Financialising Biopower (2): The Rise of the New Biopolitics


# This is a work in progress, please consult the author for citation #

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

According to its conceptual inventor, Michel Foucault, biopolitics designate every political strategy that aims at governing, administering, modifying, directing, and modeling the life itself through intervention of it by means of truth-knowledge, practice, institution, and law. So far as life concerns, it is not only human that is in the scope of biopolitics, but rather the entire living being. Biopolitics, then, must be seen as targeting not only population, but also ecosystem.[1] Biopolitics assume a special kind of power which rule over life. Foucault calls this biopower.

Biopower is marked by the power ‘to make live and let die’[2] or a ‘right of death and power over life’[3]. Accordingly, Foucault sees two forms of biopower: the first deals with the maximization of the anatomy of living-body into productive or profitable use, while the second deals with the regulatory control of species-body within a set of population/ecosystem. In other words, the former deals with the ‘management of force-of-life’, the latter deals with the ‘manipulation of form-of-life’.[4] The first might be well approached by the political economy analysis, while the second by political sociology analysis. The two cannot be separated as one overdetermines the other in a dialectical relation.[5] The management of force-of-life must be conditioned by an already designed manipulation of form-of-life. The political economy, insofar the productivities of life are concerned, must presuppose a specific social relation that conceived in a specific form-of-life as its condition of possibility.[6]

(Source: screen-capture from Pasolini’s film, Salo, 120 Days of Sodom)

In this line of reasoning, financialisation becomes a form of biopolitics when it touches upon the productivities of life. It transforms every productive aspect of life force into market share. It draws out the pattern of productivity, making a forecast, illustrate it in an elusive company portfolio to attract as much investment as possible.[7] In short, financialisation extracts profit not only of the actual productivity of life, but also, and most importantly, of its potential ones.

This kind of financialisation has much been discussed. The most obvious work on this is Randy Martin’s Financialization of Daily Life. In this book, Martin develops a stimulating account on how to perceive the prevalence of financial logic in our day to day activities. He laments that today we are witnessing more and more the expansion of financial logic of virtual economy—that is, of selling and buying stock, of speculating, of predicting, etc.—to the domain of what was not economic like house, school, etc. The society has been “financialised” in that it has to be subjected to the rules like the ones governing the Wall Street: dealing with uncertainty, playing with probability, speculating on prediction, gambling on a perceived long term gain, etc. Consequently, people will arrange their life in such a way that it be ready to confront the uncertain future; they insure everything they can afford to insure, equip themselves with as many skills to be compatible with as many job opportunity they could find, invest their kids with education to ensure their future, save money for future unfortunate event, etc. In short, what the financialised society cares so much in their daily life is only one: risk.[8]

The notion of risk plays a significant role in Martin’s financialised society. The central feature of risk is uncertainty, and to cope with it, a risk-taker has to play speculation and probability game. Risk is a kind of imagined future that effectively structures the present. It is “a rhetoric of the future that is really about the present” and also at the same time “a means of price setting on the promise that a future  is attainable.”[9] Risk management is then about how to deal with the uncertain future by anticipating it with a routinised and permanent measure in the present. Later in his Empire of Indifference, Martin expands this understanding to explain how the United States’ military conquest through the so-called “global war on terror” also adopts this financial logic of risk management.[10] Martin tells us that waging the expensive war on terror, for US, is not meant to achieve the old ideal of sovereignty claim, but instead merely to ensure its ability to circulate. By the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive action, the US has abandoned a traditional conception of threat that is well-defined in a framework of friend-enemy distinction. Threat is now understood as, dubbing Rumsfeld’s famous ramble, an “unknown unknowns” which is not clearly defined, in fact is not clear enough whether it exists or not. The US overseas military deployment, then, could be read as an effort to simply patrol, circulate, and and be prepared to pre-emptively exterminate the supposedly source of terror before it fully materialises.

Martin’s account of financialisation stretcthing from daily life to the US imperial war on terror perfectly tells the story of biopolitics, or one could say, of biopolitical financialisation.[11] But despite his thought-provoking account, a critical examination would conclude that Martin’s move to extend the financialisation to daily life is a metaphorical one. The relation between the financial market and the financialised daily life of society is merely an analogy. According to the schema of biopolitics outlined above, Martin has done a good service to map out the two side of biopower diagram—the political economy of the financial market and the political sociology of the financialised daily life of society. However, he is still unable to see the two beyond analogical relations. As a result, he overlooks the novel dimension of what is it like to have our daily life financialised. Namely that the procession of society toward a financialised one is necessarily a political project which, in Martin’s account, appears only as a coincidental extension or consequence. The analogy has blinded Martin to see the gradual restructurisation of biopower which, I argue, arrives its moment after the crisis erupted.

In this research, I argue for the need to read the financialisation of daily life as a correlate (or abstraction in Marx’s term), and not as an analogy, of the financial economy. To reformulate it in the schema I outlined before, the financialised form-of-life/society is a condition of possibility for the financialised force-of-life/economy. Failure in seeing these two as political, will hinder analysis in recognising an active intervention at the two. In fact, such analysis will stand no chance to have a faintest idea about what is being the focus of this present research, that is the new biopolitics that aims not only at financialising the daily life, but also most importantly at financialising the biopower to sustainably finansialise the daily life. This failure will also, most importantly, close analysis to any possibility to change the situation. Here, I resonate Foucault’s call to defend the society through our academic engagement.[12]

NB: this is a fragment of my paper presented in the Research Course on Interconnections of Finance and Security, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Oslo, Norway, 8-10 Oct 2015.

[1]I must say, my definition of biopolitics is quite different from the sense Foucault himself has in mind. See his The History of Sexuality, vol 1, trans. R. Hurley (NY: Pantheon Books, 1978), Part V. The definition presented here has close affinity with the posthumanist and animal studies scholars like, among many, Cary Wolfe. See his What is Posthumanism (London, Minneapolis: Univ of Minnesota Press, 2010).

[2]Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, trans. D. Macey (NY: Picador), p:241.

[3]Idem., The History of Sexuality, vol 1, Part V.

[4]On the concept of form-of-life, see Giorgio Agamben, “Form-of-life,” in P.Virno & M.Hardt, eds., Radical Thought in Italy (London, Minnapolis: Univ. Of Minnesota Press, 1997).

[5]Stefano Lucarelli has succinctly elaborated this in “Financialization as Biopower,” in A. Fumagalli & S. Mezzadra (eds.), Crisis in the Global Economy, trans. J.F. McGimsey (LA: Semiotexte & Ombre Corte, 2010), pp:119-138.

[6]Treatment of the the dual character of biopower has also done elsewhere, albeit with different conception. Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ Press, 2009), pp:56-63.

[7]Foucault has actually seen this coming but did not elaborate it further. See Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, p:246.

[8]Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002), p:34.

[9]Idem., p:105.

[10]Randy Martin, An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007).

[11]Martin actually also quotes Foucault.

[12]Lipschutz has made a similar call to the reader of International Political Sociology. See Ronnie D. Lipschutz, “Call for Strategy and Action in IPS,” International Political Sociology, 2, 1 (2008).


One response »

  1. Pingback: Financialising Biopower (3): Financialisation’s Double-Bind | Post-Fordist Highway

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s