Archive for the ‘Nikolas Rose’ Category

Nikolas Rose “The Human Sciences in a Biological Age”

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Rose, Nikolas 2013. The Human Sciences in a Biological Age. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(1): 3-34.

First, the contemporary life sciences – in genomics, in the understanding of the cell and the processes of development and differentiation, in molecular neuroscience – reveal multiple affinities between humans and other creatures, and throw new light on their differences. (5)

Yet alongside this reduction of life to the interaction of its smallest components, another style of thought has taken shape. This way of thinking construes vital properties as emergent, and living organisms as dynamic and complex systems, located in a dimension of temporality and

development, and constitutively open to their milieu – a milieu that ranges in scale from the intracellular to psychological, biographical, social and cultural. One of the key conceptual struggles in the sciences of the living – which one can find in almost every area – concerns the relations between these two visions. (5)

Hence, second, we have seen the ‘technologization’ of vitality in the life sciences. It is not only that to know is to intervene, although that is crucial: one knows life today only by intervening in it. (5-6)

Intervention is not just to know, but also to do: knowing life at the molecular level has been intrinsically related to an enhanced capacity to act upon it at that level. Life itself – that is to say, the living of the living organism – seems to have become amenable to intervention and open to projects of control. (6)

Paths to the creation of biological truths have been shaped by promises and predictions of the

biovalue to be harvested – enhanced crop yields, bioenergy, bioremediation, and, of course, advanced medical and health technologies based on biology. (6)

[…] a third feature of contemporary biology that calls for attention by the social and human sciences: the salience that the biological and the biomedical has achieved in practices of self-management and self-governance. (6)

To live well today is to live in the light of biomedicine. (7)

This is asserted via a mind-bending amalgam of the usual suspects from philosophy – Agamben, Bergson, Deleuze and Guattari, William James, Spinoza and Whitehead – together with references to Simondon and von Uexku¨ll and a few biologists or neuroscientists: LeDoux, Damasio, Ekman, the famous autist Temple Grandin, Libet, and of course the Buddhist neuroscientist Francisco Varela. These figures are called upon to support the argument that it is only by recognizing the true nature of human corporeality and the power of the affective that we will be able to free ourselves from an overly intellectualist and rationalist account of contemporary politics, economics and culture. Only then will we be able to grasp, and perhaps to intensify, the non-conscious, non-intellectual level forces that inspire resistance, creativity and hope. Biology is translated into ontology, ontology is transmuted into politics. We have seen a similar move in recent history, appealing to a different biology, with political consequences that, to say the least, should give us pause. (12)

A strange form of conceptual gerrymandering seems to underpin such ‘liberation biology’: biological claims evade critical interrogation where they seem to give support to a pre-given philosophical ethopolitics. This is a mirror image of the notorious tendency of life scientists to support socio-political arguments by transposing their research on flies or mice directly to the realm of human society and culture. (12)

And those from the social and human sciences rightly identify the impoverished sense in which, in these imaging experiments, ‘social relations’ are reduced to interactions between dyads that can be experimentally simulated in a laboratory and in a scanner (Cohn, 2004, 2008a, 2008b). (16)

Genomics has moved away from a style of thought that looked for single genes for specific characteristics, the ‘gene-for’ paradigm so criticized by social scientists, especially when it claimed to have discovered ‘the gene for’ an aspect of the human condition, such as homosexuality or bipolar disorder. While the Human Genome Project was initially underpinned by the idea that the sequence of the genome would be ‘the code of codes’ or ‘the book of life’ – the digital instructions for making a human being – the real itself intervened to say no. The evidence from sequencing of humans and other organisms simply did not support the view that genes were distinct units, each of which coded for a single protein. Instead, it became clear that each sequence of bases could be ‘read’ in many different ways, thus enabling a small number of coding regions to generate a large number of different proteins. (17)

This led to the first significant mutation in thought styles: a shift away from determinism towards a probabilistic way of thinking about the relationship between genetics, development, evolution, organism and life chances. (17)

