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Biopower and Biotechnology

posted by:Krystal Kreye // 03:09 AM // February 17, 2006 // Commentary &/or random thoughts

Foucault tells us that there are two poles of biopower (1) the human species and (2) the human body. In "The Problem of Government" he tells us that this power is "both an individualizing and a totalizing form of power [and] never in the history of human societies has there been such a tricky combination in the same political structures of individualization techniques, and of totalization procedures".
One of the disciplinary technologies today that employs this individualizing technique is obviously biotechnology. It is also totalizing in the sense that biotechnology indicates to us our membership in a homogenous social body but at the same time imposes on us that homogeneity (from "Normalizing Judgment"). One could say that biotechnology is the 'pinnacle' of individualizing techniques because it is able to examine what is most particular about us. When Foucault talks about the 'examination' in "The Means of Correct Training" he is talking about documentary techniques in a form very different than what we experience today. Nonetheless, the theory of making individuals into "cases" is still an accurate theory for the description of biotechnology.
He tells us that for a long time ordinary individuals remained below the everyday threshold of description. To be seen, followed, monitored, or written about was a privelege. The accounting of peoples lives was a ritual for the upper classes. However, "disciplinary methods reversed this relation, lowered the threshold of describable individuality, and made of this description a means of control and domination." The turning of lived lives into data was and is no longer a procedure of heroization; it now functions as a procedure for objectifying and subjectifying.
What is interesting about Foucault's discussion on 'disciplinary technologies' is his observation and emphasis that these technologies should not be thought of in negative terms. We should not think about certain biotechnologies as repressive or invasive or abstracting tools. In fact, we should think about them as producers. Now, it is not the case that because we do not think about them negatively then we must think about them positively, Foucault was not someone who thought in dichotomies...it was to think about them differently. So, bio-power and its technologies 'produce' individuals (maybe in a positive way and maybe in a negative way - that is left for us to decide). In fact, he argues that they produce reality; they produce "domains of objects and rituals of truth". So, us - as individual objects - and the truth that is gained from us after being individualized in these ways all belong to this production.
From this theoretical framework we can see how what is being 'produced' - the reality that is created after our information has left us - is extremely problematic. Not only is the individual analyzed apart from the group but the individual is analyzed apart from themselves.

These are just some thoughts that I have been having and if they seem scrambled it is because it's a fairly new topic of reflection for me. I invite any comments or insights...even a 'what are you talking about?' is probably in order.


Do you have any comments on the human body being used as a survalence instrument.Ex. eyes as a camera.

Posted by: James M Garrett at April 4, 2006 11:35 PM

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