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Political Science
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Biopolitics Genopolitics Neuropolitics

The term "biopolitics" or "biopolitical" can refer to several different yet often compatible concepts.

The term originates with Rudolf Kjellén in the 1920s who also coined the term geopolitics.[1] In contemporary US political science studies, usage of the term is mostly divided between a post-modernist group using the meaning assigned by Michel Foucault (denoting social and political power over life) and another group who uses it to denote studies relating biology and political science.[2]

Various definitions of biopolitics

  1. In Kjellén's organicist view, the state was quasi-biological organism, a "super-individual creature". Kjellén sought to study "the civil war between social groups" (comprising the state) from a biological perspective and thus named his putative discipline "biopolitics".[3]
  2. The Nazis also used the term occasionally. For example, Hans Reiter used it in a 1934 speech to refer to their biologically based concept of nation and state and ultimately their racial policy.[2]
  3. Morley Roberts in his 1938 book Bio-politics used to argue that a correct model for world politics is "a loose association of cell and protozoa colonies".[2]
  4. In the work of Foucault, the style of government that regulates populations through "biopower" (the application and impact of political power on all aspects of human life).[4][5]
  5. In the works of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, anti-capitalist insurrection using life and the body as weapons; examples include flight from power and, 'in its most tragic and revolting form', suicide terrorism. Conceptualised as the opposite of biopower, which is seen as the practice of sovereignty in biopolitical conditions.[6]
  6. The political application of bioethics.[7][8]
  7. A political spectrum that reflects positions towards the sociopolitical consequences of the biotech revolution.[7][8]
  8. Political advocacy in support of, or in opposition to, some applications of biotechnology.[7][8]
  9. Public policies regarding some applications of biotechnology.[7][8]
  10. Political advocacy concerned with the welfare of all forms of life and how they are moved by one another.[9]
  11. The politics of bioregionalism
  12. The interplay and interdisciplinary studies relating biology and political science,[10] primarily the study of the relationship between biology and political behavior.[3] For example the relationship of biology and political orientation, but also biological correlates of partisanship and voting behavior.[11] (See also sociobiology.)

Foucault and biopolitics

French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault first discussed his thoughts on biopolitics in his lecture series "Society Must Be Defended" given at the Collège de France from 1975–1976. Foucault's concept of biopolitics is largely derived from his own notion of biopower, and the extension of state power over both the physical and political bodies of a population. While only mentioned briefly in his "Society Must Be Defended" lectures, biopolitics has recently seen a surge in prominence among academics and social critics.

Foucault first mentioned biopolitics on 17 March 1976, during his "Society Must Be Defended" lectures. He described it as "a new technology of power...[that] exists at a different level, on a different scale, and [that] has a different bearing area, and makes use of very different instruments."[12] More than a disciplinary mechanism, Foucault's biopolitics acts as a control apparatus exerted over a population as a whole or, as Foucault stated, "a global mass."[12] In the years that followed, Foucault continued to develop his notions of the biopolitical in his "The Birth of Biopolitics" and "The Courage of Truth" lectures.

Foucault gave numerous examples of biopolitical control when he first mentioned the concept in 1976. These examples include "ratio of births to deaths, the rate of reproduction, the fertility of a population, and so on."[13] He contrasted this method of social control with political power in the Middle Ages. Whereas in the Middle Ages pandemics made death a permanent and perpetual part of life, this has shifted around the end of the 18th century. The development of vaccines and medicines dealing with public hygiene allowed death to be held (and/or withheld) from certain populations. This was the introduction of "more subtle, more rational mechanisms: insurance, individual and collective savings, safety measures, and so on."[14]


  1. Roberto Esposito (2008). Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy, U of Minnesota Press.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Liesen, Laurette T. and Walsh, Mary Barbara, The Competing Meanings of 'Biopolitics' in Political Science: Biological and Post-Modern Approaches to Politics (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper Template:Ssrn
  3. 3.0 3.1 (2011) Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction, 9–10, NYU Press. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "LemkeCasper2011" defined multiple times with different content
  4. Michel Foucault, edited by Jeremy R. Carrette (1999). Religion and culture: Michel Foucault.
  5. Michel Foucault: Security,Territory,Population p.1 (2007)
  6. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2005). Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Hamish Hamilton.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Hughes, James (2004). Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future, Westview Press.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Rifkin, Jeremy Fusion Biopolitics. The Nation. URL accessed on 2008-03-16.
  9. Tiqqun, translated by Alexander R. Galloway and Jason E. smith (2010). Introduction to Civil War.
  10. Robert Blank (2001). Biology and Political Science, Psychology Press. "This book demonstrates the increasing convergence of interest of some social scientists in the theories, research and findings of the life sciences in building a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of politics. It discusses the development of biopolitics as an academic perspective within political science, reviews the growing literature in biopolitics, and presents a coherent view of biopolitics as a framework for structuring inquiry across the current subfields of political science."
  11. (2011) Biology and Political Behavior: The Brain, Genes and Politics - The Cutting Edge, Emerald Group Publishing.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Foucault, Michel (1997). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976, 242, New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.
  13. Foucault, Michel (1997). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976, 243, New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.
  14. Foucault, Michel (1997). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976, 243–244, New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

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