In the late 1970s, the philosopher Michel Foucault began to use the term “biopolitics” to describe a new way that the state had come to exercise power in the modern era. Beginning in the 18th century, he argued, state institutions had begun to prioritize the management and optimization of human beings’ biological life for the purposes of political control and economic development. Implicit in this enterprise was an alliance between political power and scientific and medical expertise – an instance of what Foucault famously called “power/knowledge.”
The COVID-19 crisis of 2020-21 radically reoriented global politics around a biological imperative: forestalling the spread of the virus and protecting citizens from it. In this seminar, we will examine the applicability of Foucault’s theory of biopolitics to the virus and the responses it has generated.
Sessions will be interactive; lectures will provide necessary background, but most of our time will be given over to discussion. The first session will closely examine Foucault’s theoretical formulation of biopolitics, while the second will apply his theory to the present moment and consider some challenges to it.