Daniele Lorenzini, The Normativity of Biopolitics
Working draft of a talk delivered at the Dutch-Belgian Foucault Circle on 24 February 2021.
As was predictable, the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to the emergence of a new series of analyses centered on Michel Foucault’s notions of biopower or biopolitics. In this talk, I won’t draw any distinctions between the two notions (because Foucault himself doesn’t), and just use them interchangeably to indicate the specific form and mechanisms of power that aim to protect, manage, and enhance the biological life of the population. However, the re-appropriation of the notions of biopower and biopolitics by politicians, journalists, and public intellectuals today also gave rise to many—more or less problematic—misunderstandings and misreadings of Foucault. If anything, I hope that my talk will shed some light on what these uses of Foucault’s notions of biopower and biopolitics misunderstand and overlook. At the same time, however, I wouldn’t want to limit myself to the bleak task of “defending” Foucault. That’s definitely not the point. Offering a reading of Foucault’s work on biopolitics that is as close as possible to his original aims and intentions should indeed be just the premise for a further, and more relevant, task: ask whether or not his analyses are still relevant to us, and explore ways in which they can be modified in order to address problems that are certainly different from those that Foucault was addressing more than forty years ago.