastard child of neoliberal societies which have created elaborate systems of surveillance to control the body in pursuit of securitizing culture.

It is axiomatic that this War on Terror, almost in its fifteenth year, has nothing to do with investigating or stopping “terror.” Instead the Global War on Terror thrives upon constructing and disseminating innumerable fictions of perceived terrorist acts and terrorist bodies whilst abstracting a panorama of violence that will unceasingly be impossible to defeat both domestically and abroad. Ultimately, the War on Terror can never end. The nature of biopower in the context of state security today is two-fold: first, to de-personify the object of western violence while humanizing the western pathos of the Global War on Terror; second, to re-create the enemy, re-embodied and pre-packaged as the Muslim “terrorist.” In this way, biopower functions to place focus on the body of the individual over the act, such as Foucault’s discussion of capital punishment which invokes less “the enormity of the crime itself than the monstrosity of the criminal…One had the right to kill those who represented a kind of biological danger to others” (1976, 138).

Colin Koopman “Two Uses of Michel Foucault in Political Theory”

Koopman, Colin 2015. Two Uses of Michel Foucault in Political Theory: Concepts and Methods in Giorgio Agamben and Ian Hacking. Constellations. doi: 10.1111/1467-8675.12153.

In sum, I shall be arguing that Agamben’s use of Foucault’s concepts, as detached from the methodological constraints of historicist genealogy, evince a project of transcendental philosophy in which it is difficult to recognize Foucault, but that Hacking’s use of Foucauldian genealogy and archaeology evince a methodological use of Foucault that helps us to recognize a critical empiricism at the heart of Foucault’s work. (1)

Methods (or, to use an approximate term for the same, analytics) refer to strictures, constraints,
designs, and strategies for inquiry: the way in which inquiry is conducted. Concepts refer to the ideational material that is developed in the course of conducting an inquiry: that which inquiry produces in doing its work.nThus, methods function as grids or lenses that make possible a coherent practice of inquiry, while concepts function as the materials with which inquiry works, in drawing objects of inquiry through the grid. (2)

Reading Agamben through the lens of his longest standing philosophical commitments helps us recognize that, and also understand why, the biopolitical index through which Foucault reads much (but not all) of modern political practice is for Agamben the transcendental condition of politics as such. (4)

When it comes to biopower, Agamben looks for it, in the form of the state of exception and bare life, everywhere. But in looking for his assumed concepts everywhere, Agamben is forced to see them everywhere — in the camps and at the supermarket, in the gas chamber and on the television. If we had to give a name to the apparent methodological procedure guiding Agamben’s argument, then I would suggest that we call it ‘biopower-hunting.’ (6)

But whereas for Foucault concepts are meant to describe a fairly circumscribed field, Agamben universalizes the concept by making it a paradigm that stands for something as broad as modern
politics itself, or even politics as such. (8)

In Foucault the concept of biopower often seems to have much to do with biology, medicine, and psychiatry. His concern is with the ways in which these sciences gain a tight hold on sex, in part because they manage to constitute sexuality itself. In Hacking the discussion of biopower is tightly focused on questions of the sciences, especially statistics and their impact on human sciences, perhaps most notably the many and sprawling branches of demography. There are two interwoven kinds of processes in Hacking’s histories of biopolitics. The one he calls “the avalanche of numbers” and the other he places under the banner of what he calls “making up people.” Hacking’s avalanche of numbers refers to the solidification and explosion in the nineteenth century of “statistical information developed for purposes of social control.” This period, roughed out at the edges, was witness to the emergence of all manner of demographic data in public health (e.g. numbers about the 1832 cholera epidemic), the rise of census bureaux, education statistics, crime statistics, and all manner of other numbers for very large sets of things. Though these social measures largely began in Britain and France, they quickly spread elsewhere, and soon spread over the entire planet. The result was what Mary Beth Mader calls, closely following Foucault, “statistical panopticism.” (9)

Biopower, which in Foucault had to do with the regulation of life by its apprehension as objects
of population, now in Hacking has to do with the inevitable and none-too-innocent consequence of that statistical avalanche that continues to pile higher and higher every year. (9)

The empiricism of epistemology involves the thesis that experience is the sole or primary source
of knowledge. The empiricism of method involves no thesis; it is a stance. It is achieved by taking up an empirical orientation whereby we might gain a certain kind of grip, however evanescent, on the objects of our inquiries, for instance, ourselves and our present. (10)