Thursday, April 14, 2011

Biopolitics, Biopower, and Life Itself

Welcome to the last blog-and-comment session of the semester. We’re almost there people; we can do it!

For my blog post, first I am going to clarify some key terms from this week’s reading, and then second, I will use Rose’s account of the five changes that our societies are undergoing as an illustration of these key terms.


First of all, what is “biopolitics?”

Biopolitics refers to a theory about a unique transition that many modern societies are arguably undergoing. The transition concerns the “politicization of bare life as such,” to use Agamben’s terms.

To understand what he means here, recall his point about the word “life.” For our one word “life,” the ancient Greeks had two distinct words—zoe and bios—and each of these words entailed distinct meanings. Zoe referred to “the simple fact of living common to all living beings (animals, men, or gods)” (ST 627); bios referred to “the form or way of living proper to an individual or group” (627). Thus, when Plato or Aristotle mentioned different kinds of lives (the philosophical life, the political life, and so on), they used the term bios, which entailed a specific sense of telos. Zoe, on the other hand, more closely concerned “natural life,” and, as Agamben points out, this “simple natural life [zoe] is excluded from the polis, and [it] remains confined—as merely reproductive life—to the sphere of oikos, ‘home’” (ST 674). Zoe was apolitical.

So going back to the transition: Agamben suggests that the transition to biopolitics in our societies concerns a transition in which zoe (natural life or biology as we think of it) has now entered the “sphere of the polis” (676). That is, Agamben argues (following Foucault) that “natural life begins to be included in the mechanisms and calculations of State power, and politics turns into biopolitics” (676). In other words, not only is “life”—life which is concerned with certain goods and ends (bios)—implicated in politics, but now natural life as such (zoe) is a political matter. We can understand this move as a transition to “biopolitics.” According to Agamben, this transition to biopolitics “constitutes the decisive event of modernity and signals a radical transformation of the political-philosophical categories of classical thought” (676).

When natural life (biological life as we think of it) enters the political field—when the transition to biopolitics happens—one can see a new dimension of power: “biopower.”


What is “biopower?”

Biopower, according to Hardt and Negri, “is a form of power that regulates social life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, absorbing it, and rearticulating it. Power can achieve an effective command over the entire life of population only when it becomes an integral, vital function that

every individual embraces and reactivates of his or her own accord. […] Biopower thus refers to a situation in which what is directly at stake in power is the production and reproduction of life itself.” (Empire 23-24).

Biopower, in other words, refers to the way in which power operates through our material, bodily lives. If power is a productive, organizing force, as Foucault has argued, then biopower (in this Foucaultian sense) refers to the way in which power organizes not only our individual, material lives (e.g. how we use our bodies), but also the way power now organizes the bodies of everyone in the entire society.

At this point, you (or someone else) might be saying: “What?! There is no power exercised over my body. I am the arbiter of what I do with my body.” But the advocates of the biopower concept might reply: “This is precisely the point. Biopower operates such that you think you are choosing what you want to do with your body, but in fact, the choices you make are evidence of the biopower itself. Biopower is a power that we have internalized so that the choices and actions that we perform with our bodies are directed from within. That is, it’s not some outside force making the choice for us; it’s something you choose for yourself because the power is something you have internalized through socialization and so on.”

Thus, if you are skeptical about all this “biopower” talk, I understand. Such a reading of power does seem like it incorporates a radical “hermeneutic of suspicion” to borrow Paul Ricouer’s term. But the point here is to try to understand the ideas on their own terms, as best we can.

So, to wrap up this question, biopower is the force that organizes, coordinates, and controls bodies. But we can also think of biopower as a power that is exercised in, through, and over not just our bodies in general but also over the biology of our bodies--the make up of our bodies. Biopower becomes exercised on life “itself.”


What’s up with the “itself” qualifier? Why do both Hardt/Negri and Rose refer to something they call “life itself?”

I think that this qualifier “itself” helps emphasize what the authors are talking about. To understand why Hardt and Negri use this word, we need to understand the context of its usage. They use the term “life itself” to highlight the contrast in how power operates within two different kinds of societies: Foucault’s notion of a disciplinary society and his notion of a control society. In the disciplinary society, formal structures (like official institutions such as the prison, the hospital) limit what the citizen can and cannot do externally—that is, the power is exercised “from without” (in contrast to “from within”) the citizen. In the control society, by contrast, power operates from within; it is “distributed throughout the brains and bodies of citizens” (Empire 23). As Hardt and Negri put it, “the behaviors of social integration and exclusion proper to rule are thus increasingly interiorized within the subjects themselves” (23). In this sense, the formal disciplinary structures are no longer necessary because the “control extends well outside the structured sites of social institutions,” and instead, it operates “through flexible and fluctuating networks” (23). Within these informal networks, then, power operates from within “brains and bodies,” as they put it (hence the concept of biopower, as discussed above), and the import of this new location of power is that the field of politics begins to operate more and more within the zones of our biological and material life. Politics descends to the level of “life itself.”

