Tag Archives: Rio+20

Financialising Biopower (1): The New Logic of Financialisation in the Era of Sustainability


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

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The primary objective of this research is to attempt at constructing a model to understand and to map out the contemporary diagram of biopolitics in the aftermath of crisis. By this, I seek to tease out the novelty of the new diagram of biopolitics that slowly but surely emerges in the post-crisis world (by crisis I refer to the precise event of global financial crisis of 2008). The novel biopolitical diagram concerned is what will be called as the financialisation of biopower. If the modern gesture of financialisation[1] was one towards the financialisation of every aspect of life,[2] then the new one, I argue, is the financialisation of the power to sustainably financialise every aspect of life. While the former implies only the present or short-term concern, the latter accentuates a long-term future, even permanent, ambition. In what follows I will elaborate on the idea.

(Source: dustinmetz.com)

Sustainability and the rise of the new financial logic

To grasp the new gesture of financialisation mentioned before, one only has to look at the outcome document of the UNCSD 2012 Rio+20 conference entitled The Future We Want, and its subsequent post-2015 UN Development Agenda. Cynics would see the document merely as a statement of commitment to renew commitment, or as an agreement to hold next conferences. No significant agreement made with regard to the core agenda. But a closer and more serious look might notice the prognostic of a new gesture of financialisation within.

Beside what cynics might have it, the Future document also urges for a higher degree of policy coherence at the global, regional, national and local level. In order to do this, the effort must be inclusive to every stakeholder of the program. The idea is to share the stake of the environmental concern to as many parties as possible. Hence, ‘global partnership’ has then become one of the buzzword of the post-2015 agenda. Business entity is seen to have an important role in this global partnership since it has the ability to invest, and thus fuels (read: finances) sustainable development projects. The stake is high, the document implies, as the sustainability of the development itself that is being concerned. No sustainability, then no business. So, if business wants to keep going, then a “not-business-as-usual” effort must be done—this is what the document whispers in silence. Here, development must be seen as the very condition of possibility for business. A paradox is quick to arise: if not-business-as-usual efforts are made to guarantee the business-as-usual, then the not-business-as-usual cannot be seen as one that does not yield profit; the very profit of the not-business-as-usual efforts is the sustainability of the business-as-usual itself, and thereby making it itself a business-as-usual!

Starting off from this paradox one must ask: cannot the sustainability project of the post-2015 agenda be seen as a new political project to securitise sustainability itself? Affirmative answer would bring one to see the novelty of the project: the inclusive strategy of global partnership in undertaking the post-2015 sustainability agenda is less a strategy to achieve the sustainable development goals, than to ensure that the sustainability of the project itself be sustainable. Here, we must not fail to notice that there are two layers of sustainability. Global partnership of stakeholders to embark on a not-business-as-usual project must then be seen as a form of collective intervention on the very condition for the sustainable development project to continue—that is to be sustainable. The aim, then, is not directly towards the success of the project, but rather merely in securing its longevity and continuity. This way, we could see the concrete project of, for example, food security is not to achieve a secure supply chain of food, but to secure the future business of securing food. In other words, the sustainable development project first imagined as outside of business-as-usual, is now slowly but surely being dragged back to the sphere of business-as-usual. The post-2015 agenda is the moment when the sustainable development agenda made business by way of its securitisation.

But for my part, I am not content with such conclusion—which perhaps might do well to some environmental critics. My aim is to draw out the implication further towards our understanding of power. The first move then is to construe the gesture of making business out of sustainable development project, as a gesture towards financialisation of the future. As many have noted, the sustainable development project first imagines a specific  (ideological) form of future, and then invites investment. This is how they financialise the future. The “future we want” could only then be achieved through business. (This way, the Future We Want might sound like the Future the Business Wants). But this is not novel enough, or at least not according to what I think is. What is absolutely new is the gesture of making business out of the effort to securitise the sustainable project itself. It seeks not only to financialise the future, but it also seeks to financialise the very condition needed to sustainably financialise the future.

But, some would ask, what is future? What does future comprise? According to the Future document, ‘the future’ encompasses poverty, food, agriculture, water, sanitation, energy, tourism, transportation, city, settlement, health, employment, social protections, oceans, seas, disaster, climate, forest, biodiversity, land, mountains, chemicals, waste, mining, education, and gender. In short: everything that constitutes life itself. Financialisation of the future, then, entails the financialisation of every aspect that constitutes life in the future. Life, even the preservation of it, becomes a commodity for business, and sustainable development programs provide justification for this. Thus said, the sustainable development agenda must be seen as a correlate of power that ensures the smooth functioning of business agenda. In addition, along the post-2015 development agenda, a new form of power gives rise. Its reach covers not only the already existing (business) process of financialising every aspect of life at present and in the future, but now has expanded to cover the condition under which the future of the (business) process of financialising life’s future might be secured. Since this process of securing—i.e. securitisation of financialisation through sustainable development agenda—significantly involves another financial scheme, the one must not also fail to notice two layers of financialisation. It is this redoubling of financialisation that I call the new financial logic in sustainability era.

Conceptually, the new financial logic is manifested in what I will call the financialisation of biopower, and which at the same time marks the birth of the new biopolitics. So, in what way does the financial logic relate to biopower and biopolitics? Next section will discuss this.

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] Braudel has argued that the gesture towards financialisation is not a new phenomena. It always occurs every time trade in real commodity declines. Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century, Vol III: The Perspective of the World, trans. S. Reynolds (London: Collins, 1984), pp: 241-7.

[2]Efforts to document the issue is abound, among the bold ones are: Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002); Randy Martin, An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management(Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007); Andrew Leyshon and Nigel Thrift, “The Capitalization of Almost Everything: The Future of Finance and Capitalism,”Theory, Culture & Society, 24, 7–8 (2007), pp: 97–115; Christian Marazzi, The Violence of Financial Capitalism, New Edition, trans. K. Lebedeva & J.F. Mc Gimsey (LA: Semiotexte, 2011).