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Article

Angélica Guerra-Barón

Michel Foucault’s critical approach to understanding power has become very influential in the study of global politics, especially in the work of (critical) IR scholars. The Foucauldian kind of power conception has influenced some IR scholars who adopt key insights from post-structuralist theory to world politics thus producing an analytical orientation, in the sense that all reality is structured first by language with discourses then creating a coherent system of knowledge, objects, and subjects. Of particular importance is Foucault’s notion of biopower, biopolitics, and technology of power. Such toolbox allows (critical) IR scholars to recur and distinguish disciplinary power, governmentality, its types (liberalism, neoliberalism), and biopolitics itself. However, few IR studies differentiate between biopower and biopolitics; yet an extensive variety of international studies issues are analyzed. Additionally, applying Foucault’s notions to global politics has been roundly criticized. This article begins with an introduction followed by a discussion of biopower and biopolitics. It continues with a discussion of the debates in the IR literature on biopower and illustrations of works of IR scholarship that draw on biopower and governmentality for insight into global politics. The article then concludes with a discussion of directions for future research.

Article

Gregory Bourassa

Educational biopolitics is a growing field of study that explores the intersections of education, life, and power. A central question this literature has formed is a powerful, albeit familiar one: what types of life do schools validate, and what types of life do schools attempt to negate? Given this focus, the concept of educational life has emerged as one of the key units of analysis that informs inquiries in this field. There are two predominant modes of engagement that characterize studies in educational biopolitics: (a) analytical endeavors that seek to understand the operation of contemporary logics of biopower (a power over life) in schools and (b) affirmative educational endeavors that seek to highlight the potential of life to create power. Each approach begins with an understanding that schools do more than transmit knowledge; they are sites of struggle over the production, reproduction, and management of subjectivity. These approaches have led to unique inquiries that explore a number of tangentially related themes and make use of various concepts, including disposability, extractive schooling, and the common.

Article

Benjamin J. Muller

Governmentality and biopolitics has emerged as a chief source of scholarship and debate within contemporary international relations (IR), particularly among those involved in the sub-disciplines, Critical Security Studies and International Political Sociology. Governmentality, first and foremost, is a term coined by philosopher Michel Foucault, and refers to the way in which the state exercises control over, or governs, the body of its populace. Meanwhile, biopolitics, which was coined by Rudolf Kjellén, is an intersectional field between biology and politics. In contemporary US political science studies, usage of the term biopolitics is mostly divided between a poststructuralist group using the meaning assigned by Michel Foucault (denoting social and political power over life), and another group who uses it to denote studies relating biology and political science. The foci of literatures on governmentality and biopolitics are particularly agreeable to many scholars critical of traditional IR scholarship and its distinct articulation of “world politics.” The shifty nature of both concepts, as defined by Michel Foucault and the subsequent use by various scholars, presents challenges to setting any specific account of these terms; yet the blurriness of these concepts is what makes them productive, contrary to the zero-sum, rationalist accounts of power and behavior so central to much of conventional IR.

