Life, Legitimation and Government

Paul Patton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The concepts of biopolitics and biopower do not play a major role in Foucault’s work. They appeared at the end of The History of Sexuality Vol. I in the form of an epochal contrast between “an ancient right to take life or let live” and a modern “power to foster life” or at worst to “disallow it to the point of death.”1 They appeared again in a lecture delivered on March 17, 1976, where “biopolitics” referred to the manner in which, from the end of the eighteenth century, the power of government began to be exercised over “man in so
far as he is a living being.”2 His course the following year, Security, Territory, Population, began with the statement that he would undertake a study of the mechanisms by which the biological existence of the human species became the object of political intervention and strategy.3 Accordingly, the first three lectures addressed mechanisms of security, in contrast with disciplinary mechanisms, in relation to a series of examples such as the management of urban spaces and epidemics. However, by the fourth lecture, the focus shifted to the study of
“governmentality,” which then occupied centre stage for the remainder of the course.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-45
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Foucault, Michel, 1926-1984.
  • Governmentality
  • Biopolitics
  • Biopower
  • Liberalism
  • Neoliberalism


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