SourcesWe owe to Michel Foucault the study of the biopolitical regimes developed by nation-states since the dawn of modernity. State power in modern societies does not rely exclusively on ideology or the raw exercise of physical violence but requires, according to Foucault, the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations. Through complex mechanisms of punishment and reward, the biopolitical regulation of life and culture prioritises those individuals who are deemed “healthy” and productive, according to the system’s criteria, and marginalises those who do not fit the parameters. Control becomes even more complex and efficient as these mechanisms are internalised by subjects, and begin to operate through our conscience, emotions and affect. Theorist Michael Hardt, however, sees in the management of affect, emotional relationships and care work (the sphere of “affective labour”) in today’s societies a potential for subversion and autonomous constitution that might alter the structuration of biopolitical control, paving the way for more pluralistic, collaborative and truly democratic networks of biopower.
Genealogies of practice
- Mass Observation (UK) 1937-1960's
The Archive results from the work of the social research organisation, Mass Observation, founded in 1937 by three young men, who aimed to create an 'anthropology of ourselves'. They recruited a team of observers and a panel of volunteer writers to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. This original work continued until the early 1950s, and was revived in 1981, with newer material being collected continuously ever since then.
- Prison Images Harun Farocki, 2000
A film composed of images from prisons, quotes from fiction films and documentaries as well as footage from surveillance cameras. A look at the new control technologies, at personal identification devices, electronic ankle bracelets, electronic tracking devices. The cinema has always been attracted to prisons. Today's prisons are full of video surveillance cameras. These images are unedited and monotonous; as neither time nor space is compressed, they are particularly well-suited to conveying the state of inactivity into which prisoners are placed as a punitive measure.