Michel Foucault on Bio-power and Biopolitics

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Title: Michel Foucault on Bio-power and Biopolitics
Author: Kristensen, Kasper
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta, Politiikan ja talouden tutkimuksen laitos
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political and Economic Studies
Helsingfors universitet, Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för politik och ekonomi
Publisher: Helsingfors universitet
Date: 2013
Language: eng
URI: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-201703272375
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Social and Moral Philosophy
Käytännöllinen filosofia
Praktisk filosofi
Abstract: Foucauldian concepts of bio-power and biopolitics are widely utilized in contemporary political philosophy. However, Foucault’s account of bio-power includes some ambivalence which has rendered these concepts of bio-power and biopolitics rather equivocal. Foucault elaborates these concepts and themes related to them in his books Discipline and Punish (1975) and History of Sexuality: An Introduction (1976), and also in his Collège de France-lectures held from 1975 to 1979. Through a detailed analysis of these works this research suggests that there are differences in Foucault’s account of bio-power. The aim of this thesis is to shed light to these differences, and consequently, clarify Foucault’s account of bio-power and biopolitics. This research is divided into two main sections. The first analyzes Foucault’s works of 1975-76. In those works Foucault investigates relations of power and knowledge through a framework of what he called the normalizing society. Foucault identifies two essential forms of power operating in the normalizing society: individualizing discipline and population targeting bio-power. Together they form a network of power relations that Foucault calls power over life. By this concept Foucault designates the process by which human life in its totality became an object of power and knowledge. In this framework bio-power and biopolitics are essentially connected to particular system of norms which creates its power effects through medicine, human sciences and laws and regulations. The two pivotal reference points for normalizing techniques are race and sexuality. The second section focuses on Foucault’s lectures of 1977-79 and his other works published approximately until 1982.In these works Foucault elaborates the subject of governing population from different angle and with novel concepts. He abandons the view according to which one could locate a uniform architecture of power operating in society. Rather, he begins to analyze society as being constituted by multiple different forms of power and political rationalities. The crucial research question is what kinds of modifications take place in techniques of government when relations of power and knowledge are changed. In these investigations bio-power and biopolitics are identified with liberal apparatuses of security and pastoral power. The conclusions deduced in this thesis are that Foucault’s preliminary analysis of bio-power in the context of normalizing society is not sufficient to produce a firm analytical ground for concepts of bio-power and biopolitics. However, in his later elaborations of these concepts Foucault manages to demonstrate how political rationalities and different forms of power are related to the ways in which human life is governed and modified. Thus Foucault succeeds in creating analytical tools by which to have better understanding through what kinds of rationalities human life is managed in contemporary societies.
Subject: power
political rationality

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