We are moving away from the idea that each common disease will share the same genomic basis – even if a complex one – to a model where common diseases are the endpoints of many different, rare genomic variations. Even in conditions where we have a clear idea of heritability, such as certain forms of breast cancer, the proportion explained by what we know of genomics is small and the ‘missing heritability’ – which cannot be explained by genetics – is high, ranging from 50 percent for age-related macular degeneration, 20 percent in Crohn’s disease and around 95 percent in elevated lipid levels (Manolio et al., 2009). (18)

This is a form of argument that links to, but goes beyond, the important recognition that human capacities such as cognition and affect are ‘distributed’ – not the individuated property of singular organisms, but constitutively dependent on the webs of interactions among multiple organic processes within and between organisms and other entities in a locale. Of course this thought style operates in very different ways in different disciplinary domains, and there is no single way that the social and human sciences might make their links with them. But it is clear that such links will not be in terms of the relations of ‘body’ and ‘society’ – those enticing yet illusory totalities – but at a different scale. Not in terms of ‘the body’ or ‘the brain’ as coherent systems enclosed by a boundary of skin, but of bodies and brains as ,ultiplicities, of the coexistence and symbiosis of multiple entities from bacterial flora in the gut, to the proliferation of neurons in the brain, each in multiple connections with milieux, internal and external, inorganic, organic, vital, historical, cultural, human. Distributed capacities in milieux which vital organisms themselves partly create and which in turn create them and their capacities. (19-20)


Nikolas Rose “Powers of Freedom”

January 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Rose, Nikolas 1999. Powers of Freedom. Reframing Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Social

Given the geographical distance between the colonies and the metropolitan European centres, government was inescapably ‘at a dis-tance’ in a rather literal sense. That is to say, to govern the colonies it was necessary to shape and regulate the practices of self-government of those who would govern: the colonial administrators and the colonists themselves. (111)

Investigations by various independent inquirers during the nineteenth century inscribed the nation in terms of a set of aggregated statistics with their regular fluctuations, and as knowable processes with their laws and cycles. Inscriptions of this sort rendered these as phenomena which were thinkable and calculable by knowledge-able persons. They could thus become the object of proposals and stra-tegies for reform or prevention by expertise. The quotidian lives of the masses became gridded by regulatory codes demanding, for example, the registration and recording of births, marriages, illnesses, numbers and causes of death, types of crime and their geographical location. The work of doctors, teachers, philanthropists and police, especially in the towns, gave rise to further detailed statistical mapping of urban space: moral topographies which inscribed the city as a domain with its own specific characteristics and consequences for its inhabitants. Poverty and pauperism, illness, crime, suicide and so forth were the subjects of a whole labour of documentation: written down in evidence, counted, tabulated, graphed, drawn. Statistics, censuses, surveys and a new genre of explorations of the lives of the poor attempted to render moral events knowable and calculable. (113)

The moral order, once a zone where diverse opinions competed and contested, justified by reference to extrinsic ethical or theological principles, came to be accorded a specific ‘positivity’. That is to say, it mutated into a reality with its own regularities, laws and characteristics. It was these character-istics that gradually came to be termed ‘social’. (114)

Gradually ‘social’ came to be accorded something like the sense it was to have for the next hundred years. It was a plane or dimension of a national territory, which formed, shaped and even determined the characteristics and character of the individual. And it was the problem space within which one must pose a range of questions and struggles about matters of life, of conduct, of powers and authority, questions and struggles that lay outside the formal scope of the political apparatus but were to become intensely ‘political’. (114- 19/20 saj)

Society was to become the domain that sociology would define as a reality sui generis: hence one that could be known by a social science. The social question would now become a sociological question. […] On the basis of such a knowledge of the dynamics of society, the unruly complex of the social could be organized, disciplined and governed. Sociologists and other ‘social scientists’ would begin to stake their claim as experts of the social, uniquely able to speak and act in its name. They would claim to be engineers of society itself. (116)

