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ECPR Futures Lab 2020

Biopolitics of Temporality

Political Theory
Critical Theory
State Power
Jürgen Portschy
University of Vienna
Jürgen Portschy
University of Vienna

According to Foucault’s “lectures on gouvernmentality” the emergence of a liberal rationality of government is fundamentally connected to the problem of the population, together making up a power-dispositive that he tried to conceptualize via his notion of biopolitics, describing the process of “nothing less than the entry of life into history, that is, the entry of phenomena peculiar to the life of the human species into the order of knowledge and power, into the sphere of political techniques” (Foucault 1978, 141-142). While Foucault today is recognized as a scholar who has been especially sensitive to issues of spatiality, only a few commentators have emphasized his continual interest for historically changing arrangements of time, temporality and power. Therefore, building on the work of Elisabeth Freeman (2010) this paper tries to elaborate on the concept of a “biopolitics of temporality” or “biochronopolitics”. Besides his comprehensive discussion of time-discipline in “Discipline and Punish”, especially in his work on biopolitics, Foucault pointed out the important role of time in the context of the emergence of liberal rationality of government, focusing on processes through which the reflected form of governing intersects with questions of temporal organization, so that government extends to the realm of time, and where on the other hand time creeps into practices of governing as a reminder of their own contingency and finitude. The paper tries to further develop these theoretical reflections, taking into account not only different strands of current biopolitical literature, but also different theoretical approaches to power and time. I contend that current debates on time, temporality and power are characterized by two tendencies: authenticism and apocalypticism. While the former assumes some substantial temporal force or dynamic that gets blocked up by the dominant mechanisms of organizing time and hence must be recovered or restored, the latter totalizes the heterogeneity of temporal forms from the standpoint of its own present, which is conceived as a fundamental break in time and tends to miss the contingent and contested nature of the various conflicting temporalities. While both tendencies see themselves as being critical, I will point out some problems when it comes to formulate a critical perspective on issues of time, temporality and power. I will contrast these tendencies with a foucauldian approach, which 1) also accounts for the specificities of the present situation, while 2) introducing a reformulated concept of history built on contingency and conflict, and 3) shifting the analytical focus on genealogies of governmental techniques, rationalities and mechanisms of temporalisation, which effectuate different forms of time and temporality. Building on these assumptions, I will argue that in the context of current neoliberal transformations, time of life increasingly turns into a fetishized object of hope along the imaginary frame of an economy of self-government, a tendency which can be further explicated for the realms of work, migration and reproductive technologies.
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