Rose uses the term “life itself” for similar emphatic reasons. As a sociologist, Rose is interested in the changing contours of “life” (our understanding of biological, material, and/or human life) and also in the political dramas that this “emergent form of life” entails (Rose 3). Thus, to understand why Rose uses the qualifier "itself," we need to understand the change he is trying to capture. One can notice this change by first looking at how the “vital politics” (political issues concerning human life) of the 18th and 19th centuries revolved around health: “rates of birth and death, of diseases and epidemics, of the policing of water sewage, foodstuffs, graveyards, and of the vitality of those agglomerated in towns and cities” (3). Then in the early 20th century, this politics of health morphed such that it now incorporated a specific understanding of biological inheritance. Hence, one can see how this understanding “seemed to oblige politicians in so many countries to try to manage the quality of the population, often coercively and sometimes murderously, in the name of the future of the race” (3). But here in the 21st century, the “vital politics” has changed: “it is neither delimited by the poles of illness and health, nor focused on eliminating pathology to protect the destiny of the nation. Rather, it is concerned with our growing capacities to control, manage, engineer, reshape, and modulate the very vital capacities of human beings as living creatures” (3). This last sentence captures the transition that Rose is trying to emphasize with the qualifier in his title—“the politics of life itself.” In our vital politics, we are now no longer focused on the “superstructural” manifestations of our biological lives—manifestations like disease or Mendelian inheritance; we are now focused on what we understand to be the “base” of our lives: the manipulation of molecules and chemicals. Hence, politics is being played out at a new level—the level of “life itself”—the core of what we understand our biological selves to be.


Rose offers some clear examples of how these concepts—biopolitics and biopower and their interaction with life “itself”—play out in five different realms of today's 21st-century world.


In the 21st century, we have moved from understanding life on a molar level—limbs, organs, etc.—to the molecular level. As Rose puts it, “the clinical gaze has been supplemented, if not supplanted, by this molecular gaze” (12). This new understanding has enabled what he calls the “mobilization of vitality,” or the way in which the building blocks of life are now much more manipulable and movable (15). That is, “molecularization is conferring a new mobility on the elements of life, enabling them to enter new circuits—organic, interpersonal geographical, and financial. […] At this molecular level, that is to say, life itself has become open to politics” (15).


With this epistemological change opening up a new space for politics, we are witnessing the development of new “technologies of optimization” that are changing the traditional roles of medicine: “Contemporary medial technologies do not seek merely to cure diseases once they have manifested themselves, but to control the vital processes of the body and mind” (16). Rose suggests that this move manifests itself in contemporary concerns over the susceptibility and enhancement of bodies. No longer is modern medicine just worried about disease when it manifests itself; it is now concerned with understanding our health (and the medical measures we need to take to maintain it) in terms of our susceptibility to disease. Concerning enhancement: while the human desire to enhance biological life is not new (think of glasses, contacts, hearing aids, etc.), more and more one can see a move “reshape vitality from the inside” with the goal of optimizing what it means to be human.

Subjectification and Ethopolitics

In the 21st century, new notions of what it means to be a responsible citizen have emerged that revolve around our biology. We are responsible in new ways for our corporeal and psychological being: “Exercise, diet, vitamins, tattoos, body piercing, drugs, cosmetic surgery, gender reassignment, organ transplantation: the corporeal existence and vitality of the self has become the privileged site of experiments with the self” (26). In the process of this change, Rose suggests that we can see a shift to what he calls “ethopolitics”: “If ‘discipline’ individualizes and normalizes, and ‘biopolitics’ collectivizes and socializes, ‘ethopolitics’ concerns itself with the self-techniques by which human beings should judge and act upon themselves to make themselves better than they are” (27).

Somatic Expertise

With all these changes, new authorities over the body are emerging, and these authorities are no longer just clinicians and doctors: “There are nutritionists, dieticians, health promotion experts, remedial gymnasts, experts on exercise and fitness,” and so on (28). And what is unique about all this forms of expertise is that they contain certain “pastoral powers”: the expertise proposes to offer counsel. For example, consider not only the “addiction counselors, sex counselors, family and relationship counselors” and so on, but also consider the new realm of expertise in bioethics. Bioethicists play a significant role in our health institutions and corporations of the 21st century.

