biopower, biosociality, biopolitics notes

Some definition notes about the concepts of biopolitics, biopower and biosociality.

Biopower appears in Foucault and The History of Sexuality vol. 1 and it examines sovereign power over bodies, or the Right of Death and Power over life. Life becomes the centre of attention in the modernist states of the late 18th century (developed in the 19th), whereby wars are no longer waged in the name of the sovereign but in the name of survival. There are two poles across which power is exersided- the personal (the body, the anatomic) and the public (regulations for polulation control, mechanisms of birth and death).

Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose in their ‘Thoughts on the concept of Biopower today’ clarify the distinction between biopower and biopolitics as: biopower is the attempt to intervene to human existence whereas biopolitics includes the strategies over knowledge, authorities and practices of intervention that are desirable and legitimate.

For Rabinow and Rose, we cannot project the concept of biopower to analyse today’s liberal societies because the notion of’the social’ has declined, several responsibilities have moved to transnational bodies (e.g. EU, WHO) and welfare states have taken up the role of the sovereign (they call these changes ‘mutation’ and they roughly refer to the politics of individual wellbeing(micro/molar) and the politics of polulations(macro/molecular), coming together under single governmental control bodies).

Rabinow’s (1992) concept of biosociality– as examined by Sarah Gibbon and Carlos Novas in the Introductory Chapter of  ‘Biosocialities, Genetics and Social Sciences’ (2008), but also explored in other chapters of the volume. The concept is interesting  to me because it can be employed to explain the emergence of new groupings around new biological identities. Social scientists have tried to understand how ‘potential transformations in understandings of “life” may be involved in reassembling existing cultural, social economic ethical and political practices’ (1). How emerging truths (about what life is, what human is) shape identities and activisms (disease related sociality-identity)-as definition of illness changes (reclassification of illness as genetic, being at genetic risk due to a ‘suspicious’ gene), so do the identities and what is done about them. New opportunities for identifying with others–>organising is different.


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