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The European Union and Beyond

From Bio-Power to Bio-Politics: Life and the Dynamic of Its Political Application in the Thought of Michel Foucault

Political Theory
State Power
Attasit Sittidumrong
University of Essex
Attasit Sittidumrong
University of Essex

Today, it is generally acknowledge that, among Foucault’s several ideas, bio-power is the most popular one. This idea was manifested firstly in the first volume of ‘The History of Sexuality’, where Foucault proposed the new basis on which his idea of the relation of power would be allowed to explicate. This basis is nothing but the condition under which the life of human is rendered to be an object ready to be imposed from an exercise of the sovereign power. Bio-power, in this way, is treated not only as the new form of power operating in modern political society, but also as the scheme where the interrelation between life and politics could be brought into play. It follows that, under the theme of bio-power, Foucault’s idea of politics could not be anything except the procedure through which human life is laid open, so as to be exercised by the sovereign, and state. However, the recent publication of Foucault’s Collage de France lecture, particularly his lectures from 1976 to 1979, has triggered an reorientation of the relation between life and politics in Foucault’s thought. In this article, I will pinpoint how Foucault rearranged the relation between life and politics. By using an evidence from his lectures on the history of governmentality—‘Security, Territory, and Population’, and ‘The Birth of Bio-Politics’—I will showed that Foucault’s scheme of the relation between life and politics does not stand pat on the priority of state. Life, according to Foucault, is no longer an object of sovereign’s power. On the contrary, it is set to be the target, providing the reason for an existence of the market, as the main mechanism of political government in the highest level. This might enable us to understand why Foucault changed the term in defining his political application of life from bio-power to bio-politics. It also gives an insight that, for Foucault, the crux of politics is nothing but the economic administration, that is, an administration of how human life is governed through the performance of market.
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