Bioeconomics or Economies of Vitality

The biotech industry now inhabits a huge sector of our economic markets, and the industry is continuing to grow. As Rose points out, “U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said, ‘biotechnology is the next wave of the knowledge economy and I want Britain to become its European hub” (35). Blair’s comment points to a growing trend in “novel alliances between political authorities and promissory capitalism” (34). That is to say, “the hope [Blair] expresses for a virtuous alliance of state, science, and commerce in the pursuit of health and wealth is one that is shared by many other political authorities” (35)

All of these examples point to the way in which politics has entered the realm of zoe. Biopolitics entails a power (biopower) exercised over and through life “itself.”


Questions for discussion:

Another key term remains in this week’s reading that I did not define: “biopolitical production.” What do Hardt and Negri mean by this term and why do they use it as the title for the second chapter of Empire?

Compare and contrast Althusser’s “Thesis II” (ideology has a material existence) to the concept of biopower as advanced in this week’s readings. What are the differences; what are the similarities? What are the connections, and what are the disjunctions between these two ideas?

Imagine you are talking to a skeptic about this week’s reading material, and this person suggests the following: “I don’t know. All this talk of Empire, biopower, and biopolitics sounds an awful lot like conspiracy discourse, except it’s all dressed up as fancy academic-intellectual chic.” How would you defend the credibility, productivity, and/or fruitfulness of these theories and concepts for academic (or communication studies) inquiry? In other words, how would you talk with a skeptic about these construals of the ways that power operates within capitalism, politics, and “life itself?”

(Feel free to engage these questions or take up your own line of inquiry for your comments. See you Monday.)


  1. Mark asks: How would you defend the credibility, productivity, and/or fruitfulness of these theories and concepts for academic (or communication studies) inquiry? In other words, how would you talk with a skeptic about these construals of the ways that power operates within capitalism, politics, and “life itself?”

    To answer the skeptic’s concerns about these theories and concepts, I would point them to the public activism of First Ladies as an example of how natural life and biology have become politicized. A number of recent First Lady initiatives have ventured out of the realm of entertaining dignitaries and into the complex realm of bodies, health, and politics. Examples like Betty Ford’s work on breast cancer, Rosalynn Carter’s championing of mental health, Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” to drugs campaign, and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s work on Health Care during her husband’s administration immediately come to mind. These more contemporary First Ladies have stepped away from the kind of work of their predecessors, who worked on issues like the White House restoration project (Jackie Kennedy), beautification (Lady Bird Johnson), and volunteerism (Pat Nixon).

    Most recently, I would point you to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Campaign. It’s Official website provides the text of the new campaign’s Pledge:

    “We believe every kid has the right to a healthy childhood. We can’t let this be the first generation in our history to grow up less healthy than their parents. The ingredients…better food + more activity…are clear. Let’s Move isn’t just noble. It’s a necessity. It’s not just a slogan, it’s our responsibility. Join in America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids” (

    This Pledge and the larger initiative it represents serve well as an example of the ideas Nikolas Rose is writing about in “Biopolitics in the Twenty-First Century.” The Pledge’s emphasis is on the notion of “susceptibility;” that is, how can we “identify and treat persons in the present in relation to ills that they are predicted to suffer in the future?” (18). Children become the sites of debate and implementation for policy and procedure: they are subjects chosen, and their parents are recruited as those responsible for oversight (12). As chosen subjects, children are universally classified as susceptible to obesity at birth; thus, this predicted futuristic condition is strategically addressed before it is realized through regulating dietary practices and promoting physical activity (10).

    In apparent ways, “Let’s Move” functions as a biological “citizenship project” which, I would argue, deserves our attention (24). Rose writes of “Biological Citizenship” that: “citizenship has been shaped by conceptions of the specific vital characteristics of human beings” (24). In this case, the vital characteristic is the weight of the body, which must be regulated and managed. Much like the notion of Republican Mothers raising their children to be ideal citizens, the Mother must now also raise her child to be a “biological citizen” lest s/he be obese and, thus, an un-citizen-like “Other” (25). The biological citizen and the ideal citizen become one and the same, simultaneously noble and necessary, as “the body of the citizen, the individual citizen, and the collective citizen body of the people, the nation or the Volk, [is] a prime value” (24).


    For more on Republican Motherhood, see Linda K. Kerber’s “Toward an Intellectual History of Women in America,” specifically her essay on “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment – An American Perspective.” (

  2. Mark, you did a great job summarizing this week's readings. You also posed some very thought provoking questions. I will attempt to answer what Hardt and Negri mean by biopolitical production and why they relate it to empire.

