On biopower and biopolitics

Twelve thesis on biopolitics and the commons for architects and cartographers [without demonstrations]
plus a political program,
both mostly after Hardt and Negri, 2009, Commonwealth

We use “biopower” [in the sense defined by Foucault, and later detailed by Deleuze, Hardt and Negri] to describe the form of power in contemporary networked society.

Biopower, as any kind of power, has to be understood as a strategy and as a relation; it is deployed through technics or technologies.

Biopower is not aimed at prohibiting and punishing, but it rather deals with the production of the real; it aims to produce the totality of social life.

The main aim of biopower, being part of capitalism, is not to repress people, but to make populations productive.

We can better understand the technologies of contemporary biopower by comparing them to the technologies of [bio]power in the industrial society. The diagram of power technologies in the industral society is the panopticon. It was deployed in the so called insitutions of enclosement, such as factories, schools, offices and homes, where bodies and minds were disciplined in space and time.

The Greek term “biomechania” describes effectively the biopolitical dimension of industrial society.

Technologies of biopower in the age of networks are different from those of the industrial era. They are often described by the term society of control, coined by writer William Burroughs and commented upon by Gilles Deleuze [1990].

Society of control technologies aim to make people productive, as we already mentioned, but they do so, not through the tayloristic organization of time and space, but rather through the modulation of subjectivities and behaviors in the open, fluid fields of networks.

In the networked society, people become productive when they are able to operate autonomously, flexibly and creatively. Control functions through the modulation of these conditions.

Production of subjectivity, technological and social protocols, laws and norms, and governance are three of the main families of power technologies in the society of control.

Biopolitics would describe on one end the technologies of power that relate to biopower.

Biopolitical production would refer to the production of forms of life, as in the sense addressed by the Greek term “biomechania”.

However, biopolitical production is used, too [by Hardt, Negri, Lazzarato and others], to describe the kind of politics and political actions that oppose capitalist biopower.

In this sense, biopolitical production would describe the production of forms of life [technical, social, subjective ecologies] alternative to, and confrontational with capitalism.

On the commons and the wealth of networks

The value of contemporary production has shifted from the production of commodities to that generated by biopolitical production, that is the production of forms of life, subjectivities, knowledge, social relations and affects.

We can see this in a privileged way in economic fields such as branding, entertainment, media, web 2.0, software, health, care, beauty, tourism and cultural industries.

In the context of biopolitical production becoming hegemonic, the former concepts of production and social reproduction tend to merge.

The wealth of the postfordist contemporary economy is produced within and by the networks. As Castells explained, today the value of a node that is not connected to any network equals zero.

Therefore we can affirm that the wealth generated by the networked society is wealth generated in a large extent through and by communication, social cooperation and collective intelligence.

The cooperative, open, shared dimension of the networked resources necessary for production, and of the results of networked biopolitical production itself, is what we call the “new commons”.

The postfordist metropolis, that we describe as the material and social side of global networks, is the locus of the production of the commons.

[This was the object of the mapping project we developed in Athens in December 2010]

Following Hardt and Negri, we can describe, then, the posfordist metropolis as the place of production [of the commons], of encounters [that make the commons], and of antagonism [around the making of the commons and their expropriation, enclosures, and exploitation by capitalism].

Contemporary capitalism depends intimately on the wealth produced by networks, that is on its ability to extract value from the wealth produced by the social cooperation made possible by the commons.

It is a paradoxical situation. Capitalism needs to promote the autonomous social cooperation that produces the commons, as it constitutes its main source of benefit, while at the same time it needs to govern and modulate it, so that it doesn’t become uncontrollable.

This is the paradox that interests us.

Making the commons has to be understood, then, not only as the creation of more or less marginal communities that share resources producing alternative subcultural forms of life, but rather as a process in the center of the contemporary metropolis, with the potential to become a radical process of deterritorialization, that could take society, through capitalsim, beyond capitalism.

A political program for a radical making the commons

[after Hardt and Negri, 2010]

Making the commons [enhancing the productivity of social coperation] / providing the infrastructures necessary for biopolitical production: production of forms of life and subjectivity: production of the commons:

[1] Physical infrastructure: water, food, sanitary conditions, electricity…

[2] Social intellectual infrastructure / education:
Linguistic tools, affective tools for building relationships, tools fort thinking…

[3] Social intellectual infrastructure / “immaterial” infrastructure:

Open infrastructure information and culture:
_ open physical layer
_ open logic layer
_ open contents layer

[4] Research funding / infrastructure [production of open common knowledge]

[5] Freedom of movement : to migrate and to stay / freedom of space

[6] Freedom of time [rent / minimum guaranteed income national / global]

[7] Freedom to construct social relationships and create autonomous social institutions

[8] Participation in government at all levels… practice, pedagogy in self-rule


José Pérez de Lama, Mapping the commons :: Athens [2010.12]



Michal Hardt, Antonio Negri, 2009, Commonwealth

Michel Foucault, 1976, The History of Sexuality [I]

Gilles Deleuze, 1990, Post-script [on the societies of control]

Yochai Benkler, 2006, The Wealth of Networks



  1. Pingback: 12 thesis on biopolitics and the commons | ↘ indexcited
  2. Pingback: [1] We use “biopower” [in the sense defined by Foucault, and later detailed by Deleuze, Hardt and Negri] to describe the form of power in contemporary networked society. Biopower, as any kind of power, has to be understood as a strategy and as a rel

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