Affect and biopower: towards a politics of life

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Abstract:

In this paper I stage an encounter between two concepts that have become popular placeholders for a broad concern with a politics of life: affect and biopower. Through engagement with Antonio Negri’s writings on the ‘real subsumption of life’ in contemporary capitalism and Michel Foucault’s lectures on neoliberalism, I show that understanding how forms of biopower work through affect requires attending to three relations: affective relations and capacities are object‐targets for discipline, biopolitics, security and environmentality; affective life is the outside through which new ways of living may emerge; and specific collective affects (including ‘state‐phobia’) are part of the conditions for the birth of forms of biopower. In what is simultaneously a departure from, and an affirmation of, recent work on affect, I argue that attending to the dynamics of affective life may become political as a counter to forms of biopower that work through processes of normalisation. The consequence is that understanding how biopower works on and through affect becomes a precondition for developing affirmative relations with affective life.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00441.x

Affiliations: Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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