    Any discussion about biopolitical power and Empire must begin with a discussion about the early capitalist society and disciplinary societies. In the early capitalist societies, individuals (laborers) were basically viewed as machines and their value was directly related to their ability to produce commodities. Order was maintained and the people were controlled in this context by such institutions as prisons, universities, factories, and asylums. These institutions ruled by “structuring the parameters and limits of thought and practice, sanctioning and prescribing normal and/or deviant behaviors” (Empire 23).

    Though the Empire is significantly shaped by capitalist societies, its focus and function is different. Individual value is not calculated in relation to commodities. Rather, the body, in and of itself, has value. The elevation of the body in the new society is reflected by the fact that its “…existence becomes a focus of government, the target of novels forms of authority and expertise, a highly cathected field for knowledge…an organizing principle of ethics” (23). In this way, the body is the primary “commodity” in our present world. As such, the primary concern is with the “growing capacities to control, manage, engineer, reshape, and modulate the very vital capacities of human beings as living creatures” (Rose 3). This perception of the body is the driving force behind biopolitics.

    Biopolitical production refers to how is exerted and maintained because biopolitical power comprises the whole of society; it produces the social body, and our individual bodies. It produces our social bodies—the way we socialize—though such communication systems as skype, cell phones, instant messenger, or email; people in the Empire cannot live without their devices. Moreover, more socializing takes place via tweeter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, than in person. It produces our individual bodies though such initiatives as government warnings about the dangers of smoking on the back of cigarette packs or, as Melody noted in her blog, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. From this perspective, the Empire is able to control the people because “power is thus expressed as a control that extends throughout the depths of the consciousness and bodies of the population” (Empire 24).

    In short, biopolitical production refers how “reality” in the Empire is established and maintained though discourse about the body.

  3. Part I

    Sorry, folks. I went over again. Apparently, conciseness is an ability I lack.

    Awesome show, great job, Mark!

    Question 1: Quoting Hardy and Negri on p. xiii of the preface: the creation of wealth tends ever closer to this, or “the production of social life itself, in which the economic, the political, and the cultural increasingly overlap and invest one another.” I think a good example I have encountered in my life was during my two-year stay in Austin, TX. One of the most well-known musical and social media events in our country is the SXSW Festival. What initially began as a street/bar/music venue festival where a handful of artists could set up shop in music venues and, in some cases, back alleys and street corners has ballooned into an massive music, film and multimedia festival with over 1,000 bands. Ironically, what began as an event that was almost anti-establishment has become the establishment. The entire festival is saturated with advertisement and immaterial industry. Instead of remarking on the artistry of the event, it is now predominantly viewed in terms of the financial boon that it brings to the economy. Though t has become in interesting cultural event that is viewed in economic terms, the overlap of the entire event makes it impossible to separate the cultural, economic and political tone and message i.e. one aspect of the festival cannot fully be viewed separate from another.

    Another good example of biopolitcal production is evidenced in this quote: “The activities of corporations are no longer defined by the imposition of abstract command and the organization of simple theft and unequal exchange. Rather, they directly structure and articulate territories and populations. They tend to make nation-states merely instruments to record the flows of the commodities, monies, and populations that they set in motion. The transnational corporations directly distribute labor power over various markets, functionally allocate resources, and organize hierarchically the various sectors of world production. The complex apparatus that selects investments and directs financial and monetary maneuvers determines the new geography of the world market, or really the new biopolitical structuring of the world” (31). When I think of this, I immediately think of the Howard Beale video Kevin and I posted last week. Nation states and organizations like the United Nations are marginal and unnecessary when compared to corporate structure. Corporatations’ manipulation of our biopolitical world dictates where we live, where we learn and how we communicate. We are wired into the system and are wholly dependent upon it. Ironically, we all are, in some small measure, part of the Empire.

  4. Question 2: Considering what we read on biopower, let us examine a quote from Althusser: “... The subject acts insofar as he is acted by the following system (set out in the order of its real determination): ideology existing in a material ideological apparatus, prescribing material practices governed by a material ritual, which practices exist in the material actions of a subject acting in all consciousness according to his belief” (ST 323). Both concepts are similar in that the ideology or the system cannot be maintained without the individual acting as the mechanism. Both are only theoretical without the physical presence of the individual. I believe the big difference the two is that individuals who are the manipulated biopower act more often than not prop up the system unconsciously. Most individuals divorce themselves from the society because it is drudgery and unfulfilling creatively. They in turn seek out ideology – sports, family, faith – to recharge and stay sane in an increasingly controlling and complicated world. Ironically, on Monday, they reengage themselves as elements of the biopower when they clock in.

