Handbook of Biology and Politics
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Handbook of Biology and Politics

Edited by Steven A. Peterson and Albert Somit

The study of biology and politics (or biopolitics) has gained considerable currency in recent years, as articles on the subject have appeared in mainstream journals and books on the subject have been well received. The literature has increased greatly since the 1960s and 1970s, when this specialization first made an appearance. This volume assesses the contributions of biology to political science. Chapters focus on general biological approaches to politics, biopolitical contributions to mainstream areas within political science, and linkages between biology and public policy. The volume provides readers with a comprehensive introduction to the subject.
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Chapter 4: Michel Foucault’s perspective on biopolitics

Vanessa Lemm and Miguel Vatter


Foucault’s discussion of biopolitics, a term that he began using in the mid-1970s, is closely related to his new theories of power, which have since revolutionized our understanding of this concept. This chapter explains Foucault’s conception of biopolitics, which is now widely adopted in all social sciences and humanities when discussing the relation between politics and biology, from the perspective of his account of power. The chapter explains that biopolitics, for Foucault, describes a new way to govern citizens by considering individuals part of ‘populations’ whose biological lives (from birth to death) need to be managed in order to maximize their strength, well-being, and now ‘resilience’. The chapter also details how, for Foucault, such biological government entails the real peril that certain ‘sub-populations’ may be considered dispensable in order to ‘strengthen’ other sub-populations, a phenomenon which has led in the past centuries to state-based racism, colonialism, and eventually totalitarian forms of absolute domination. The chapter concludes by discussing a more ‘affirmative’ understanding of biopolitics, where biological life is understood as something that resists political domination.

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