What Is Biopower?

According to Hardt and Negri's book Empire, "Biopower is a form of power that regulates social life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, absorbing it—every individual embraces and reactivates this power of his or her own accord. Its primary task is to administer life. Biopower thus refers to a situation in which what is directly at stake in power is the production and reproduction of life itself."(24)

Biopolitical power is expressed as a control that extends through the depths of consciousness and bodies of the population and across the entirety of social relations. (p 24) An example of this is the control of life at the molecular level made possible by the sequencing of the Human Genome and recombinant genetics. A consequence of Assisted Reproductive Technologies is that the female body has become a pre-eminent laboratory for a lucrative pharmaceutical industry.

In global pancapitalism, we live in a society of control rather than a society of discipline. In the society of control, biopolitical power comprises the whole of society; it produces the social body, and our individual bodies. It is the ground of all productivity and therefore the ground of life. Within the society of control "power is exercised through machines that directly organize the brains (in communication systems, information networks, etc.) and bodies (through welfare systems, monitored activities, etc) toward a state of autonomous alienation from the sense of life and desire for creativity." (23) Under global capital, Biopower mostly creates wealth and power for others and is not under individual control.

How do we participate in Biopower? How does it manifest or express itself in our everyday lives?

Our labor and what we do for a "living"—whether manual or bodily (agricultural, factory), mental/intellectual (knowledge work, immaterial labor), and affective (emotional, service, maintenance of self, family, community)—can be said to be a product or expression of Biopower.

In the all-encompassing biopolitical system of Empire productive labor has changed. It has become "intellectual, immaterial and communicative"—even manual and service labor now depend on networked communications and information because the marketing decision comes first and production follows.

One may object that the term "immaterial labor" once again hides the life-producing, life-sustaining production, reproduction and maintenance labor largely done by female, poor, immigrant, and minority populations. This is true, and it is one of the reasons for subRosa's current Biopower Unlimited! project. We want to make visible how smoothly and imperceptibly the control and suppression of our bodies and of the somatic, is achieved through the integration of our bodies with cybernetic machines which act as prostheses that redefine our bodies and minds. Now we have to "think like computers" and our bodies become machine like parts controlled by invisible information and immaterial processes.

Hardt and Negri identify 3 kinds of "immaterial" labor:

1."Informaticized" industrial labor that has become a service to the market

2. Analytical and symbolic labor—knowledge work both creative and routine

3. Production and manipulation of affect labor. Involves human contact, and includes bodily labor

All three kinds of labor involve social co-operation (networking, communication, team-work, assembly lines) that is built into the nature of the labor itself. This aspect of social co-operation and the involvement of "affect" and "service" as part of the work is one of the factors of what is being called the "feminization of labor."

All immaterial labor is not valued equally. Creative immaterial knowledge workers and corporate "talent"—such as the CEO's of Enron—are usually compensated far more highly for their labor than are data entry workers, farm laborers, cafeteria workers, mothers, telemarketers, and the like. Clearly the Western philosophical ideas that minds are more valuable than bodies are still operating here. Biopower controls and produces the corporeal body as much as it does the social body. The very resistance which the social body has to its control is also a function of biopower for it can only be produced in the midst of this multitude of people who are all acting as one.

Each part of our existence, and society itself, seems to have become a machine. For example food production is a vast machine of which factory farming of cattle for meat or milk is a good example. Educating students to become the technocratic and knowledge workers of the future is a giant machine((the university/corporate/industrial machine). These machines are all linked: for example, university science and technology departments are coupled to industrialized agriculture, food-production and distribution networks. "The multitude not only uses machines to produce, but also becomes increasingly machinic itself, as the means of production are increasingly integrated into the minds and bodies of the multitude. In this context re-appropriation means having free access to and control over knowledge, information, communication, and affects—because these are some of the primary means of bio-political production. Just because these productive machines have been integrated into the multitude does not mean that the multitude has control over them. Rather, it makes more vicious and injurious their alienation. The right to re-appropriation is really the multitude's right to self-control and autonomous self-production." (p406,407)

It is often hard for us to imagine how to resist this all-encompassing structure in which we are so deeply embedded and implicated that for the most part we are not even conscious of how we are functioning within it. How can we come to greater consciousness? How can we figure out what it might mean to re-appropriate control of the self and of an autonomous life? subRosa points to the many examples of student, worker, feminist, and popular activism and resistance of all kinds around the world. The new conditions of work and life in Empire are already calling forth new forms of resistance everywhere. s

subRosa <http://www.cyberfeminism.net/subrosa> seeks to support movements of resistance and autonomy through our work. BIOPOWER UNLIMITED! calls attention to the material and embodied ways in which each of us experiences, produces, maintains, and reproduces life itself through our labor power. The grounds for resistance and change lie in the ways in which we negotiate that power that can be used in both repressive and liberatory ways. Our Biopower Participation Profiler program (Button 3) invites you to calculate your participation in different kinds of labor and shows what the value of that labor is. You will be able to see at a glance therefore what your social power is and whether you are spending too much time working for corporate interests rather than working (and living) for yourself and for your community. BIOPOWER, UNLIMITED advocates an informed and autonomous use of biopower based on consciousness, knowledge, and desire.