Is a Democratic Biopolitics Possible?

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2021 ... March 14, 2020
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Is a Democratic Biopolitics Possible?

Panagiotis Sotiris

Giorgio Agamben’s recent intervention ("The Invention of an Epidemic") which characterizes the measures implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic as an exercise in the biopolitics of the "state of exception" has sparked an important debate on how to think of biopolitics.

The very notion of biopolitics, as it was formulated by Michel Foucault, has been a very important contribution to our understanding the changes associated with the passage to capitalist modernity, especially in regards to the ways that power and coercion are exercised. From power as a right of life and death that the sovereign holds, we pass to power as an attempt to guarantee the health (and productivity) of populations. This led to an expansion without precedent of all forms of state intervention and coercion. From compulsory vaccinations, to bans on smoking in public spaces, the notion of biopolitics has been used in many instances as the key to understand the political and ideological dimensions of health policies.

At the same time it has... allowed us to analyse various phenomena, often repressed in the public sphere, from the ways that racism attempted to find a ‘scientific’ grounding to the dangers of trends such as eugenics. And indeed Agamben has used it in a constructive way, in this attempt to theorize the modern forms of a "state of exception," namely spaces where extreme forms of coercion are put in practice, with the concentration camp the main example.

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