But, more generally, the introduction of ‘scientific management’ went some way to providing a democratic legitimacy to the private workplace, by enabling managerial authority to be depicted as rational and objective. (125)

For Mayo, work had a social function in two senses: it could satisfy the needs of the individual for human association and hence, if properly organized, could contribute both to productivity and efficiency and to mental health. And, on the other hand, the working group was a crucial mechanism for dragging individuals who had been increasingly isolated by the division of labour into the ‘general torrent of social life’. The workplace became a ‘social domain’, although this sociality was construed as a field of psychological relations amongst workers. (126)

The nineteenth century saw the invention of the calculable individual, with the birth of techniques of individualization and classification: the individual whose personal adjustment or maladjustment was to be judged in relation to a norm. But in the middle decades of the twentieth century, one sees the invention of the social individual, whose character was shaped by social influences, who found his or her satisfaction within the social relations of the group. (133)

Subjects of government are understood as individuals with ‘identities’ which not only identify them, but do so through their allegiance to a particular set of community values, beliefs and commitments. Communities of identity may be defined by locality (neighbourhood), by ethnicity (the Asian community), by lifestyle (as in the segmentation of lifestyle operated by advertisers, manufacturers and the media), by sexuality (the gay community) or by political or moral allegiance (environmentalists, vegetarians). But however defined, the individual is no isolate – he or she has ‘natural’ emotional bonds of affinity to a circumscribed ‘net-work’ of other individuals. (135-136 – today)

[…] individual choices are shaped by values which themselves arise from ties of community identification. Community thus emerges as the ideal territory for the administration of individual and collective existence, the plane or surface upon which micro-moral relations amongst persons are conceptualized and administered. […] Community constitutes a new spatialization of government: the territory for political pro-grammes, both at the micro-level and at the macro-level, for government through community.106 In such programmes ‘society’ still exists but not in a ‘social’ form: society is to be regenerated, and social justice to be maximized, through the building of responsible communities, prepared to invest in themselves. And in the name of community, a whole vari-ety of groups and forces make their demands, wage their campaigns, stand up for their rights and enact their resistances. (136)

It is, of course, not a question of the replacement of ‘the social’ by ‘the community’. But the hold of ‘the social’ over our political imagination is weakening. While social government has been failing since its inception, the solution proposed for these failures is no longer the re-invention of the social. As ‘society’ dissociates into a variety of ethical and cultural communities with incompatible allegiances and incommensurable obligations, a new set of political rationalities, governmental technologies and opportunities for contestation begin to take shape. (136)


Conclusion: beyond government

Empirical studies of regulatory problematiza-tions, ambitions, programmes, strategies and techniques require us to jettison the division between a logic that structures and territorializes ‘from above’ according to protocols that are not our own, and a more or less spontaneous anti-logic ‘from below’ that expresses our own needs, desires, aspirations. Each such binary suggests a principle of division between those political, technical and ethical strategies that have made up our present and those that have opposed them. This way of dividing the matter is illusory. There is not a single discourse or strategy of power confronted by forces of resistance, but a set of conflicting points and issues of opposition, alliance and division of labour. And our present has arisen as much from the logics of contestation as from any imperatives of control. (277)

It is only in relation to a dream of unification – of epochs, societies, systems – that the existence of dispersed conflicts – over ideals, goals, values, types of person we are or wish to be – seems surprising. These contestations are not between power and its others, but between diverse programmes, logics, dreams and ideals, codified, organized and rationa-lized to a greater or lesser extent. We need no ‘theory of resistance’ to account for contestation, any more than we need an epistemology to account for the production of truth effects – except if we wish to use our theory to ratify some acts of contestation and to devalue others. (278-279)

But however noble the sentiment, in the politics of innovation and creation, courage is redundant. It is not a question of the assertion of the agency inscribed within an individual or collective subject. (279)