    Question 3: First, I would ask Mr./Mrs. Skeptic to approach these ideas less from an academic and definitional paradigm and instead engage the ideas in how it relates to her/him. Most skeptics will see that the competitiveness of the new, global economic order is apparent everyday they go to work, especially in this economy. They will watch the nightly news and or listen to hateful talk radio and understand that the Chinese and Indians are competitive, intelligent and plentiful. They will understand that the job options that were available ten years ago no longer exist. Then they will quickly understand the ideas of Empire, biopower and biopolitics. More importantly, they will understand the dependence of both the Empire and the individual that interacts with one another.

  5. An important message to all Media Theory students...GO SEE BAT BOY...GO SEE BAT BOY! It is a fantastically silly venture into the realm of freakdom where nothing is too ridiculous to do, say, or sing. It is wonderful.

    Now, on to the issue at hand. Mark did a great job of summarizing the readings, defining key terms, and posing thought provoking questions. At this point, I would like to focus my lamenting on biopower and address Mark's third question about defending this viewpoint to skeptics.

    I think for most people in the United States, the strategic implantation of "choice" and "free will" into the minds of citizens has been successful. The majority of people in our country believe they are free to do what they want with their bodies with the qualifier "as long as it is not against the law," as in the case of using illegal drugs. But that qualifier is exactly the point. We are NOT free to do what we want with our bodies and still remain within the boundaries of the law. We must wear our seatbelts when we drive. We must wear helmets when we ride motorcycles. We must maintain a "healthy" weight and not smoke cigarettes to avoid a hike in insurance premiums. We must not ingest illegal substances or large quantities of legal ones to avoid the stigma attached to addicts or those with weak constitutions or low self control. Women must lift and tuck and pluck and shave to appear feminine, desireable, and conscientious. Men must bathe (at least every once in a while) to appear the same. Why do we do these things?

    In some instances, it is the law that determines our bodily behaviors. In other cases, it is social norms at work. In both official law and social order, these forces are enacted because "what is directly at stake in power is the production and reproduction of life itself" (Empire 24). This issue of biopower is interesting to explore at several levels. From a captialist perspective, employers need able bodied workers to complete their tasks to increase profits for businesses. Workers who are sick, unhealthy, or dead do not contribute to a captialist society. As we have all learned from Donald Trump, money is an essential component to life. From a more social perspective, bodies are managed in the ways mentioned above to attract the attention of the opposite sex to procreate and invent the next generation of capitalists. Even today when we are "free" to use (or not use) our bodies however we see fit, there are social repercussions when we do not fit the societal mold. When individuals do not produce and reproduce life itself, they are categorized in one way, shape, or form as different as the "other." And, we all know how dangerous the "other" can be.

  6. Taking on Mark’s challenge, “how would you talk with a skeptic about these construals of the ways that power operates within capitalism, politics, and ‘life itself?’” I say that you would not have to look much further than the recent fight in congress over the 2011 budget. The Republicans attempted to insert their social agenda into the bill;“Riders Caused The Storm: Government Shutdown Looms Over Anti-Abortion And Anti-EPA Measures” ( Their goals were: 1) to attempt to regulate what women could do to their bodies by de-funding Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions along with many other services, 2) to attempt to stop regulations that keep the air people breathe clean in order to help business interests. We live in a society where each side of the political spectrum believes they have the power to make laws regarding biological functions; Republicans want to stop abortion and Democrats try to regulate the very air you breathe. But for some Washington is another world. Let’s bring it home. Our very university and state regulate our bodies. According to the University of Memphis web site “All students intending to be full time students at the University of Memphis must show documentation of two (2) MMR immunizations or documentation of immunity for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) prior to registering for classes. This requirement is mandatory under Tennessee State Law…All new students must complete the Hepatitis B - Meningitis Immunization Health History Form before they can register” ( Before you can be a student you must alter your body. I believe this falls in line with Rose’s idea that “susceptibility brings potential futures into the present and tried to make them the subject of calculation and the object of remedial intervention. This generates the sense that some, perhaps all persons, though existentially healthy are actually asymptomatically or pre-symptomatically ill” (Rose, p. 19).The concept behind immunizations is that in the future you could catch a disease, so we must treat you as being ill now. And if you want to enter the University or the education system, you do not have a choice. Those not immunized even thou they are healthy are seen as being sick, until they introduce a state regulated cure into their system. Only immunized bodies have the right to a public education! The powers that be assume the authority to control the student "body" and we fall in line, without question.

