George Tooker, Government Bureau

Michel Foucault: Biopolitics and Beyond

Instructor: Theodra Bane
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

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.”  What he describes as “governmentality”—that modern states govern through pervasive organization and rationality, including the control of biological life—has become a compelling theory of politics that has since spread to many corners of contemporary social thought. In this class, we will explore Foucault’s theories of governmentality (including biopower and biopolitics) to examine how it has influenced scholarly and public thinking about power, nation-states, and sovereign authority. We’ll ask, how has the organizing rationality of governance by the state 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?

The primary focus will be on Foucault’s lectures from the Collège de France delivered from 1975 to 1979—“Society Must Be Defended”, Security, Territory, Population, and The Birth of Biopolitics—as well as accompanying interviews and essays from the period. Secondary readings from Wendy Brown, Mitchell Dean, Achille Mbembe, David Scott, and others will supplement our discussions and draw our attention to the applicability and limits of a Foucauldian understanding of governmentality for contemporary analysis.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
November 16 — December 14, 2023
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Thursday, November 23rd.


Registration Open

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