Article

Michel Foucault, who was born in 1926 into an upper-middle-class family, came of age in post-World War II Paris, studied with Louis Althusser, and rose to intellectual prominence in the 1970s, died on June 25, 1984. The near celebrity status that he acquired during his lifetime has multiplied since his death as the Foucault of disciplinary power has been supplemented with the Foucault of neoliberalism, biopolitics, aesthetics of the self, and the ontology of the present. These different forms of Foucauldian analysis are often grouped into three phases of scholarship that include the archeological, the genealogical, and the ethical. The first period, produced throughout the 1960s, focuses on the relationship between discourse and knowledge; the second period, developed throughout the 1970s, zeroes in on diverse structures of historically evolving power relations; and, the Foucault that emerged in the 1980s explores technologies of the self or the work of the self on the self. This well-recognized periodization highlights the triangulated structure of associations among knowledge, power, and subjectivity that animated his work. Because a number of decentered relations, something he called governmentality, are woven through everyday experience, Foucault questioned the assumption that communication takes place between autonomous, self-aware individuals who use language to negotiate and organize community formation and argued instead that this web of discourse practices and power relations produces subjects differentially suited to the contingencies of particular historical epochs. Although a critical consensus has endorsed this three-part taxonomy of Foucault’s scholarship, the interpretation of these periods varies. Some view them through a linear progression in which the failures of one moment lay the groundwork for the superseding moment: his discursive emphasis in the archeological phase gave way to his emphasis on power in the genealogical phase which, in turn, gave way to his focus on subjectivity in the ethical phase. Others, such as Jeffrey Nealon, understand the shifts as “intensifications” (p. 5) wherein each phase tightens his theoretical grip, triangulating knowledge, power, and subjectivity ever more densely. Still others suggest that the technologies of the self that undergird Foucault’s ethical period displace the leftist orientation of his early work with a latent conservatism. Regardless of where one lands on this debate, Foucault’s three intellectual phases cohere around an ongoing analysis of the relationships among knowledge, power, and subjectivity—associations at the heart of communication studies. Focused on how different subjects experience the established “regime of truth,” Foucault’s historical investigations, while obviously diverse, maintain a similar methodology, one he labeled the history of thought and contrasted with the history of ideas. As he conceives it, the history of ideas attempts to determine the origin and evolution of a particular concept through an uninterrupted teleology. He distinguishes his method, the history of thought, through its focus on historical problematization. This approach explores “the way institutions, practices, habits, and behavior become a problem for people who have certain types of habits, who engage in certain kinds of practices, and who put to work specific kinds of institutions.” In short, he studies how people and society deal with a phenomenon that has become a problem for them. This approach transforms the narrative of human progress into a history broken by concrete political, economic, and cultural problems whose resolution requires reconstituting the prevailing knowledge–power–subject dynamics. Put differently, Foucault illuminates historical breaks and the shifts required for their repair. Whereas the history of ideas erases the discontinuity among events, he highlights those differences and studies the process by which they dissolve within a singular historical narrative. Glossing his entire oeuvre, he suggests that his method can address myriad concerns, including “for example, about madness, about crime, about sex, about themselves, or about truth.” An overarching approach that intervenes into dominant narratives in order to demonstrate their silencing effects, the history of thought undergirds all three of Foucault’s externally imposed periods. Each period explores knowledge, power, and subjectivity while stressing one nodal point of the relationship: archeology stresses knowledge formation; genealogy emphasizes power formation; and the ethical period highlights subject formation. This strikingly original critical approach has left its mark on a wide range of theorists, including such notable thinkers as Gilles Deleuze, Giorgio Agamben, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Donna Haraway, and Judith Butler, and has influenced critical communication scholars such as Raymie McKerrow, Ronald Greene, Kendell Phillips, Jeremy Packer, and Laurie Ouellete.

Article

Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz and Seyoung Jung

The study of biology and politics is rapidly moving from being an isolated curiosity to being an integral part of the theories that political scientists propose. The necessity of adopting this interdisciplinary research philosophy will be increasingly apparent as political scientists seek to understand the precise mechanisms by which political decisions are made. To demonstrate this potential, scholars of biopolitics have addressed common misconceptions about biopolitics research (i.e., the nature-nurture dichotomy and biological determinism) and used different methods to shed light on political decision making since the turn of the 21st century—including methods drawn from evolutionary psychology, genomics, neuroscience, psychophysiology, and endocrinology. The field has already come far in its understanding of the biology of political decision making, and several key findings have emerged in biopolitical studies of political belief systems, attitudes, and behaviors. This area of research sheds light on the proximate and ultimate causes of political cognition and elucidates some of the ways in which human biology shapes both the human universals that make politics possible and the human diversity that provides it with such dynamism. Furthermore, three emerging areas of biopolitics research that anticipate the promise of a biologically informed political science are research into gene-environment interplay, research into the political causes and consequences of variation in human microbiomes, and research that integrates chronobiology—the study of the biological rhythms that regulate many aspects of life, including sleep—into the study of political decision making.

Article

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are among the most powerful theorists of communication and social change under present-day global capitalism. In their Empire trilogy and other individual and collaborative works, Hardt and Negri argue for the fundamentally communicative nature of contemporary power. Their analyses demonstrate the ways that media technology, global flows of finance capital, and the contemporary shift to economies based on information and affective or emotional labor create new, more complex networks of oppression and new possibilities for more democratic social change. Hardt and Negri’s work, therefore, shifts the focus of critical communication and cultural theory from attaining or challenging political power within the nation-state and invites scholars to rethink sovereignty as empire: an interconnected global phenomenon appertaining to capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They furthermore reimagine dissent as a constitutive process of resistance and mutual aid through which the multitude simultaneously withdraws from empire and composes itself through the social communication of struggles across time and space. Hardt and Negri’s work has been taken up in communication studies to theorize the materiality of communication; the labor performed in cognitive, communication, and service industries; contemporary media audiences and reception; and historical and contemporary social movements, from the Industrial Workers of the World to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.

