Michel Foucault introduced his concept of biopolitics in 1974 to describe a technique of power that appeared in Europe at the turn of the 19th century. In contrast to anatomo-politics, which seeks to discipline individual bodies and their movements, biopolitics aims at controlling mass, populational phenomena, such as fertility rates, average age, population growth, morbidity, capacity to work, migration, and public safety. This new technique of power works on “a multiplicity of men, not to the extent that they are nothing more than their individual bodies, but to the extent that they form, on the contrary, a global mass that is affected by [global] processes”.
The so-called “new normality”, brought about by SARS-CoV-2 and the political actions taken by various governments to defend public health, has shown that understanding a pandemic requires more than simply understanding its microbiological reality. After all, this same reality has led to different rates of infection, mortality, and unemployment, depending on different pre-existing politico-economic circumstances and the different strategies of containing the pandemic taken in different parts of the world. Controlling infection rates, much like any biopolitical procedure, brings us face to face with the population as “a problem that is at once scientific and political, as a biological problem and as power's problem.”
Worrying epidemiological developments have triggered a debate between a number of theoretical heavyweights on the true significance of Foucault’s concept. While some have followed Giorgio Agamben in interpreting measures taken to contain the pandemic as a totalitarian interplay of bio-power, bare life and the quarantine state of exception, their critics have tried to show that the relationship between medicine and politics is more complex in character. Rather than revealing the all-powerful nature of modern “dispositives of power”, the necessity of regulating the pandemic has revealed a pathological lack of regulation of existing medical institutions. Insufficient responses to the current crisis, which have put an excessive strain on the lower classes, force us to consider the possibility of different ways of coordinating societies, ones that would not merely represent the normalization of bare life and an attack on personal freedom, but the ability of the individual to exercise their freedom above and beyond the liberal ideal of defending the personal sphere from external encroachment.
ILS’s lecture series on biopolitics will be inaugurated by Panagiotis Sotiris, who will attempt to answer the question posed in his critique of Agamben: is a “democratic biopolitics” possible? The following lectures will continue to probe “collective phenomena which have their economic and political effects [...] only at the mass level”, as well as the historical attempts to regulate them. More specifically, they will deal with the economic consequences of the current pandemic, eugenics in Slovenia, the concept of biopolitics in new materialist theories, necropolitics, theories of social reproduction, and historical topics that seem pertinent to understanding the given situation.
The lectures will be streamed on YouTube every Thursday at 7PM (GMT +1), starting with November 12th.
It will feature the following lecturers: Panagiotis Sotiris, Ana Cergol Paradiž, Michael Roberts, Svit Komel, Arne Kušej, Ankica Čakardić, Mike Davis, Jovita Pristovšek, Klemen Ploštajner, Matej Križanec, Tithi Bhattacharaya, Sandro Mezzadra, Tomas Lemke, Sara R. Faris.