Wednesday, 20 July 2011

“We are the people who don’t count” – Contesting biopolitical abandonment

by Anna Selmeczi

About a year before his lecture series “Society Must be Defended!”, in which he first elaborated the notion of biopolitics, in a talk given in Rio de Janeiro, Foucault discussed the “Birth of the Social Medicine”. As a half-way stage of the evolution of what later became public health, between the German ‘state medicine’ and the English ‘labor-force medicine’, he described a model taking shape in the 18th century French cities and referred to it as ‘urban medicine’. With view to the crucial role of circulation in creating a healthy milieu, the main aim of this model was to secure the purity of that which circulates, thus, potential sources of epidemics or endemics had to be placed outside the flaw of air and water nurturing urban life. According to Foucault (2000a), it was at this period that “piling-up refuse” was problematized as hazardous and thus places producing or containing refuse – cemeteries, ossuaries, and slaughterhouses – were relocated to the outskirts of the towns.

As opposed to this model, which was the “medicine of things”, with industrialization radically increasing their presence in the cities, during the subsequent period of the labor force medicine, workers and the poor had become to be regarded as threats and, in parallel, circulation had been redefined as – beyond the flow of things such as air and water – including the circulation of individuals too (Ibid., 150). Today’s urban struggles to be discussed in this paper signify yet another model for the government of circulation; groups of individuals appear now to be included in the category of piling up hazardous refuse. Slogans such as “No relocation to human dumping grounds!” are targeted against a mode of urban governance that originate in but twisted the liberal challenge posed against the “poor laws” of the age of labor force medicine.

Click here to read this paper in pdf.