Perhaps Foucault’s own fragmentary ideas about aesthetic politics might provoke us here. Thomas Osborne has pointed out that, for Foucault, an aesthetic politics was not a celebration of a politics of individ-ual dandyism. The suggestion that we might each try to make our own life ‘a work of art’ was an invitation to creativity and experimentation, not a retreat to consumerized narcissism. This life politics was defined, in part, by what it was not – it was not conducted under the sign of a morality (in the name of a heteronomous moral code), not conducted under the sign of an epistemology (in the name of a hidden truth or desire revealed by knowledge which it was one’s aspiration to realize), not con-ducted under the sign of a regime of authority (subordination to the organ-izational demands of a party) and not conducted in relation to an absolute end point at some future time (to which the present must be subordinated). Rather than subordinate oneself in the name of an exter-nal code, truth, authority or goal, such a politics would operate under a different slogan: each person’s life should be its own telos. It would thus have its own minimal normativity: we should oppose all that which stands in the way of life being its own telos. (282-283)

Such a political vitalism would certainly take sides: it would take the side of an active art of living. It would ask for a politics which is itself an active art of living. And it would accord itself the right, per-haps the duty, to oppose all that which blocks or subverts the capacity of others asserting for themselves their own vitalism, their own will to live through the active shaping of their lives. Of course, one needs no ground for politics, still less for a recognition that political imprisonment, torture, corruption, virulent nationalism and the like are worth opposing. But such an ethic of vitalism would be an antidote to the apparent depoliticizing consequences of anti-essentialist political thought and to any implication that such analyses can sanction only a realpolitik. For we can be ‘against’ identity, ‘against’ ideas of a human essence, ‘against’ the humanist conception of the individual subject, but in favour of life. (283)

Nikolas Rose “Neurochemical Selves”

Rose, Nikolas 2003. Neurochemical Selves. Society 41(1): 46-59

We could term these “psychopharmacological” societies. They are societies where the modification of thought, mood and conduct by pharmacological means has become more or less routine. In such societies, in many different contexts, in different ways, in relation to a variety of problems, by doctors, psychiatrists, parents and by ourselves, human subjective capacities have come to be routinely re-shaped by psychiatric drugs. (46)

This is a point that should be born in mind: the increasing worldwide dependence of health services on commercial pharmaceuticals is not restricted to psychiatric drugs and much of the growth in this sector is in line with that in drugs used for other conditions. (48)

But despite the law suits, anti-psychotic drugs had become central to the rationale of deinstitutionalization in the United States by the midsixties and to the management of the decarcerated or never incarcerated-population. The gradual acceptance of the reality of tardive dyskinesia, of its prevalence, and of its causation by drug treatment could not reverse the policy or the use of the drugs. A dual strategy took shape. On the one hand, the pharmaceutical industry met with FDA to discuss how to label the propensity of their compounds to cause tardive dyskinesia. On the other hand, the search began for alternative drugs that would not produce such damaging side effects. This track would eventually lead to the marketing of the socalled “atypical neuroleptics.” But it also underpinned other attempts to engineer so-called “smart drugs” which could be said to directly target the neurochemical bases of the illness, or at least the symptoms, with the minimum of collateral damage. (50)

In this context, drug treatment outside hospital becomes the treatment of choice, although short-term, focused, behavioral or cognitive therapy may also be funded, designed to ensure that the patient has the insight to recognize that he or she is suffering from an illness, and hence to increase the likelihood of compliance with medication. (51)

The epidemic of prescribing for ADHD in the United States seems a pretty clear example of a “culture bound syndrome.” (52)

