Biopolitics and Coronavirus, or don’t forget Foucault
by Felipe Demetri, Naked Punch
First Posted: 03-21-20
What the coronavirus epidemic shows us is more the strength of Michel Foucault’s explanatory scheme than the current necro-thanatopolitical strain of interpretations. We all know that Foucault saw biopower as a series of events, from theoretical ones to concrete practices, which formed the basis of a new relationship between national states and the biological element of human life. No longer the exclusion of political life and the plundering of goods and rights that would characterize the Old Regime, but instead new techniques organized around the better extraction of the living forces. Thus, biopower is a descriptive index of the moment when States began to exercise the management of spheres of social life that today seem obvious to us, such as health care, birth and mortality rates, etc. Foucault does not suggest that this would be due to humanist concern of the State; it is, in fact, about meeting the demands of capitalism. Bruno Cava synthesized well in his recent text: the concept of biopolitics does not necessarily describe a “good” or “bad” situation: Foucault is limited to pointing out precisely the limits of our situation.
Faced with the coronavirus, the majority of States have exercised strong sanitary and population control in order to prevent its spread; strictly speaking, actions are being taken to prevent a greater death toll. Such biopolitics places us in the domain of how Foucault conceived the population management techniques, focused (primarily, but not exclusively) to better condition the living forces. It is increasingly evident, however, that even drastic actions have not been enough to contain the spread of the virus, and a sense of collective responsibility is growing towards those who cannot protect themselves: those who can’t work at home, those who are in unfavorable sanitary conditions, the elderly etc.