Article

Biopolitics, unlike other conceptual rubrics such as psychoanalysis, Marxism, or the subaltern, does not contain a singular theoretical origin. While Michel Foucault is often cited as the progenitor of contemporary biopolitical thought, a number of other theorists and philosophers have also been credited with significantly shaping its critical lineage, from Hannah Arendt to Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, and Achille Mbembe. By extension, the relation between biopolitics and Asian America is an open-ended one, insofar as no one set of theoretical terms or axioms grounds this relation. Moreover, insofar as biopolitics in its widest sense encompasses the intersection of politics and life, including the inverse of life, its domain is potentially infinite. The conjunctions between biopolitics and Asian America, then, can be defined tactically through the following questions: what are some prominent motifs and concerns within Asian American history, culture, and scholarship that may be illuminatingly narrated within a biopolitical framework? Conversely, how have Asian American writers and scholars themselves analyzed these nexuses, and in what directions have they developed their inquiries? Finally, what does an Asian Americanist criticism bring to the study of biopolitics? These questions can be usefully pursued via three thematics that have formed core concerns for Asian American studies: orientalist exoticism and exhibitions of the Asian body, associations of the Asian body with pollution and disease, and structures of US governmental power over Asian bodies and populations. Asian Americanist criticism has often centered on analyses of the body as a site for the production of racial difference, whether or not they explicitly adopt a biopolitical theoretical lexicon. What Asian Americanist engagements with biopolitics bring to biopolitical thought is a spotlighting of intersectional politics—the insight that the politics of life never simply operates in relation to abstract bodies but always occurs within power economies of race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and other forms of social difference and stratification. Conversely, biopolitical theories allow Asian Americanist criticism to develop in multiple new directions, from medical humanities and disability studies to science and technology studies, from animal studies to post-human feminisms, from diaspora studies to surveillance studies. Ultimately, an ethical impetus and an orientation toward justice continue to animate Asian Americanist critical practices, which hold out the promise of a positive biopolitics within prevailing paradigms of negative biopower.

Article

Ingrid J. Haas, Clarisse Warren, and Samantha J. Lauf

Recent research in political psychology and biopolitics has begun to incorporate theory and methods from cognitive neuroscience. The emerging interdisciplinary field of political neuroscience (or neuropolitics) is focused on understanding the neural mechanisms underlying political information processing and decision making. Most of the existing work in this area has utilized structural magnetic resonance imaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or electroencephalography, and focused on understanding areas of the brain commonly implicated in social and affective neuroscience more generally. This includes brain regions involved in affective and evaluative processing, such as the amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate, and orbitofrontal cortex, as well as regions involved in social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex [PFC]), decision making (e.g., dorsolateral PFC), and reward processing (e.g., ventral striatum). Existing research in political neuroscience has largely focused on understanding candidate evaluation, political participation, and ideological differences. Early work in the field focused simply on examining neural responses to political stimuli, whereas more recent work has begun to examine more nuanced hypotheses about how the brain engages in political cognition and decision making. While the field is still relatively new, this work has begun to improve our understanding of how people engage in motivated reasoning about political candidates and elected officials and the extent to which these processes may be automatic versus relatively more controlled. Other work has focused on understanding how brain differences are related to differences in political opinion, showing both structural and functional variation between political liberals and political conservatives. Neuroscientific methods are best used as part of a larger, multimethod research program to help inform theoretical questions about mechanisms underlying political cognition. This work can then be triangulated with experimental laboratory studies, psychophysiology, and traditional survey approaches and help to constrain and ensure that theory in political psychology and political behavior is biologically plausible given what we know about underlying neural architecture. This field will continue to grow, as interest and expertise expand and new technologies become available.

