Multitudes 1 on Biopolitics

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* Special Issue: Multitude #1 on Biopolitics

Article 1: Agamben on the state of exception

Agamben states that power has two aspects:

   - 1) the ability to improve norms for regular society, but crucially, this rests on its
   - 2) ability as sovereign power to decide about the ife and death of its subjects, which is demonstrated through states of exception, such as the camps, which  are thus non contrary abberations but rather the heart of power

This more naked show of power is related to the post 9/11 situation where such extra-legal norms become permanent (Guantanomo Bay and other anti-terrorist laws). What does it mean if Empire when it chooses such a path ?


“C’est seulement dans la mesure que le pouvoir maintient la possibilité de manifester à nouveau sa puissance fondatrice, qu’il va être à même d’imposer la normalisation qui procède de lui.”

For Agamben, what happened with the Nazi holocaust is happening again: a generalisation of the state of exception, away from the state of normality. Nazi Germany was the first biopolitical state!! This means that for Agamben, anti-semitism was not the central feature of Nazism, but rather it was was its total biopolitical vision which necessitated the elimination of all which threatened the production of a pure race. Agamben affirms that the old Greek (Aristotelian) distinction between "zoe" and "bios", the political life in the city, is no longer operational. Today, life is the very stuff of politics.

Articlel 2: Foucault and power

Power is the ability to steer the conduct of others, and for Foucault, it starts from below, from the multiple relations between bodies, which institutions only later cristalizes. Where the former are 'relations of power', where individuals are in principle free to change them, the latter are 'states of domination', which exclude freedom. The third concept is the art of government which stands in between and is is the locus where the former can be promoted over the latter. This includes self-government, and forms of subjectivation which create the new.

Biopower is when capitalist governments, in the XVIII cy, start governing life itself, in its detailed aspects. Biopolitics is a post-Foucauldian refinement which is the free production and government of new forms of life. Note that Foucault is against the concepts of contracts and sovereignity, and for an 'ethics of subjectivation'.

Article 3: Sloterdijk interview

Sloterdijk has developed a 'metaparadigm',a Theory of Spheres based on the metaphor of life as a successful immune system.

Article 4: Bruno Latour on Biopower

Bruno Latour criticizes the concept of biopower because it generalizes the interregnum of modernity. No sooner are bio-experts going to be the heart of life, or politics takes over again, declaring genetic engineering and GMO's to be common human matters, thereby creating a 'cosmpolitics'. (concept created by Isabelle Stengers). Thus post and pre-modernity join each other in their concerns.

Article 5: Mathieu Potte-Bonneville on Biopower

Potte-Bonnevillle identifies 3 aspects of biopower:

   - 1) the human species and its survival, becoming the object of power (AIDS, SARS, et al.)
   - 2) the logic of the intervention becomes a fine-grained control of life (ex. the refugee and immigration problem)
   - 3) the emergence of new demands ( AIDS medecines for the poor)

Following Foucault, he says that if sovereignity is characterized by laws and 'sharing' (?) then biopower is so by norms and controls.

Article 5: Richard Stallman on biopiracy

Richard Stallman offers a critique of biopiracy, which is a possible answer to bio-patents. Based on the idea that patents are using natural rights of indigenous communities, they would get money for it. But the money, limited to the 20yr-duration of a patent, would also be unjustly divided amongst communities. Worst, it justifies the original theft and monopoly that are patents in the first place. The alternative is to forbid patents on animals and plants so tht their usage remains free.

Timeline of the Open Source Movement

Multitudes #1:

- Start of the Unix project in AT&T to solve compatibility problems, 1971-74 (Ken Thompson, Dennis Richie)

- Licensing in 1974 to Berkeley Software Distribution, who develop an alternative cooperative system (Bill Joy); 1994: death of Unix BSD due to a copyright fight

- Creation of the Free Software Foundation, by Richard Stallman: 'free to execute, free to modify' source code; free to distribute copies, in 1984, and start of the GNU project, which enshrines the Copyleft principle in its General Public License

- Creation of Unix-based Usenet, in 1980

- 1990's: creation of the Linux operating system for PCs by Linus Torvalds, whose development takes place cooperatively, but also through the internet; explosion of use in 1993