Part 2

Being the angel that I am, I was proof reading a friends essay the other day and stumbled across that oh so quoted theory – bio-politics. The slickest term in the book. Slip bio-politics into a causal conversation round the IDS and its high fives all round! Well maybe not… We’re not that sad, but you get what I mean. Still, when I found myself reading the brief summary of the term, I was instantly thrown back into that same feeling of academic discomfort I remember from when we fumbled our way through the thick stuff in that seminar on ‘The Body’ and Unruliness.

“This is an example of Foucault’s well-cited concept of Bio-politics. His model describes the power that governments exert over individual bodies. This form of control is highly instrumental and oblivious to individual rights that are forfeited in favour of the government’s interests. Bio-politics draws Foucault’s earlier work on bio-power which describes the governance over social and biological processes through technologies of power. The main difference of the concepts in how they are used in this paper is that bio-power is exerted by a state onto a population while bio-politics is directed at a specific individual and body…”

Put succinctly, my feeling of discomfort stemmed from one thing – the feeling that this super sexy term was, in fact, just a super sexy term void of any meaning. ‘What is this that I hear?! Foucault? Vacuous?! Sacrilege!’ Yeah that’s right, I said it – so hear me out. To me, the notion that governments use ‘technologies of power’ over individuals body’s seems so blindingly obvious, it seems strange to even feel the need to say it. Of course state power is about influencing bodies. The question I ask myself is, when does the exercise of state power not influence an individual’s body? Questions over abortion laws are very explicit examples, but we should also recognise that economic policies regarding the allocation resources often manifests itself in a grumbling of bellies from those worse off. Is this too not a form of bio-politics? Even policies that don’t necessarily lead to a ‘grumbling of bellies’, questions regarding dignity and self-respect, policies that undermine ‘decent and secure work’ for example, these take its toll on something slightly more ethereal – the human mind. But who says such a thing does not belong to the human body? To distinguish between matters that affect our psychological well-being and those that affect our physical well-being rests on a dualist distinction between the mind and body, one that I sincerely reject. All state power, all of politics, is bio-politics. If bio-politics is everything, then it is nothing.

I remember discussing these frustrations with a friend at the time and she said that as a woman and a feminist, she can see the undoubted value in the term bio-politics. It visibilises issues, and reminds us that our bodies are in fact the subjects of state power. She pointed to the American elections and noted that if all those middle class women that voted Trump were reminded or made aware that it was their bodies that will be coerced and constrained by anti-abortion measures, then maybe they would have voted a different way. I see this point. Maybe with the armchair nature of political participation, with politicians seeming like nothing more than contestants on reality TV show, biopolitics is a useful reminder that it is our bodies that are the recipients of state power.

However, there remains a danger in accepting this distinction, one that can reinforce armchair participation. If we accept the dualist distinction that underpins biopolitics, we are then encouraged to be concerned with politics only when we feel that our bodies are the subjects, as in obvious examples like abortion law, or regulations relating to medicinal practices. Would it not be better to recognise that all politics is bio-politics, that state power always manifests itself on an individual’s body in some manner and that we would be wise to use our bodies, our bare life, to change it?

I was watching a little video on Foucault by Alain de Botton where he mentions Foucault held scorn for the medical profession because of the ‘medical gaze’ held by doctors. A doctor looks at a person and sees a set of organs, as opposed to a person that should be considered at a full entity. My reading of bio-politics feeds into this scorn as in distinguishing between state power directed at our bodies, and state power that does not, we reinforce the notion that we are not our bodies, that we are not complete entities.

Then again, maybe I completely misread Foucault?


From Welfare to Entrepreneurial State

Some findings from essay writing:

  • There is a certain threshold ratio ofmazzucato words to hours till deadline after which the essay writing process  assumes liminality.
  • The mainstream paradigm in economics is neoclassical.
  • I disproportionately cite one author in many papers.

I probably do this because there  is a bit of brilliance spanning across a range of her different publications; or, i just need to read wider.

Mariana Mazzucato taught at Sussex Spru until last year. Shes a rock star, celebrity economist who works on matters of innovation. The majority of her work has been disruptive to long-held mainstream conventions about innovation, her work is a beacon of unruliness in an otherwise boring discipline.

Her book the entrepreneurial state challenges the myth of the herculean entrepreneur who allocates factors of production in such unique ways as to create new markets against all odds. Instead her research shows that in all the most significant tech breakthroughs (internet, biotech, GPS, siri, all i-phone components etc) it is the state that has provided favourable financing and set a vision. She also proposes that the state keep equity in successful ventures downstream that it has financed, so that it can continue to generate revenue for funding more innovation. this is her Tedtalk:

This is her on twitter challenging Dani Rodrik – probably the most well-known development economists – about his theory of self-discovery.

Part 1

“With suitable instigation, a fostered sense of identity with one group of people can be made into a powerful weapon to brutalize others” (Sen, Identity and Violence:The Illusion of Destiny, 2006)

The idea of a political community, an economic unit, which has a sense of shared vision, cuts across all realms of conception: philosophical, cultural and political. Identities are shaped by inclusion and by extension that which these inclusive groups choose to exclude – the contrasting identity that they differentiate themselves from. To bring more into focus that within themselves which they know only through comparison with another.

The construction of identity and citizenship in Pakistan has been on the basis of exclusion. These exclusionary mechanisms coupled with other factors have resulted in radicalism along religious lines that often overlap with ethnic lines.

Pakistan is a relatively new state with a long colonial history, a bloody partition and is currently the fifth most populous country in the world. Its weak institutions, handicapped democratic procedures, territorial conflict with India and a strong military-bureaucratic base results in an inefficient flow of resources, poverty, minimal civil participation and a severe power shortage. Over fifty percent of the population is under the age of thirty, and provision of state facilities is poor (Chadda, 2001). These groups of marginalization often overlap with the religious minorities in the country that make up 6 million of the population.

The formation of a cohesive Islamic national identity as led to the exclusion of religious minorities from the state narrative. Pakistan’s conception of an Islamic identity relies on religious universalism, where it looks at other Islamic states as ‘natural’ allies. The post-70s national conscience reinvention along explicit Islamic lines has succeeded in entrenching Sunni interests in state legislation and institutions. Minority narratives along with alternative Muslim narratives are not incorporated into the national vision. The subjugation and discouragement of Sufi practices and Barelvi thought exemplifies the intolerance towards counter-Islamic narratives. Furthermore, the institutional capacity of the Islamic state borrows modern apparatus to promote an authentic’ Islamic vision. (Subramanian, 2014).

A caveat of current academic scholarship is summarised in Manuel Castells assertion that ‘nationalism is anathema to Ummah.’ and this observation holds true in the case of Pakistan where nationalism is mediated through a religious lens. “It has in turn, created resistant-based identities that have evolved into disillusioned, radical fragments that look towards a global radical Islamic identity to combat the nationalism of nation-states. “Identity is the way of constructing meaning in people’s lives at a time when the raison d’etre of modern states seems to be vanishing, in this respect; people crave much more than just market economics. Indeed, the State can be said to be an agent of globalization rather than of the people. The reaction to this is an alternative construction of meaning based on identity.” (Castells, 2008) The need for social justice in a state built on exclusion, where minorities are often excluded from social decisions, is paramount. Employing mechanisms of education, media and participatory democracy that stress universal values based on human rights can bring this about.(Sen, Culture and Development , 2001)