When did biopolitics begin? : Actuality and potentiality in historical events
Prozorov, S. (2022). When did biopolitics begin? : Actuality and potentiality in historical events. European Journal of Social Theory, 25(4), 539-558. https://doi.org/10.1177/13684310221077198
Published inEuropean Journal of Social Theory
© 2022 the Author
The article addresses the ongoing debate about the origins of biopolitics. While Foucault’s analysis of biopolitics approached it as a modern rationality of government, Agamben’s Homo Sacer series presented biopolitics as having a longer provenance, dating back to the antiquity. These polar positions are not mutually exclusive but coexist in these and other theories of biopolitics, which approach its object as both modern and ancient, having its chronological origin in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries yet also possessing a prehistory of precursors. The article interprets this dual origin in terms of Paolo Virno’s theory of historical temporality, which distinguishes between the chronological past of historical events and their potential past, which accompanies and is negated in them. Coexisting with its own unrealized potential, every historical event remains incomplete and extends itself both backwards and forwards, positing its precursors and prefiguring its future outcomes. While modern in the chronological sense, biopolitics is retrospectively inscribed in a longer historical lineage, its antecedents easily identifiable in the history of political thought. Finally, we apply this approach to Virno’s own account of the history of biopolitics, questioning his identification of past potential with labour-power. ...
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