  7. Off and on during the past few weeks, we have talked about life not as an abstract, but as a discrete reality in itself. We have also spoken of labor in the same manner – not an abstract construct, but a discrete reality in itself. It occurs to me that even in the founding documents similar abstractions are presented as a discrete reality with substance and value in or of themselves; among them are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps this has always been true, especially if we consider Plato’s theory of forms conceiving the world in terms of the material and the transcendent. I see this idea lurking in the background of theories related to biopolitics and biopower.

    One source ( explains that,
    “Humans have access to the realm of forms through the mind, through reason, …to an unchanging world, invulnerable to the pains and changes of the material world. By detaching ourselves from the material world and our bodies and developing our ability to concern ourselves with the forms, we find a value which is not open to change or disintegration.”

    This point about forms is referenced in the readings. In his blog post, Mark cites and highlights the distinction between zoe and bios. He notes that, “zoe referred to “the simple fact of living common to all living beings (animals, men, or gods)” (ST 627); bios referred to “the form or way of living proper to an individual or group” (627).” For me, this highlights a thesis that the Western intellectual tradition has been obsessed with purity, which is to say a pure, uncontestable reality or orthodoxy.

    In Empire, Hardt and Negri write, “only on the ontological horizon of Empire, however, is the world finally outside measure” (355). They also assert that “Throughout modernity, the immeasurable was the object of an absolute ban, an epistemological prohibition. This metaphysical illusion disappears today, however, because in the context of biopolitical ontology and its becomings, the transcendent is what is unthinkable” (355). For a Western mind, this collapsed cosmology might seem radical. It certainly seems to mean that Plato’s forms are no longer accessed through reason or reasoning. Material and the transcendent are one in the here and now. The perfection of the forms is unchangeable even as the forms evolve to perfect that perfection – an ongoing statement of becoming.

    I read biopolitical production in this way – a pure, efficient reality. This type of pure, efficient reality has far-reaching implication for social reality and this idea seems to be the key to Hardt and Negri’s understanding of biopolitical production. Social reality in this idea is not a construct arising from discourse among vital agents, but from intercourse among – intimate interactions and intersections – among components in much the same way, say, the interaction of blood and oxygen create a reality. So, here the polis is also an efficient, pure form. The result is an equally pure, efficient democracy, which bypasses discourse as we currently understand it. There is no conflict. Democracy is a biopolitical product that naturally occurs quite apart from the polis. Thus, it is pure and efficient and holistically beneficial to the form. This is similar to the assertion by Castells (Rise of the Network Society, 1996) in the Social Theory text that, “under the conditions of the network society capital is globally coordinated, labor is individualized.” The statement could be reworked to say that under the conditions of biopolitical production social reality is globally coordinated, labor is individualized.

  8. Mark--thank you for your insightful questions and especially your words of encouragement at the top of the blog.

    Because of the depth of your questions, I’m going to try to focus specifically on your second question regarding comparing Althusser to the concepts of biopower in this week’s reading. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two approaches is where they are located in terms of traditions. As discussed earlier in the semester, Althusser relies heavily on the idea that the Ideological State Apparatuses serves as the base. This means that the substructure with an ISA base will influence the material existence of the ideology.

    The discussion of biopower in this week’s readings, on the other hand, derive out of a post-structuralist model. Post-structuralism leans upon the notion that there is not one singular understanding of something, but instead these things are determined by its relation to other things.

    These two vastly different ways to approach biopower create a noticeable difference in how we are understanding bio-power. In the case of Althusser’s “Thesis II” we see, “that the subject acts insofar as he is acted by the following system (set out in the order of its real determination)” (ST, p. 323). Yet, when we examine Hardt and Negri, they argue, “Power can achieve an effective command over the entire life of the population only when it becomes an integral, vital function that every individual embraces and reactive of his or her own accord” (p. 24). Although this week’s readings and Althusser will both argue that ideologies through institutions will guide human behavior on an incredibly intimate level, the difference in interpretation is where the “pressure” comes from and, in turn, the availability of negotiation/multiplicity.

    While not exact, we can understand the disjunctions simply as the control that “Althusser’s thesis two” examines comes from an external structure, while the readings from this week argue that control is determined through internal relations. A good way to understand the convergences and divergences between the two is by examining the two force philosophies in Star Wars [1]. While the Living Force philosophy connects all beings to one another and flowed within each person. Followers of the Living Force philosophy placed an emphasis of moment to moment. The Unifying Force philosophy, on the other hand, saw the force as something that still connected people, but instead simply existed.

    In the end, both argue that there is an influence of ideology that influences/controls our behavior. However, where power is located and the affect it has is different.