But other factors also need to be addressed. First, no doubt, these developments are related to the increasing salience of health to the aspirations and ethics of the wealthy West, the readiness of those who live in such cultures to define their problems and their solutions in terms of health and illness, and the tendency for contemporary understandings of health and illness to be posed largely in terms of treatable bodily malfunctions. Second, they are undoubtedly linked to a more profound transformation in personhood. The sense of ourselves as “psychological” individuals that developed across the twentieth century-beings inhabited by a deep internal space shaped by biography and experience, the source of our individuality and the locus of our discontents-is being supplemented or displaced by what I have termed “somatic individuality.” By somatic individuality, I mean the tendency to define key aspects of one’s individuality in bodily terms, that is to say to think of oneself as „embodied,” and to understand that body in the language of contemporary biomedicine. To be a “somatic” individual, in this sense, is to code one’s hopes and fears in terms of this biomedical body, and to try to reform, cure or improve oneself by acting on that body. At one end of the spectrum this involved reshaping the visible body, through diet, exercise, and tattooing. At the other end, it involves understanding troubles and desires in terms of the interior “organic” functioning of the body, and seeking to reshape that – usually by pharmacological interventions. While discontents might previously have been mapped onto a psychological space-the space of neurosis, repression, psychological trauma-they are now mapped upon the body itself, or one particular organ of the body-the brain. (54)

In this way of thinking, all explanations of mental pathology must “pass through” the brain and its neurochemistry – neurones, synapses, membranes, receptors, ion channels, neurotransmitters, enzymes, etc. Diagnosis is now thought to be most accurate when it can link symptoms to anomalies in one or more of these elements. And the fabrication and action of psychiatric drugs is conceived in these terms. Not that biographical effects are ruled out, but biography-family stress, sexual abuse-has effects through its impact on this brain. Environment plays its part, but unemployment, poverty and the like have their effects only through their impact upon this brain. And experiences play their part substance abuse or trauma for example-but once again, through their impact on this neurochemical brain. A few decades ago, such claims would have seemed extraordinarily bold-for many medicopsychiatric researchers and practitioners, they now seem “only common sense.” (57)

Where Foucault analyzed biopolitics, we now must analyze bioeconomics and bioethics, for human capital is now to be understood in a rather literal sense-in terms of the new linkages between the politics,  economics and ethics of life itself. (58)

We have seen that, in certain key respects, the most widely prescribed of the new generation of psychiatric drugs treat conditions whose borders are fuzzy, whose coherence and very existence as illness or disorders are matters of dispute, and which are not so much intended to “cure”-to produce a specific transformation from a pathological to a normal state-as to modify the ways in which vicissitudes in the life of the recipient are experienced, lived and understood. (58)

So the capitalisation of the power to treat intensifies the redefinition of that which is amenable to correction or modification. This is not simply blurring the borders between normality and pathology, or widening the net of pathology. We are seeing an enhancement in our capacities to adjust and readjust our somatic existence according to the exigencies of the life to which we aspire. (58)

The new neurochemical self is flexible and can be reconfigured in a way that blurs the boundaries between cure, normalization, and the enhancement of capacities. And these pharmaceuticals offer the promise of the calculated modification and augmentation of specific aspects of self-hood through acts of choice. (59)

An ethics is engineered into the molecular make up of these drugs, and the drugs themselves embody and incite particular forms of life in which the “real me” is both “natural” and to be produced. (59)

Nikolas Rose “The Politics of Life Itself”

April 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Rose, Nikolas 2001. The Politics of Life Itself. Theory, Culture & Society 18(6): 1-30

Of course, programmes of preventive medicine, of health promotion and health education still take, as their object, ‘the nation’s health’. Today, however, the rationale for political interest in the health of the population is no longer framed in terms of the consequences of unfitness of the population as an organic whole for the struggle between nations. Instead it is posed in economic terms – the costs of ill-health in terms of days lost from work or rising insurance contributions – or moral terms – the imperative to reduce inequalities in health. (5)

[…] within the political rationalities that I have termed ‘advanced liberal’ the contemporary relation between the biological life of the individual and the well-being of the collective is posed somewhat differently (Rose, 1996). It is no longer a question of seeking to classify, identify, and eliminate or constrain those individuals bearing a defective consti-tution, or to promote the reproduction of those whose biological character-istics are most desirable, in the name of the overall fitness of the population, nation or race. Rather, it consists in a variety of strategies that try to identify, treat, manage or administer those individuals, groups or localities where risk is seen to be high. (7)

