Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Towards a Global Genealogy of Biopolitics: Race, Colonialism, and Biometrics beyond Europe

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Towards a Global Genealogy of Biopolitics: Race, Colonialism, and Biometrics beyond Europe

Article excerpt

Abstract. This paper examines, at the global scale, the biopolitical strategy of racism that Foucault articulated in the context of 19th-century Europe. Through my historical analysis both of the emergent notion of race and of biometric production of racial knowledge during Japanese colonialism, I endeavour to delineate a circulation of a political rationality of modern racism, which became globally generalised and constitutive of the formation of a non-Western nation-state. I argue that this emergence of global biopolitics, however, should not simply be reduced to a unitary operation but needs to be understood as the process of multiplication that reveals both the continuity and the contingency of the biopolitical strategy of racism in relation to particular spatiotemporal configurations. Furthermore, through an archaeological reading of Foucault on modern racism, I will suggest that Foucault's Society Must be Defended, albeit arguably underdeveloped in its geographical scope of analysis, can shed light on the operation of biopolitics and modern racism beyond the history of Europe.

Keywords: biometrics, biopolitics, colonialism, Foucault, Japan, racism

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In his 1976 lectures at the College de France, Society Must be Defended, Michel Foucault articulates the emergence of biopolitics through his genealogical analysis of modern racism in which the notion of race that emerged in 19th-century Europe is no longer understood as ethnically plural but as "biologically monist" (2004, page 80). Foucault's articulation of racism in biopolitical terms in Society Must be Defendedlas brought critical insight into the operation of modern racism not so much in terms of irrational prejudice or discrimination but in terms of the way in which racism becomes constitutive of the formation of modern society in Europe or, to borrow his words, the way in which it becomes "our political rationality" (1982, page 779). Foucault's articulation of modern racism is significant and has recently been revisited by contemporary scholars who have sought to scrutinise the role of race in the formation of the nation-state (Isin, 2012; Macey, 2009). At the same time, it also appears rather underdeveloped, especially in its geographical scope of analysis: as Ann Laura Stoler (1995) has noted, Foucault's Eurocentric historical enquiry of racism overlooks the constitutive role of colonialism. The discourses of eugenics and degeneracy that were for Foucault constitutive of the biopolitical strategy of modern racism in the 19th century are in fact hardly separable from the European colonial articulation of Others (Rasmussen, 2011; Stoler, 1995). It is also in this context that biometrics (in the most literal sense) were widely deployed for identification, classification, and hierarchisation of bodies, simultaneously demarcating populations, and that the knowledge of race was inscribed on the surface of bodies (Cole, 2002; Pugliese, 2010).

The biopolitical strategy of racism and the biometric inscription of racial knowledge are, however, not limited to the history of European colonialism in which they immediately classify their colonial subjects. This paper will expand the geographical scope of the analysis of modern racism into Japanese colonialism since the late 19th century in order to examine the colonial operation of biopolitics beyond the European taxonomy of race. My analysis will particularly focus on the emergent notion of race in the works of Japanese enlightenment scholar Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) and the biometric inscription of racial knowledge in early 20th-century Japan. The discussion aims to describe the global circulation of biopolitical norms and the emergence of global biopolitics beyond the history of Europe and European colonialism. Informed by Foucault's concepts of genealogy and archaeology, this paper also exposes both the continuity and the contingency of racism as a global biopolitical strategy-that is, a globally generalised form of modern racism and its local deployment in relation to particular spatiotemporal configurations. …

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