Biopolitics is sometimes understood as the bundling of various political viewpoints on bioengineering and bioethical questions. A much narrower understanding of the term is associated with the works of Michel Foucault. Foucault described biopolitics as a political caesura in the transition from the Ancien Régime to the modern state. According to Foucault, the modern state no longer uses power to let live and make die but to optimize life processes. Foucault identified two main types of biopolitics: firstly, disciplinary power which aims to incorporate individual bodies into economic considerations, and secondly, the biopolitics of the people, which aims to turn the population into a public resource and to regulate it. The analytic potential of Foucault's work lies primarily in his identification of categories such as body, life, and death as loci of power, which enables us to understand their past and present development in the context of a genealogy of power. Such a broad basis, together with the incomplete nature of Foucault's work, has significantly contributed to the use of the term biopolitics in the most various of fields, such as gender studies, post-colonial studies, and governmental studies.
In any case, the term biopolitics, in contrast to the term bioethics, shifts power games to the fore of discourse. It refers to the socio-political consequences of developments in bioengineering, their societal parameters, central figures and the role of the state, biopolitical decision-making, or complex decision-making processes and mechanisms of influence.
Marion Albers, 22.07.2014 / Marion.Albers@uni-hamburg.de