What makes biopolitical approaches different from other social/ political/ cultural theories, and how biopolitics might help to grasp what remains invisible for other approaches?
Biopolitics is justifiably interdisciplinary subject since it encompasses all spheres of social life and at the same time deeply penetrated in its organismic aspects. Biopolitics from biological perspectives operates within the reality of the physical needs, especially in the organization of space, time and human activities, where the primary target of the exercise of the biopower is a human body. However, from the political aspect it still covers the distribution and articulation of power relations through numerous mechanisms, such as: discipline, surveillance, normalization (exclusion and inclusion). The aim of this essay is to provide a concise analysis of how biopolitics might be linked with other disciplines and what other tools it can provide in the apprehension of the socially constructed reality.
Talking about a human body in the light of biopolitical approach it might seem natural to point at the question whether biopolitics is a universal discipline that can be equally applied to each and every body, or there are some differential aspects that should be mutinously investigated beforehand. In different times in various socio-cultural context the value and physical characteristics of a human body are treated and approached differently. In the age of the European colonization of African and American continents raised the racial issue, meanwhile through out the whole human history till the modern times the question of a female body in the patriarchal society has sharpen even more. Similarly, the debates around sexual minorities in the last few decades became the matter of political discourse.
In the attempt to investigate the human body in terms of racial qualities, specifically from a diachronic point of view the attention is drawn towards eugenics. Indeed, few centuries ago the slight differences in genotype that influences the color of skin played a crucial role in a human’s life. It appears as a self-evident truth that the social status of a member of society could be dependent on the way how the form of a scull, shade of skin and color of eyes look like, specifically if it is different from what is considered by the majority as ‘normal’. Thus, people who had more somber tones of the skin than those who were considered as ‘civilized’ were naturally assigned for slavery, being deprived of all sorts of privileges of ‘the white man’, such as rights and freedoms.
Similar, however not identical, situation can be traced in contemporary time in some African tribes where people born with genetic deviations such as syndrome of albinism are treated unlikely in comparison with their compatriots. To be specific, people who are suffering from albinism are subjected to a number of threats, e.g. in some African communities organs and flesh of an albinos can treat diseases, according to the receipts of some authoritative spiritual leaders of a tribe; meanwhile, in other social groups a person with pale skin is perceived as cursed and can be considered as a reason for misfortune, and eventually his or her body is subjected to the mortification.
Interestingly, that the characterization of the syndrome of albinism in this essay as a genetic deviation is also a matter of biopolitics, precisely in terms of abnormalization of the phenomenon. Basically, the way how medical and healthcare institutions define different alternations manifested in genotype or phenotype of living beings frames social understanding of what is beyond of medical norm. Thus, it might be logical to come up with conclusion that all people are mentally and physically ill, since everybody is suffering from light forms of neurosis, anxieties or stress; each human body is a home for a huge number of parasites which are invisible to human eye, however these people are still considered as healthy, and therefore no mandatory treatment can be prescribed to them.
Alternative examples might be found in historical and theological disciplines. The medieval inquisition can illustrate the case where women who were born with ugly or extremely attractive appearance, based on the aesthetic preferences of that time, were doomed to cease their lives on the ‘rendez-vouz’ with cleansing fire. The Catholic Church also contributed in the edition of numerous tractates such as the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) that provide instructions on how to identify a witch, so the women who had ginger hair and noticeable birth-marks on the body were persecuted by the holy fathers. Based on these examples it is possible to infer the role of pastoral power in the management of a human body. Conspicuously, the fact that individual body might be a target of the biopolitical apparatus contradicts with a notion that the primary field of the exertion of biopower is a group of people, rather than a single member of the community.
Religious discourse also supplies an instance of the Holy Bible as a form of discursive practice produced by biopolitics. To be precise, in some of the non-canonical text the notion of ‘masculine’ Trinity is undermined by quaternity, where the one of the primary roles was dedicated to Mary the Virgin. However, due to the patriarchal character of the Church these Christian apocryphals were excluded in order to legitimize the superiority of the male above the female. Finally, the very fact that the God is represented in a masculine form in numerous artistic masterpieces of the Renaissance highlights the biopolitical character of the omnipotent man.
In all likelihood, this archaic patriarchal pattern is inherited originally from religious discourse, however it does not lose its position in contemporary society, where the question of gender equality is voiced publically due to the systemic development of human rights and feminist movements. Moreover, it is observable now that feminism was a trigger for the struggle of LGBTQ community’s rights. Undoubtedly, gender studies are closely linked with biopolitical approach since they deal with such issue as sexuality, including sexual orientation, sexual taboos and norms. Especially, it might be traced in traditional societies where the notion of the norm is clearly established and thus oppressing other forms of sexual relations in order to assert the power of the dominant majority.
This essay brought together numerous examples from different disciplines in order to illustrate how biopolitics can supplement conventional studies with new concepts and ideas. Obviously, there is a huge number of disciplines related to the social sciences that can benefit from a biopolitical approach and synthesize on the basis of it new theoretical frames. Moreover, the biopolitical approach has a relatively big potential for the development of new knowledge that could have a practical implementation on the governmental level.