Zoe, Bios and the Language of Biopower
Hansen, Sarah K.
My dissertation explores the significance of “biopower” to forms of life and language in the contemporary West. Generally defined, biopower is a type of regulatory power that directs and fosters the biological life of populations. Focusing on its differential operation, this project investigates how populations are afforded or denied the attentions of biopower. I argue that the question ‘How does life have language?’ is an important mechanism of exclusion in biopolitical contexts. By deciding what counts as language and, accordingly, which living-beings are speaking-beings, biopower gives voice to and fosters the lives of some while silencing and abandoning the lives of others. This project develops fresh interpretations of the work of Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben and an under-recognized theorist of biopower, Julia Kristeva. In their varied and resourceful writings on contemporary power, these thinkers challenge the distinction between zoe (the life of biology) and bios (the life of language and politics). To map the languages of biopower, this project brings Foucault, Agamben and Kristeva into uncommon conversation. In the spirit of Foucault’s “history of the present,” I examine the mechanisms that separate animal voice from human speech and that divide, in Kristeva’s words, “’those who give life’ (women) and ‘those who give meaning’ (men).” Ultimately, I argue for a connected transformation— a biopower beyond the logic of exclusion and a language beyond the logic of sacrifice—that opens ways of living and speaking otherwise.