Tim Christiaens (2022) Biomedical technocracy, the networked public sphere and the biopolitics of COVID-19: notes on the Agamben affair, Culture, Theory and Critique,
Giorgio Agamben’s public interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic against emergency measures like lockdowns, obligatory vaccinations and the prescribed use of masks have been highly controversial. I argue that Agamben’s essays must be read as a modern prophecy of doom warning for the dangers of biomedical technocracy. Agamben marshals the sound of Old Testament prophets to shock his readers into critically rethinking their complacency with governmental norms. This warning is appropriate yet ill-phrased: Agamben presumes the dominant obstacle to genuine debate in the public sphere is a standardisation of discourse under the power of monopoly capital, whereas the opposite problem of too many divergent voices is more salient for today’s digitally networked public sphere. Furthermore, Agamben depicts a too strong contrast between scientifically informed technocratic government and democratic freedom, which leaves him blind for the democratic potential of the sciences themselves. I employ Ulrich Beck’s theory of the risk society and social movements to introduce more nuance into Agamben’s apocalyptic prophecy.
KEYWORDS: Agamben COVID-19 Illich risk society democratic biopolitics