Decision-making in the biomedical context takes place within a set of power relations that we could term ‘pastoral’. […] But this contemporary pastoral power is not organized or admin-istered by ‘the state’ […]Crucially, this pastoral power does not concern itself with the flock as a whole. […]Perhaps one might best describe this form of pastoral power as relational. It works through the relation between the affects and ethics of the guider – the genetic counsellors and allied experts of reproduction who operate as gatekeepers to tests and medical procedures – and the affects and ethics of the guided – the actual or potential parents who are making their repro-ductive decisions, and upon their networks of responsibility and obligation. (9)

These counselling encounters entail intense bi-directional affec-tive entanglements between all the parties to the encounter, and indeed generate multiple ‘virtual’ entanglements with parties not present – distant relatives, absent siblings, potential offspring. In these entanglements, the ethical relations of all the subjects to themselves and to one another are at stake – including the experts themselves. (10)

It is not surprising, then, that there is much professional optimism about the impact of recent advances in genomics, which seem to have the potential to shift the focus of regulatory strategies from group risk to indi-vidual susceptibility. Diagnoses of susceptibility attempt to move beyond the allocation of individuals to a risk group on the basis of factors and probabilities, to a precise identification of those particular individuals who are vulnerable to specific conditions or behavioural problems. (11)

Since it is now routine for doctors well as geneticists to consider that any individual’s vulnerability to any disease has a genetic component, consisting mostly of multiple genes and their interactions amongst themselves and with other environmental and biographical factors, the gaze of susceptibility is potentially unlimited. (11-12)

what is created here is what Ian Hacking (1992, 1995) might term a new and ‘interactive’ ‘human kind’: the individual biologically – increasing genetically – risky or at risk.

Thus these new practices for the identification of susceptibilities open a space of uncertainty. This is the expanding realm of the asymp-tomatically or presymptomatically ill – those individuals carrying the markers or polymorphisms of susceptibility who are neither phenomeno-logically or experientially ‘sick’ or ‘abnormal’. While the calculation of risk often seems to promise a technical way of resolving ethical questions, these new kinds of susceptibility offer no clear-cut algorithm for the decisions of doctors or their actual or potential patients. In this space, biopolitics becomes ethopolitics. (12)

The norm of indi-vidual health replaced that of the quality of the population. (13 – in liberal genetics)

Hence, the politics of the life sciences – the politics of life itself – has been shaped by those who controlled the human, technical and financial resources necessary to fund such endeavours. (15)

Biopolitics becomes bioeconomics, driven by the search for what Catherine Waldby has termed ‘biovalue’: the production of a surplus out of vitality itself (Waldby, 2000: 19).

The classical distinction made in moral philosophy between that which is not human – ownable, tradeable, commodifiable – and that which is human – not legitimate material for such commodifica-tion – no longer seems so stable. (16)

But an event is a matter of associ-ations, linking up a number of disparate little changes such that a thresh-old is crossed. That which was previously exceptional, remarkable, becomes routinely thinkable, perhaps even expected. Now all life processes seem to consist in intelligible chains of events that can be ‘reverse engineered’ and then reconstructed in the lab, and modified so that they unfold in different ways. (16)

Life now appears to be open to shaping and reshap-ing at the molecular level: by precisely calculated interventions that prevent something happening, alter the way something happens, make something new happen in the cellular processes themselves. As the distinction between treatment and enhancement, between the natural and the prosthetic blurs, the management and maximization of life itself have become the life’s work, not only of each individual, but of their doctors, together with the scientists, entrepreneurs and corporations who make the reworking of life the object of their knowledge, inventions and products (on enhancement, see Parens et al., 1998). Natural life can no longer serve as the ground or norm against which a politics of life may be judged. Dilemmas about what we are, what we are capable of, what we may hope for, now have a molecular form. Biopolitics now addresses human existence at the molecular level: it is waged about molecules, amongst molecules, and where the molecules themselves are at stake. (16-17)