Article

The core of Giorgio Agamben’s political theory is his analysis of the ambivalence of politics and its ill-fated relationship with law. The key figure of this relationship, the biopolitical product of it, is the homo sacer, a figure that dates back to ancient Roman law. For Agamben, the homo sacer is the perfect manifestation of the sovereign power that has created this figure by banning it as an outlaw who can be harmed or even killed with impunity—all in the name of law. Agamben’s political theory aims at revealing the inherent logic of the sovereign power and its effects in determining the legal subjects of law (inclusion) and, by the same token, in imposing the pending option of separating these very legal subjects (or parts of them) from the legal order (exclusion). According to Agamben, this “exclusionary inclusion” illustrates not only the logic of biopolitics but also the destructive power of sovereignty that has accumulated the capacity to “form life” at its own interest by binding politics and law together. Historically, this kind of sovereignty has ancient origins, but politically its real power has been unleashed in modern times. For Agamben, homo sacer has become the cipher of modern societies, regardless of the manifold differences between democratic and autocratic political systems; and for this reason, he has dubbed his central project in the field of political theory Homo Sacer. Agamben started his Homo Sacer project with his widely received study, programmatically of the same title, in 1995. Much of what he has written in the years after can be interpreted as elaborations of the impact and consequences of the juridification of politics that he despises so much. For him, contrary to modern constitutionalism’s understanding, juridification is not a process of civilizing the political order; it produces ready-made legal instruments at the disposal of any sovereign anytime. Therefore, according to Agamben, it is a myth, typically told by proponents of liberal democracy, that law has the power to constrain sovereignty; instead, it enables sovereignty. Against this background, it does not come as a surprise that Agamben connects with a wide range of critics of the liberal concept of democracy and tries to make use of their arguments for his own project. For instance, Agamben shares the concept of biopolitics with Foucault but understands it (unlike Foucault) as a general phenomenon of law and politics; moreover, he borrows from Carl Schmitt the theory of the state of exception while transforming it into a permanent structure turning all humans into potential homines sacri; and picks up on Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the concentration camps during the Nazi reign, stressing that the scope of sovereign power is almost unlimited, especially if it is based on an impersonal reign of arbitrariness and uncertainty that enable the production of forms of bare life that can hardly be called human anymore. Taken together, Agamben presents a radical critique of the history and development of the political orders from the Greek origins to modern-day democratic governance. Is there any reason for hope? In some of his studies after the State of Exception (original, 2003), Agamben picks up on this topic, at least indirectly. In The Kingdom and the Glory (2011), for instance, he deals with the industry of hope by discussing the distribution of labor within the holy trinity as the blueprint for the interplay between active, powerful parts of government (governing administration) and the passive, symbolic parts of it (ruling sovereigns). However, this interplay, with the help of “angels” (bureaucrats), produces only spectacular (but empty) glorification for the purpose of self-justification. The cure, if there is any, can only come from a radical detachment that liberates politics from law and, moreover, from any meaningful purpose, so that politics can become a form of pure means: a messianic form, inspired by Benjamin’s idea of divine violence, that has the power of a total rupture without being violent. Following Benjamin, Agamben envisions a “real” state of exception in which sovereignty becomes meaningless. Agamben’s Homo Sacer project has triggered various forms of criticism, which can be divided roughly into two lines of arguments. The first line is directed against the dark side of his theory that all individuals are captured in a seemingly never-ending state of exception. Critics have claimed that this perspective results mainly from Agamben’s strategy of concept stretching, starting with the concept of the state of exception itself. A second line of critique questions Agamben’s concept of politics beyond biopolitics. Because his argument is rather vague when it comes to the prospect of a future political process, it has been suspected that his ideas on the alternative options compared to the current disastrous state of affairs are ultimately apolitical ideas of the political, based on the nonpolitical myth of a fully reconciled society. Despite of these kinds of criticism Agamben has insisted that liberation from the ongoing process of biopolitics will not be brought about by revolutionary actions, but by subversive thinking. Agamben notes that in this messianic concept everything will be more or less the same—“just a little different” (Agamben, 2007b, p. 53). And the difference that he seems to mean is that the potentiality is not determined by the sovereign any longer, but by the individual.

Article

Mathew V. Hibbing, Melissa N. Baker, and Kathryn A. Herzog

Since the early 2010s, political science has seen a rise in the use of physiological measures in order to inform theories about decision-making in politics. A commonly used physiological measure is skin conductance (electrodermal activity). Skin conductance measures the changes in levels of sweat in the eccrine glands, usually on the fingertips, in order to help inform how the body responds to stimuli. These changes result from the sympathetic nervous system (popularly known as the fight or flight system) responding to external stimuli. Due to the nature of physiological responses, skin conductance is especially useful when researchers hope to have good temporal resolution and make causal claims about a type of stimulus eliciting physiological arousal in individuals. Researchers interested in areas that involve emotion or general affect (e.g., campaign messages, political communication and advertising, information processing, and general political psychology) may be especially interested in integrating skin conductance into their methodological toolbox. Skin conductance is a particularly useful tool since its implicit and unconscious nature means that it avoids some of the pitfalls that can accompany self-report measures (e.g., social desirability bias and inability to accurately remember and report emotions). Future decision-making research will benefit from pairing traditional self-report measures with physiological measures such as skin conductance.

