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Michael Dillon & Luis Lobo-Guerrero “The Biopolitical Imaginary of Species Being”

April 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Dillon, Michael; Lobo-Guerrero, Luis 2009. The Biopolitical Imaginary of Species Being. Theory, Culture & Society 26(1): 1-23

Here, in the 21st century, under a rapidly evolving bioeconomical regime, we are dealing with a biopolitical imaginary governed by two, albeit intimately related, transformatory processes. The first concerns the transformation of what it is to be a living thing which are taking place under the molecularisation of life, The second is concerned with the transformation of life into value, in the form of commodity and capital, which is taking place under the globalisation of capital.

What these authors nonetheless do share is a discourse of being which is not confined to life, and a discourse of belonging which is not confined to value thinking, the politics of subjectivity and identity politics, or the rigours of economic exchange.

One has to be classifiable to exist in species terms. One now has to be classifiable as informational code to be admitted to the category of contemporary biological species. One has to be in circulation as value to exist as economic species. In contesting these intimately related processes, these authors clarify how the political imaginary of species being demarcates and differentiates itself specifically by excluding from its very imagining, the invaluable, the incalculable, the un-encodable, the irredeemably opaque, the defiant, and the simply non-circulating. Theirs is in many ways a preoccupation with the not knowable that contours every form of knowing.

They go two disturbing steps further. They demonstrate how valuation as such excludes the invaluable. Excluding the invaluable, they also explain, is a profoundly violent process.

And there are life forms that may be fundamentally inimical to life itself. Weighing life is not something that only biopolitics does. It is how biopolitics weighs life as species being which differentiates the biopolitical imaginary.

When life as species being and freedom as technique were first brought into the domain of rule, technologies of freedom were first linked then also to changing understandings of ‘life’ as species being. Governing through freedom thereby became susceptible to changing accounts of species being; because the life of species being and the rule of freedom are so intimately implicated in biopolitical governance and regulation.

Taking our lead from The Order of Things, in which Foucault specified how Life, Labour and Language, comprised the quasi-transcendentals of ‘Man’, we conclude that a new order of the real has emerged represented less by the politics of ‘Man’ and more by what Nikolas Rose describes as the politics of ‘Life Itself’

If the proper study of ‘Man’ was once said to be ‘Man’, ultimately the proper study of the complex adaptive behaviour of species being as emergent whose positivities are now specified in terms of Circulation, Connectivity and Complexity is that of  the ‘Contingency’ universally claimed to pervade the living of living things these days.

However much freedom is an artefact of liberal regimes of power, it has ineluctably also become linked in biopolitics to the prevailing cultural and scientific expression of what it is to be a living thing. Governing through freedom increasingly thereby becomes governing through Contingency. Such governing through Contingency is increasingly also governing through emergency, since the complex adaptive emergence of the contemporary understanding of what it is to be a living thing is the emergency of its continuous emergence.

Governing through Contingency necessarily, therefore, operates through a hypertrophy of in-security in which the powers of freedom are continuously evolved with the powers of surveillance and emergence in the positive development of a permanent state of emergency […]

Liquefaction of information served the commodification of language. Liquefaction and commodification via information also serves to intensify the liquefaction and commodification of life understood informationally. Circulating bodies these days simply are, bodies-in-formation.

Here, then, while economic circulation and exchange, together with commodification, is obviously fundamental, Foucault locates economic circulation within a much broader account of Circulation, such that the economy relies upon other circulatory factors and considerations.

Circulation is also a function of Connectivity; a matter in effect of ‘propinquity’. Circulation helps engender new forms of nearness, proximity and association different from those of cultural specificity or territorial contiguity.

Concerned with collective phenomena, then, whose economic and political effects only become pertinent at the level of the mass, biopolitically relevant phenomena are Foucault notes: ‘phenomena that are aleatory and unpredictable when taken in themselves or individually, but which at the collective level, display constraints that are easy or at least possible to establish’ (2003: 246).

In as much as biopolitics is a security dispositif, he says, ‘[S]ecurity mechanisms have to be installed around the random element inherent in a population of living beings so as to optimise a state of life’ (2003: 246).

It [contingency] is an ontological as well as an epistemic category. In particular it is important to emphasise in addition that contingency’s provenance and prominence these days is founded in its association with the biopolitical imaginary of species being – specifically what it is to be a living thing – and the ethos and structure of the bioeconomy in which the properties of living things are employed to create value.

It is the property of life as emergence, both its ontological condition and its adaptive, epistemic, challenge.  Thus governing biopolitically turns Contingency – the definitive property of life in the biopolitical imaginary of species being – into the definitive epistemic object of rule.

The epistemic challenge that it is said to face in seeking to govern the emergent conditions of its own very own condition of possibility as species existence, species being must know and govern through command of Contingency. The proper study of the politics of life itself thus becomes the scientific study of the contingent.

In short, traditional classifications as well as traditional modes of classifying – the very reliability of taxonomising as such – become radically problematised as what it is to be a living thing becomes equated with information or code. The reason is that this movement is reversible.

Whereas for the governmental Foucault, therefore, freedom was an artefact of liberal regimes of power/knowledge (hence the phrase ruling or governing through freedom), for the biopolitical Foucault, as species replaces subject, another worm is seen to enter into the liberal ordering of things. For when rule takes ‘life’ as its referent object, freedom becomes critically dependent on the specification of species existence. Rule through freedom that takes life as its referent object begins to shift its character accordingly. Above all it becomes grounded in Contingency.

Freedom founded in radical Contingency changes the very nature of the freedom through which biopolitical rule progresses, as well as the techniques that it employs. It is that which accounts for the astonishing expansion and complexification of the domain of risk, the emphasis on resilience and ultimately also the hypertrophy of in-security – the emergency of emergence – that began to characterise liberal societies long before the war on terror precipitated it into a juridical state of emergency. Amongst other things, it is the logic of the care for life that is driving pre-emption globally as much as it is health care prevention locally (BMA, 2005).