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Biopolitics as a System of Thought

Lecturer: Serene Richards

Originally Taught: Summer School 2022

Sylvain Lazarus in Anthropology of the Name asks whether politics is a thought or an activity encompassed by the State relation? The peculiarity of biopolitics is that it is reliant upon a system of thought and a set of assumptions drawn from the study of man as both subject and object, as well as being a technique of government of the living and a characteristic of sovereignty. The aim of this short course will be to sketch out the stakes of biopolitics, extending the analysis from its traditionally conceptualised definition as a form of governance of ‘biological life’ or the ‘species’ to one that considers biopolitics as a form of rationality with the question of value at its core. This rationality sets out the terms and limits of political activity, so that it would be necessary to ask: what would a non-biopolitical mode of political organisation look like?

1. A Double Bind: Knowledge and Politics

  • Gilles Deleuze, 'The Image of Thought’ in Difference and Repetition (London and New York: Continuum, 1994)
  • Sylvain Lazarus, extract from Anthropology of the Name (Chicago: Seagull Books, 2015)
  • Jean-François Lyotard, extract from The Postmodernism Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984)
  • Michel Foucault, extracts from The Order of Things (New York and Oxford: Routledge, 2002)

2. Government of the Living

  • Alain Desrosière - The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp.1-15.
  • Michel Foucault, Lecture 11, Society Must be Defended 1975-76, (New York: Picador, 2003)
  • Michel Foucault, Lecture 10, Security, Territory, Population (New York and London: Palgrave, 2007)

3. Life: A Fragile Threshold

  • Giorgio Agamben, The Use of Bodies (Stanford: Stanford University Press), pp.195-206
  • Giorgio Agamben, §4, §7, §9, §17, The Open: Man and Animal (Stanford: Stanford University Press)
  • Xavier Bichat, extract from Physiological Researches on Life and Death (London: Longman, 1815)
  • Georges Canguilhem, extract from Knowledge of Life (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008)

4. Juridical Artifice

  • Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), pp.126-135
  • Marta Madero, “Interpreting the Western Legal Tradition: Reading the Work of Yan Thomas,” Annales. Histoire Sciences Sociales, (2012) pp.117-132
  • Gilles Deleuze, ‘G as in Gauche,’ Abécédaire
  • Gilles Deleuze, ‘Control and Becoming’ in Negotiations 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997)

5. Being and Exchange Value

  • Walter Benjamin, Capitalism as Religion (1921)
  • Lenin, extracts from What is to be Done?
  • Griorgio Agamben, ‘What is a Command?’ in Creation and Anarchy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019)
  • Dardot & Laval, extracts from The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society (London and New York: Verso, 2013)