  9. As Mark posited, “how would you talk with a skeptic about these contruals of the ways that power operates within capitalism, politics and “life itself,” his point brings up a powerful theme that the course has reiterated throughout the semester. This is a difficult question but sets up an interesting and challenging proposition.
    Specifically, I found Agamben’s discussion of what is “life” interesting as an ending point of the semester. Essentially all of our readings deal with this issue indirectly through various methods and theories. However, ultimately, “life” represents all. Here, in Mark’s discussion of biopolitics, this question remains pertinent and acts as a necessary counterpart.
    Particularly interesting to me was Michel Foucault’s introduction of biopolitics in the Introduction to Sexuality. Although at first glance, sexuality does not appear a facet of biopolitics, Foucault introduces biopolitics as a predominant form of societal regimes today. Agamebn states, “According to Foucault a society’s ‘threshold of biological modernity is situated at the point at which the species and the individual as a simple living body become what is at stake in a society’s political messages” (ST, 675). In other words, nature and natural life ultimately become mechanisms of the state. Therefore, all of human “nature” and of “life itself” becomes a facet of state control within a political sphere.
    Stated briefly, life becomes a mechanism of control, in which power is exerted over an individual. This is turn blurs the distinction between the natural and the artificial if the State truly controls both nature and the artifice. Although, this may be a pessimistic view, our bodies are essentially biopolitical entities in which “the State” has ultimate governance and control. Cheers!

  10. The reason that this skepticism exists with this theory in particular is due to the nature of society that we currently are living in: the control society. According to Mark’s blog post, “In the control society, by contrast, power operates from within.” This “within” operation of power gives us the illusion of having our own power and freedom to our own choice. However, we are actually being controlled by “the behaviors of social integration and exclusion proper to rule are thus increasingly interiorized within the subjects themselves” (23). This control can be best examined through examples in each of Rose’s five different realms of the 21st world.

    This new examination of the molecular level of our bodies has lead to new discoveries and treatments.

    Recently my sister was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. While it was first discovered in 1912, it wasn’t until recently that more doctors started testing for the disease. Interestingly, this diagnosis runs in our family, as three cousins also have it along with celiac disease, an inability to absorb nutrients because of gluten intolerance. Recently research has found that not treating celiac disease can lead to the inflammation or the progression of Hashimoto’s disease.
    This diagnosis of Hoshimoto’s has lead to a level of optimization, not just for my sister, but for me as well.

    We can see the messages of optimization of our bodies everywhere: magazines, tv shows, and news stories.

    For my sister, she spends a significant amount of time and money to enhance her body since her diagnosis. However, the interest aspect that has developed out of her diagnosis is its effect on me. Her doctor informed her, that since there was a family history of the disease, that I should be tested as well. However, he explained to her that it would not be necessary for me to get tested if I did not have type O blood, because this disease was not just genetic in nature, but blood type specific as well. I have type O blood and I went to get tested. My results indicated that I do not have active Hashimoto’s disease, but that I have Celiac disease. I was informed that I am still susceptible to activating Hashimoto’s in my system, but that I can keep this from happening by managing my Celiac disease (basically no wheat gluten). This allows me to optimize my life and stay ahead of the disease.

    Sujectification and Ethopolitics
    With this new understanding of molecular level of our bodies and the ability to use that knowledge to optimize our bodies, we now have a new way of seeing ourselves and others around us. We begin to feel guilty for not participating in the optimization of our bodies. We even hear discourses about others and why they do not participate. Some examples, “How can someone smoke in this day when we know so much about how bad it is for you?” or “My mother always told me that I should never let myself go, so I go to the gym everyday and feel guilty when I don’t.”

    Somatic Expertise
    With new technology comes new expertise. My sister, in order to optimize her body since her diagnosis, employs several experts: thyroid specialist, nutritionist, and personal trainer. Most of her money and energy is spent trying to become to best version of her body possible.
    Bioeconomics or Economies of Vitality
    This push by her to optimize her body, and others that want the same, has lead to an entire industry of optimizers. This industry is not just limited to the medical industry but we can buy all types of commodities in order to optimize our bodies. In fact, you cannot go anywhere or hardly watch anything without see advertisement for a product or service that can help optimize your body: gym, diet pills, shoes that help you work out, prescription drugs.

    Biopolitics has become part of the discourse of our lives.

