Academic journal article New Formations

Animals in Biopolitical Theory: Between Agamben and Negri

Academic journal article New Formations

Animals in Biopolitical Theory: Between Agamben and Negri

Article excerpt

Abstract Michel Foucault 's notion of 'biopolitics ' has attained a renewed prominence in recent years through its reworking by, among others, Antonio Negri and Giorgio Agamben, who have each incorporated it into their different diagnoses of our contemporary political situation. But for all their attention to biology and life, and indeed the politicuation of such, they give little consideration to the subjection ofanimab within the regimes of biopower they critique. This essay will examine the biopolitical theories of these key Italian philosophers, asking whether and how they might be elaborated in eco- and zoo-political terms, such that we might critique the animalüing reduction and biological production of human and nonhuman life together.

Keywords biopolitics, animals, Agamben, Negri, Foucault

I ANIMALS IN BIOPOLITICAL THEORY

Michel Foucault's notion of 'biopolitics' has attained a renewed prominence in recent years through its reworking by, among others, key Italian philosophers Antonio Negri and Giorgio Agamben. As Foucault described it, modern politics is ¿apolitical insofar as it secures and wagers the very life of the human species. Both Negri and Agamben have incorporated a modified idea of biopolitics into their different diagnoses of our contemporary political situation: for Negri and his collaborator Michael Hardt, within the controversial notion of 'Empire' as a global system of power; and for Agamben, within the sovereign state of exception become the norm and the concomitant isolation of humanity's 'bare life.' But for all their attention to biology and life, and indeed the politicisation of such, they give little consideration to the subjection of animals within the regimes of biopower they critique. It will be important to ask whether and how their analyses of biopolitics might be elaborated in eco- and zoo-political terms.

Others have traced with great care how Agamben's conception of biopolitics significantly (and perhaps - or not - faithfully) 'betrays' his inheritance of the concept from Foucault.1 Negri's own critique of Agamben's use of the term indicates their significant philosophical differences over power and potentiality. A number of other thinkers, such as the Italian philosophers Paolo Virno and Roberto Esposito,2 have offered their own analyses and criticisms, making for a highly contested and often inconsistent field, contrasting, for example, 'negative' and 'affirmative' biopolitics, and possible pathways between or beyond them - so much so that Virno complains that 'biopolitics' is at risk of becoming a 'fetish word' that obstructs rather than facilitates the analysis of the present.3

Foucault introduced the concept while tracing the historical shift from the traditional power of sovereignty, which reserved for itself the right to take life or to let live, to the modern form of biopower, which took upon itself the goal to make live and thus only to let die. Important for Foucault was how the ability of certain political technologies (from agriculture to nuclear power) to stake the life of whole populations saw societies cross a 'threshold of biological modernity [seuil de modernité biologique]'.4 This modem biopolitics, for Foucault, took as its task the regulation of the birth and mortality rates, disease and health, security and risk of a statistically defined population; it dovetailed with the 'anatomo-politics' by which capital disciplined the productive capacity of bodies. While Foucault traced the historical overlap and intertwining of these forms of power with that of classical sovereignty, he still understood them as fundamentally distinct in terms of object (population, body, legal subject) and facility (to nurture, to optimise, to repress).5

Theorists have since traced biopower's expansion to cognitive, linguistic and corporal domains well beyond those Foucault described. But it has been less explored how modern apparatuses of government administer not only human life, but all life: seeds and crops, animal individuals and populations, ecosystems, the earth itself. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.