The body… is caught up in a system of constraints and privations, obligations and prohibitions
– Michel Foucault, Discipline and punish
I have recently read an article online which connects Foucault’s concept of biopolitics to that of state racism- the piece was so fascinating that I have decided to explore the concept of biopower a little bit more in this brief article. Biopolitics can briefly be described as being the politics of governmentality of life, through the human body. The concept mainly encompasses all the strategies, mechanisms or ‘dispositifs’ as Foucault would say, that govern human life through the ‘technologies of control’, which are numerous forms of authority on knowledge and power. To quote what Foucault said in The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality, these technologies of control exist “to ensure, sustain, and multiply life, to put this life in order”.
Biopolitics is hence, about the human body being subjugated to the technologies of control disseminated through the numerous branches of the social body such as healthcare or punishment (and many more) so that, at the end of the day, the body is functioning according to the norms. Hence, the body becomes ‘normal’. Foucault explains that the concept of biopower also means that the historical power that the sovereign had over society, has thus been split up and extended to these technologies of control. Insomuch that when, for example, an individual is imprisoned, it is no longer to protect the sovereign alone, the argument used to justify the imprisonment is that society as a whole needs to be protected against the offender.
As articulated by many scholars and critical thinkers in the articles regarding Foucault’s work, it is this shift in the dissemination of power, that is, the protection of society instead of the Sovereign alone, that has given rise to state racism. Foucault holds that the post powerful race is the one which is able to define the norm-what is good and what is bad. So that biopolitics entail that there is constant war between this powerful race and the individuals that go against its norms. In his lecture series titled Society Must be Defended, he says
“a racism that society will direct against itself, against its own elements and its own products […] the internal racism of permanent purification, and it will become one of the basic dimensions of social normalisation”
Can this be related to the numerous modern forms of institutional racism that many people face nowadays? Foucault was most certainly right with this theory of biopolitics and state racism, seeing how the income inequalities, the unfairness in the criminal justice systems of many countries (racism by police officers for example) and all the disparities in education, healthcare and fairness in general, rage on across the world.