  11. Congrats on passing your comps, Mark!

    As I was engaging in this week’s readings, I kept thinking back to our first blog session on Marxism. I am glad that Mark mentions the term, biopolitical production for discussion. Partially relying on Marxist thought, Foucault’s control of society theories, and Deleuze and Guattari’s poststructuralist theory, grounded in Marxist thought, to understand biopower, Hardt and Negri define biopolitical production as a collective and often contradictory biopolitical body, which is not just a structure in a Marxist sense, but instead “becomes language (both scientific language and social language) because it is a multitude of production and reproduction, structure and superstructure, because it is life in the fullest sense and politics in the proper sense” (p. 30). Here, Hardt and Negri use this theoretical framework for the basis of their analysis discussed in Chapter 2.

    Secondly, using some of Rose’s realms of how biopolitics and biopower interact with life “itself” in the 21st century, I believe that a relevant example in this century centers on the cosmetical industry. The term cosmetical is derived from the word pharmaceutical to construct both power and meaning to products that are marketed to help one “control” and “manage” their body. This fits in with Rose’s realm of Optimization. By using this term, power and meaning is also constructed to present plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and other physicians alike who put their names on these products through advertisements as credible experts who can better assist people in managing their bodies and taking control of their “lives,” therefore, demonstrating Rose’s concept of Somatic Expertise.

    Overall, the term cosmetical, the products, credible physicians that made or become the face of the product(s), and the advertisements all fit into Rose’s concepts of Subjectification and Ethopolitics and taken these products of the cosmetical industry function as Bioeconomics. Hence, the skeptics that find this week’s theories on biopolitics and biopower to be conspiracy discourses, I would ask them to look through magazines, billboards, commercials, and really any form of media/advertisements and challenge them not to find a source of biopolitics imbedded in the discourses of our “lives.”

  12. Hardt and Negri investigate “the material transformation of the paradigm of rule” (22). This material transformation is the transformation of material (life itself) into digitized bits of information, self-regulated, under the parameters of the network (or to use Hardt and Negri’s words, “normalizing”) apparatuses- apparatuses that are monopolized economically by global enterprise, most importantly financial, providing the brain of the Empire. The freedom we think we have due to technological advances is regulated by the terms and conditions of the various contracts we digitally sign in order to use the soft and hardware.

    Our vital information, details about our medical, financial, professional and even personal lives is reduced to a nine digit number that is compiled as data. Our system of credit which pays for debt by producing more credit, which produces more debt, ultimately places the majority in a system of servitude struggling to keep up with staggering rates of inflation. . When banks just print more money or lend on a fractional reserve basis, the debtors, (governments, corporations, average citizens) must work to serve the interests of the lenders. This precipitates a cycle of boom and bust that is aggravated by wars that are about controlling resources to serve certain ends, whether it is fossil fuels, narcotics or “stabilizing democracy.” Understand that these mechanisms are all attached to big business as lucrative contracts are signed when regions are reterrorialized through wars and rebellions.

    How do we think all of these wars are being paid for?

    So ultimately we must work, pay our taxes, and invest in all institutions socially and politically relevant to stay afloat. We consume, we pay finance fees just to get from point a to b or live with a decent roof over our head. We are the Empire, although we are its minions, yet the problem is we have the free will to operate in it. In this sense it becomes a sobering reality that we must cope with locating our souls in the drudgery of “autonomous alienation”. We pray to God in whatever incarnation we see him, cheer for our favorite sports team, or tune in every week to see who will be the next American Idol. All of this helps us cope and feel better about our free will and individuality. You may be a Catholic, I could choose to be a Buddhist. So you like the Cowboys, I like the Raiders. We have difference, we have choice, but when the Monday alarm clock goes off, we must get ready for work or the alternative is the place where few wish to be, on the street begging for change. We wonder how people end up there and we know at the very least we don’t want that fate, so we self-regulate by fitting in and having a place in society, a society that you must buy into. What is the ultimate cost?

  13. BCG's comment about required immunizations reminded me of the slew of shots I had to get in order to attend public school--MMR, tetanus, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and influenza. It's an interesting matter of compliance for parents. Some can object to the mandate of immunizing their children. There are financial costs to consider. Plus, there is the stigma of being called an irresponsible parent for not getting the full round of immunizations.

    I have heard conspiracy theories about the shots that basically claim that the government is tracking you and manipulating your genes. Such theories are illustrated in the pilot episode of Aeon Flux. Hordes of henchmen are found dead with blue blood vessels etched across their faces. The state controlled media says that they henchmen were killed by a virus, and announces a vaccine to prevent it from spreading among the population. The citizens line up in droves to get the shot which actually is how the government controls and manipulates their genes.

    I don't really know where I'm going with this. The point I think I'm trying to make is that compliance with methods of control and regulation is seen as a matter of responsibility. Responsible citizens are people who abstain from illegal drugs, eat healthy foods, get vaccinated, and exercise. Irresponsible citizens do the opposite.