Thursday, December 18, 2014


anthrobiopolitics |  The politics of death, termed ‘necropolitics’, is examined here through the work of several scholars, each of whom is interested in differently understanding the forms that death takes under biopower. Specifically, these works delve deeper into the question which asks, if biopolitics is about making live, then how do we explain the presence of so much death today? In the present neoliberal era of terror and insecurity, it seems that what we may be witnessing is a new, unprecedented form of biopolitical governmentality in which necropower, or the technologies of control through which life is strategically subjugated to the power of death (Mbembe 2003), operates significantly with and alongside technologies of discipline, and the power to make live, for an increasingly authoritarian politics which governs through economic, rather than social terms (Giroux 2006). In what follows, I review four pieces of scholarship that deal variously with death as a field of [bio]power, and attempt to highlight the differing conceptualizations of necropower they each focus upon. I ultimately conclude that, in reading these pieces together, we are drawn to the task of considering the powerful and generative ubiquity of “bare life” as a fundamental aspect of biopolitics in the contemporary neoliberal era of normalized insecurity and terror.

According to Achille Mbembe, “To exercise sovereignty is to exercise control over mortality and to define life as the deployment and manifestation of power” (2003:12). In his 2003 article, “Necropolitics”, Mbembe theorizes the enactment of sovereignty in cases where “the generalized instrumentalization of human existence and the material destruction of human bodies and populations” is the central project of power, rather than autonomy (p.14). Significantly, he takes up the philosophical project of conceptualizing the relationship between subjectivity and death as the roots of political sovereignty, and the particular form sovereign power’s enactment has taken through the historical process of linking together notions of modernity and terror. That is, taking seriously Schmitt and Agamben’s notion of sovereignty as the state of exception, we see through Mbembe’s work how Taussig’s wedding of reason and violence becomes extended and reformulated in the colonial contexts of late-modern forms of occupation, where endless states of terror are used to justify the “concatenation of multiple powers: disciplinary, biopolitical, and necropolitical” (p.29), for which military presence and regularized warfare increasingly leads to totalizing forms of domination over human lives within a given space, and one that is endlessly shifting.