Article

Peter K. Bsumek

Neoliberalism has become a central topic in critical cultural studies and communication. Broadly speaking, neoliberalism refers to economic theories, political discourses, and cultural practices that support free markets and private property. It is a political project dedicated to rolling back “the welfare state” and instituting a society based on market principles, as well as the ideologies and forms of governance that justify and enable such reforms. Neoliberalism is seen by many in the critical cultural tradition as a threat to enduring values such as justice, equality, and the ideals of “the public good” and the “common interest.” Others are critical of it as an explanatory concept, arguing that it lacks coherence and is used promiscuously as an all-purpose category of denunciation. In general, communication scholars have approached neoliberalism in two main ways. On the one hand, they have attempted to analyze communication about neoliberalism by focusing on the ways that communication is utilized to represent, enable, and justify neoliberal ideas, policies, and practices. This scholarship is largely concerned with the persuasive effects of communication and rhetoric. On the other hand, they have focused on the forms of communication that produce the cultural and material realities of neoliberalism. These scholars are generally concerned with the circulation of communication and rhetoric. It should come as no surprise that the distinction between the two approaches is not always neat and tidy. This is so, at least in part, because the critical traditions that inform this scholarship do not necessarily agree upon what exactly neoliberalism is. Communication scholars have engaged neoliberalism by aligning with, building upon, and mobilizing a variety of critical cultural scholarly approaches. Three of the most common approaches are discussed: neoliberalism as hegemonic project and ideology, neoliberalism as governmentality and biopolitics, and neoliberalism as political project and process. Each of these traditions assumes that neoliberalism constitutes, to a significant degree, the world we now inhabit.

Article

Dennis Dijkzeul and Diana Griesinger

The term “humanitarian crisis” combines two words of controversial meaning and definitions that are often used in very different situations. For example, there is no official definition of “humanitarian crisis” in international humanitarian law. Although some academic disciplines have developed ways of collecting and analyzing data on (potential) crises, all of them have difficulties understanding, defining, and even identifying humanitarian crises. Following an overview of the use of the compound noun “humanitarian crisis,” three perspectives from respectively the disciplines International Humanitarian Law, Public Health, and Humanitarian Studies are discussed in order to explore their different but partly overlapping approaches to (incompletely) defining, representing, and negotiating humanitarian crises. These disciplinary perspectives often paint an incomplete and technocratic picture of crises that is rarely contextualized and, thus, fails to reflect adequately the political causes of crises and the roles of local actors. They center more on defining humanitarian action than on humanitarian crises. They also show four different types of humanitarian action, namely radical, traditional Dunantist, multimandate, and resilience humanitarianism. These humanitarianisms have different strengths and weaknesses in different types of crisis, but none comprehensively and successfully defines humanitarian crises. Finally, a multiperspective and power-sensitive definition of crises, and a more fine-grained language for comprehending the diversity of crises will do more justice to the complexity and longevity of crises and the persons who are surviving—or attempting to survive—them.

Article

Cheryl Lousley

Ecocriticism describes and confronts the socially uneven encounters and entanglements of earthly living. As a political mode of literary and cultural analysis, it aims to understand and intervene in the destruction and diminishment of living worlds. A core premise is that environmental crises have social, cultural, affective, imaginative, and material dimensions. Although ranging in its critical engagements across historical periods, cultural texts, and cultural formations, ecocriticism focuses on the aesthetic modes, social meanings, contexts, genealogies, and counterpoints of cultural practices that contribute to ecological ruination and resilience. These include myths about frontiers, progress, and human mastery over animality and nature; capitalist modes of valuing, devaluing, and radically transforming lifeworlds; and biopolitical and racialized inequalities in health, risk, development, and disposability. Ecocriticism also involves broad theoretical engagement with discursive formations and semiotic significations, including the interrogation of crisis frameworks and apocalyptic representations, considering their histories, scales, and temporalities, while also asking how any particular socioecological arrangement comes to count as a matter of concern, for whom, and in which contexts. The concept of nature is a long-standing theoretical topic in ecocriticism. While nature may seem, rather straightforwardly, to be the domain environmentalism seeks to protect, it is a concept on which hinge crucial and contested claims about ontology (the nature of something, such as assertions about human nature as an inherent, often determining set of shared qualities) and epistemology (how we know what is real, such as the scientific practices through which credible assertions can be made that the planetary climate is changing), claims whose modern authority has rested on positioning nature as a domain outside culture. While structuralist and poststructuralist theorists have destabilized the binary opposition of nature to culture, the political and epistemological imperative to engage with nature as simultaneously material and semiotic has spawned an array of theoretical developments, from Donna Haraway’s cyborg figure and other “natureculture” assemblages to new materialisms. Meanwhile, nature circulates as a commodity form and spectacle animating digital, film, and television screens as well as many other consumer products and experiences. Cultural studies approaches to ecocriticism raise questions about the relationships of visual, narrative, and sound representations to economic power, media technologies, and the material and social ecologies through which they are produced and which they form and transform.