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Bio-Power - French Philosopher and Historian Michel Foucault

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Bio-power is a concept put forward by the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. Foucault ([1976], 1990) was concerned with the nature of power and maintained that power underwent changes in its nature and expression in different historical periods. Bio-power, a power over "life" and its reproduction, designates a new system of power and regulation which emerged in the nineteenth century. Prior to this, power was generally expressed through the imposition of death and physical punishments.

More specifically, the rituals of punishment created a spectacle of death (e.g. public execution and torture) the aim of which was to guarantee the force of law (in straightforward terms of deterrence).

Bio-power was mediated through institutions (schools, prisons, the military and the factory) that disciplined and regulated the lives of individuals. Through the structure of these institutions, the human body was subject to a meticulous regime, which controlled and monitored its operation and function, and in this fashion the human body became the center of a new form of governance.

Bio-power was a bipolar system; at one pole a bio-politics of the population, understood in terms of the overall control of populations by a range of regulations, registers of birth, marriage, death, public health programs etc., and at the other an anatomo-politics of the human body. The latter consisted of tactics that disciplined the individual body, drills and routines that optimized its functioning and converted it into a reliable socioeconomic machine. Foucault maintained that bio-power was an essential component of capitalism; it produced the laboring body that would work in the factory, and by seizing the "life" of the population turned it into an economic field.

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