What is Biopolitics Pt. 1 – The Vatican Answers

I get a lot of questions from time to time about the nature of the all-so-obscure concept of biopolitics. It eludes myself many a times, while it always stays much alive in theoretical debates on racism, ecology, activism or health care regulation. The concept of Biopolitics or Biopower is grounded in Michel Foucaults writings in The Will To Knowledge and in lectures collected in The Birth of Biopolitics, for example. He saw biopower as completely and utterly connected to his philosophical analysis of political power, and to the concept of governmentality. Foucault saw the modern western state and its regulation of its subjects (citizens) through ”an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations.” But I would not build my analysis of today’s political organisation of the state technology of control solely on Foucault, since he clearly states in his lectures at College de France between 1978-1979  that he has no intention to study the development of governmental practice, the problems raised, the tactics chosen etc.

For me his view was interesting but very limited and most people use a hybrid concept that derives from people such as Donna Haraway, Giorgio Agamben and Michel Hardt and Antonio Negri for a contemporary update of the term. Foucault was deliberately vague in his writings and definitions of the term ”life”, which is of course fundamental to his thoughts on biopolitics, which is a useful enterprise, since the ever changing field of the life sciences have constantly redefined the notion of life in accordance to developments in medicine, neuropsychology and genetics during the last 200 years. So we today see some of the most important political force of biopoltics in the political economy well as in genetic selection and human reproduction in medicine;  Regulation and law in the areas of abortion, euthanasia, artificial insemination etc present hard practical dilemmas in newly formed areas such as bioethics and neuroethics: how to control or let people live free in the (post)modern state?

A current area of debate in this pressing matter is of course the issue of contraception as recently was commented in a now (in)famous preaching by Pope. New York times wrote a devastating blow to the Pope’s weak rhetoric and The Economist provides an interesting analysis as well. What is at the core is a fight over the interpretation of human sexuality, as a means of upholding ideology between rigid scripture and pragmatist modernity. Since the Vatican is an institution of control – control over interpretation and practice of Catholicism – it struggles between upholding the means of control and the unequivocal research showing that condom use is  positive in the war on HIV, not negative as the Pope suggested. 

Stay tuned for next chapter on BioPolitics! 

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