ASTK18340U Biopolitics

Volume 2020/2021

Bachelor: 7,5 ECTS

Kandidat: 7,5 ECTS

Notice: It is only possible to enroll for one course having a 3-day compulsory written take-home assignment exam due to coincident exam periods.


The COVID-19 pandemic has revitalized interest in the concept of biopolitics. Discussions of contagion, transmission, immunity, incubation, resilience, and quarantine focus attention not on our role as citizens but on our existence as biological beings. These terms, integral to fields of public health and virology, now stand at the center of political discourse, framing conversations around policing, political economy, sovereignty, and democratic society. Yet, the discussion of biopolitics began long before COVID-19. Michel Foucault coined the terms to name a form of power that takes the life of a population as its object. Foucault’s formulation has had wide-ranging effects on political theory, changing the way we understand the body, racism, neoliberalism, war and violence, and the category of the human. The course returns to Foucault’s formative texts on the topic and examines the major debates that have followed in political theory in the study of bio-power and biopolitics. How did life come to be understood as the object of government, and how has this intensified the operations of power in the modern era? In addition to answering conceptual and historical questions, the course also seeks to expand our understanding of the concept by engaging with the array of topics in which biopolitics has made transformative interventions. From understanding the politics of DNA sequencing and stem cell research to analyzing the transformations of labor and global warfare, biopolitics is a concept that provides key insights into our contemporary political moment.

Learning Outcome

Knowledge: Upon completing this course, students will be able to identify and define key concepts in contemporary political theory including biopolitics, neoliberalism, sovereignty, and many others.

Skills: Students will be able to analyze arguments and concepts in political theory texts. They will learn to critically evaluate the validity of theorists’ arguments and be able to apply relevant concepts to a broader understanding of our political world.

Competences: Students will be able to critically assess and combine complex theories. Furthermore, they will learn to develop an argument, provide effective evidence for relevant claims made in support of that argument, and present the argument in clear and effective writing.

Foucault, Michel. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

--. “Society Must be Defended”:  Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76. New York: Picador, 2003.

--. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books, 1988.

Esposito, Roberto. Immunitas: The Protection and Negation of Life. Trans. Zakiya Hanafi. Cambridge: Polity, 2011.

--. “The Biopolitics of Immunity in Times of COVID-19: An Interview with Roberto Esposito.” Antipode Online. 16 June 2020. https:/​/​​2020/​06/​16/​interview-with-roberto-esposito/​.

Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” October 59 (1992): 3–7.

Brown. In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Anti-Democratic Politics in the West. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019

Mbembe, Achille. Necropolitics. Translated by Steven Corcoran. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.

Povinelli, Elizabeth A. Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Frost, Samantha. Biocultural Creatures: Toward a New Theory of the Human. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Wald, Priscilla. Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

Damasio, Antonio. The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. New York: Vintage, 2017.

Nail, Thomas. Theory of the Border. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Cooper, Melinda. Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.

Rose, Nikolas. The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Lecture, student-led discussion, student presentations, and group work.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Three-day compulsory written take-home assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment

Criteria for exam assesment

  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner