Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Governing Vitalities and the Security State

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Governing Vitalities and the Security State

Article excerpt

Abstract. The techniques by which states regulate life are both spatial and geopolitical. Foucault wrote of a broad transition from a state concern with territory focused on regulating threats such as famine and epidemics, to a modern concern with population that prioritised instead a set of everyday dangers that were to be averted by continual action for and upon individuals. In this paper I argue that territoriality is more geopolitical in character and more continually significant than Foucault suggested. This geopolitics implicates a global political economy and forms of imperialism and colonialism occluded by Foucault's state-centric rather than states-centric approach.

Keywords: Foucault, biopolitics, geopolitics, AIDS, war, famine


Governing vitalities

In the lectures on Security, Territory, Population, his account of the consolidation of what he called the security state, Foucault (2007) emphasised the ways that a new articulation of biopolitics and governmentality altered the relations between population and territory (Elden, 2007; Legg, 2005; 2011; Nally, 2011). (1) Indeed, for Foucault these new relations were in part constitutive of modern notions of state and people, such that a state effect is-again, in part-something produced by the strategies of biopolitics and governmentality. As always with Foucault, a historical argument was made for a political purpose. In order to attend to something contingent in the present, Foucault characteristically illustrated the conditions of its emergence, an intellectual strategy described by Dean (1994) as making critical and effective histories (see also Kearns, 2007). In broad terms, Foucault highlighted a shift from territory to population, from sovereignty to security, as a focus for the arts of government. For Foucault, the monarch's concern with sovereignty in the earlier period, variously located as ending some time between the mid-17th and late 18th centuries, emphasised the regulation of territorial boundaries. In the security state that followed, the imperatives of economic circulation breached the walls of sovereignty, and the arts of government now attended more to the capacities of the state to regulate population and other resources. The political issue that arises from this, exemplified for Foucault in various ways by Sweden and Germany, was about regulating individuals to give collective security against threats to the productivity, or force, of the body politic.

In this paper I want to take up the geographical and vital themes of this set of lectures and assess both the nature of the break posited by Foucault and the political purchase afforded by this view of the distinctiveness of the present. My strategy is to reverse Foucault's emphasis and look for aspects of the regulation of life in the earlier period and to aspects of the regulation of territory in the later one. This is not because I think Foucault ignores vitality in his first period or ignores territoriality in his second, but because I think that the integration of the two themes, rather than the predominance of one over the other, shows the importance in both periods of a set of relations about which Foucault has rather little to say altogether. My conclusion is that, in both periods, life and space are woven together in ways that are distinctly geopolitical and, furthermore, that this dimension of the spatiality of vital security gives us important purchase upon our moment of present danger. Although Foucault saw the socialist focus upon the state as obscuring the nature of government, his own treatment of the arts of government took states as objects in isolation, and indeed very often took France as the paradigm, thus occluding the significance of geopolitics and geography. Yet without this international dimension, the modern appeal to security is but poorly understood, and the overdetermining relations between capital and imperialism are practically invisible. …

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