The original biopolitical thesis implied a separation between those who calculated and exercised power and those who were its subjects, whose bio-logical existence was to be shaped for the benefit of each and all. This does seem to characterize policies seeking to modify the breeding patterns of individuals in the name of the population; the bloody techniques of negative eugenics; medical experimentation on prisoners and psychiatric inmates; euthanasia of those whose lives are not worth living; even such benign strategies as medical inspection of schoolchildren. (17)

In the second half of the 20th century, a new alliance formed between political aspirations for a healthy population and personal aspirations to be well: health was to be ensured by instrumentalizing anxiety and shaping the hopes and fears of individuals and families for their own biological destiny. The very idea of health was re-figured – the will to health would not merely seek the avoid-ance of sickness or premature death, but would encode an optimization of one’s corporeality to embrace a kind of overall ‘well-being’ – beauty, success, happiness, sexuality and much more. (17)

By the start of the 21st century, hopes, fears, decisions and life-routines shaped in terms of the risks and possibilities in corporeal and biological existence had come to supplant almost all others as organizing principles of a life of prudence, responsi-bility and choice. Selfhood has become intrinsically somatic – ethical practices increas-ingly take the body as a key site for work on the self. (18 – somatic individuality)

Biopolitics, here, merges with what I have termed ‘ethopolitics’: the politics of life itself and how it should be lived (Rose, 1999). […]In ethopolitics, life itself, as it is lived in its everyday manifestations, is the object of adjudication. If discipline indi-vidualizes and normalizes, and biopower collectivizes and socializes, ethopolitics concerns itself with the self-techniques by which human beings should judge themselves and act upon themselves to make themselves better than they are. (18)

As somatic individuals engage with vital politics, a new ethics of life itself is taking shape.

Within this new ethics, the human vital order has become so thoroughly imbued with artifice that even the natural has to be produced by a labour on the self – natural food, natural childbirth and the like. Even choosing not to intervene in living processes becomes a kind of intervention. (19)

On the one hand, our very personhood is increasingly being defined by others, and by ourselves, in terms of our contemporary understandings of the possibilities and limits of our corporeality. On the other hand, our somatic individuality has become opened up to choice, prudence and responsibility, to experimentation, to contestation – and so to a ‘vital politics’. (20)

‘The philosophical status’ – indeed the very ontology – of human beings is being reshaped through the decisions of entrepreneurs as to where to invest their capital and which lines of biomedical research and development to pursue. (20)

I have argued that life, today, is not imagined as an unalterable fixed endowment, biology as destiny, where the reproduction of individuals with a defective constitution is to be administered by experts in the interests of the future of the population. No longer are judgements organized in terms of a clear binary of normality and pathology. (20-21)

For the political vocation of the life sciences today is tied to the belief that in most, maybe all cases, if not now then in the future, the biological risky or at risk individual, once identified and assessed, may be treated or transformed by medical intervention at the molecular level. In the process, the familiar dis-tinction between illness and health has become problematic and contested. (21)

Two modes of such a ‘biological ethics’ are particularly striking. On the one hand, human rights now have a biological dimension and, partly in consequence, have gained a new kind of ‘species universality’. Legal, political and social rights were first linked to the capacities and obligations of individuals who were elements of a political association. But now, it seems, each human being has such rights, simply by virtue of their exist-ence as beings of this human kind. Individuals seem to have acquired a kind of biological citizenship – a universal human right to the protection, at least, of each human person’s bare life and the dignity of their living vital body. In the geopolitics of famine, drought, war and ethnic cleansing, in the vociferous anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movements, and in the local politics of health, it is now possible for human beings to demand the pro-tection of the lives of themselves and others in no other name than that of their biological existence and the rights and claims it confers. (21)