Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
23 – 25 May 2011
“Making Live and Letting Die”: Media, Technoculture, and the Global Biopolitics of Death
I draw my title from Foucault’s (2008) characterisation of biopolitics, where the ‘life’ of the population is the means by which individuals are governed–as collectivities whose very lives and vital wellbeing are increasingly subject to governmental control, surveillance, regulation, and segregation, through forecasts, risk-management, statistical measures, and other mediatised forms of bio-moral orthopaedics. The biopolitical power to ‘make live and let die’ has gradually displaced classical sovereign power to ‘take life or let live’. Modern politics has seized the power to bestow ‘life’; and consequently, others must be ‘allowed to die’–a whole class of people whose lives do not count as life, including prisoners, refugees, those lost as ‘collateral damage’ in modern warfare, victims of biopharmaceutical testing and profits, ‘negative externalities’ in the global march of neoliberalism, and so on. Death, Foucault writes, has replaced sex as the great taboo. Death has been ‘outsourced’, and those of us who are ‘made to live’ better and longer lives frequently do so at the cost of those others who are ‘allowed to die’.