Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame by Cary Wolfe (review)


Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics has become one of today’s most compelling sociocultural theories informing study of the relationship between power and life. While Foucault deployed the concept in a number of writings, The History of Sexuality enunciates his basic notion of biopolitics well enough. In this widely-read work, Foucault recognizes the radical political change that occurred in the modern era, one in which “the ancient right to take life or let live was replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death” (138). This politicization of life, he explains, mobilized “numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations” (140). Foucault thus defines biopolitics as the techniques of power that the modern era deployed in inducing docility in a living body. In Foucault’s view, the practice of biopolitics is centrally involved in the production of normalized bodies, a process that inevitably creates its marginalized Other: the abnormal.

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