Focault’s concept of biopower and the problem of genocide
Course: Michel Focault
Written by: Rauf Ahmed
From the readings of two texts of Focault, one is the part five (Right of Death and Power over Life) from the book “History of Sexuality: vol. 1 Introduction” and second text is the eleventh lecture from the book “Society Must be Defended, Lectures at the college de France, 1975- 76” I try to articulate the Focault’s concept of biopower and its main notions in this writing. “If genocide is indeed the dream of modern powers, this is not because of a recent return of the ancient right to kill, it is because power is situated and exercised at the level of life, the species, the race and the large scale phenomena of population.”[i], with claiming this Focault taking the account of biopower from sixteenth century to twentieth century to prove his claim. Focault describes that in ancient times the father of the Roman family have the right to “dispose” of the life of his children and his slaves, just as he had given them life, so he could take it away. But some theoreticians consider that it was conditioned and not absolute power of life and death. Sovereign can use his right only in that condition in which he is in danger or threatened by eternal or external enemies, only then he can put them in danger for his own sake. And if they retreat or rise up against him then in that case, he has right to take lives of them or let them live.[ii] By the classical age, it was the juridical form of sovereign power, the right of a ruler to seize things, time, wealth, labour and lives of the subjects to suppress them. Focault writes that since the classical age the west has undergone a very profound transformation of these mechanisms of power. Deduction has merely one element is a range of mechanisms working to generate, incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimize and organize the force under it. A power bent of generating forces, making them grow an ordering them, rather than destroying them. This life administering shift the right of sovereign ‘to take life or let live’ into ‘to make live or let die’. This power over life revolved in two forms, one focuses on an anatomo-politics of the human body seeking to maximize its forces and integrate it into efficient systems. And second focuses on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological process, birth, mortality, health, longevity. Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population. The disciplines of the body and the regulations of the population constituted the two poles around which the organization of power over life was deployed.[iii]And old power of death was replaced by the administration of bodies and the calculated management of life. Here now we have two power technologies of life, disciplinary and regulatory technology of life, one is a technology in which the body is individualized as an organism endowed with capacities, while the other is a technology in which bodies are replaced by general biological processes.[iv] We can see the development in classical period in different disciplines, schools, army, and barracks and in the field of political and economic practices, housing, migration, public health longevity, birth rate, improvement in agricultural techniques and in medicine etc. And with these developments west succeed to overcome the threats of epidemics and of famine. Because western man was gradually learning what it mean to be living species in a living world, to have a body, conditions of existence, probabilities of life, an individual and collective welfare, forces that could be modified, and a space in which they could be distributed in an optimal manner.[v] And it is not like that the life is totally integrated into techniques that govern and administer it, it...
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