Toward an Affirmative Biopolitics

Sociological Theory 34 (4):358-381 (2016)
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This essay responds to German theorist Thomas Lemke’s call for a conversation between two distinct lines of reception of Foucault’s concept of biopolitics. The first line is comprised of sweeping historical perspectives on biopolitics, such as those of Giorgio Agamben and Antonio Negri, and the second is comprised of the more temporally focused perspectives of theorists such as Paul Rabinow, Nikolas Rose, and Catherine Waldby, whose biopolitical analyses concentrate on recent biotechnologies such as genetic techniques and the biobanking of human tissues. This essay develops this conversation by bringing the two lines to bear on the neoliberal “bioeconomy” that has developed over the last three decades, and uses the perspective of Italian theorist Roberto Esposito to represent the first line. Esposito’s unique combination of Foucauldian biopolitics and the Maussean gift tradition provides a critical perspective that engages and challenges the neoliberal inclination of many theorists from the second line.
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