Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Alexander J. Means (2021) Foucault, biopolitics, and the critique of state reason, Educational Philosophy and Theory

DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2021.1871895

The concept of biopolitics was first outlined by Michel Foucault (2003, 2007, 2009) in his lectures at the Collège de France in the late 1970s in order to name and analyze emergent logics of power in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to Foucault, biopolitics refers to the processes by which human life, at the level of the population, emerged as a distinct political problem in Western societies. Foucault’s early formulation of biopolitics was part of a broader attempt in his genealogical studies to think beyond Marxist theories of power and the State.

Influencing Foucault at the time were a number of historical factors including longstanding frustration with intellectual orthodoxy in the French academy particularly the dominance of structural Marxism; the need for new political theory in light of the eruptions of 1968; the arrival of former eastern bloc dissidents in France fueling growing disillusionment with the Soviet Union; the defeat of the French Socialist and Communist Parties in 1978; and the emergence neoliberal thought—Thatcher in the United Kingdom, Giscard in France, Schmidt in Germany—that foretold a looming crisis of the left. Foucault’s analysis of biopolitics can be read as emerging from this historical milieu and as part of his unique approach to formulating a post-Marxist theory of political rule.

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