Michel Foucault: Biopolitics and Beyond
1216 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10029
In a lecture given at the Collège de France in 1976, Michel Foucault declared, “One of the basic phenomena of the nineteenth century was what might be called power’s hold over life.” This observation—that modern states derive their force from controlling biological life—is the basis of biopower, a theory of politics that has since spread to many corners of contemporary social thought. In this class, we will explore Foucault’s theories of biopower and biopolitics and examine how it has influenced scholarly and public thinking about power, nation-states, and human health. We’ll ask, how has the birth of biogovernance turned the management of life itself into a political concern? How are we to understand “power” as Foucault conceives it? In his schema, are individual agency and structural change possible? How does Foucault deal, or fail to deal, with questions of race and gender and status and lifeways of non-Europeans and non-humans?
Core readings in this class will include key texts by Foucault, including selections from The History of Sexuality Volume 1, Discipline and Punish, and Society Must Be Defended. We will go beyond these canonical texts to consider postcolonial reconfigurations from Ann Stoler, philosophical engagements on the interplay between technocratic power and individual agency from Ian Hacking, the dangerous potential for biopolitical governance to reduce life to what Giorgio Agamben calls “bare life”, and the modern forms of biopower and biopolitics enabled by contemporary biotechnology and patient activism from science studies scholar Nikolas Rose.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 13 — December 04, 2017