Biopolitics Reading Group Notes 3 – Negri and Hardt

Next round of notes for Biopolitics reading group. For Biopolitical Production chapter of Empire. I incorporate links and references to previous discussions that I have participated in online and an essay of mine that may be relevant.

Over the fold.

EDIT 16/11/11: I’ve fixed up some of the weird typographical errors that seemed to have cropped up at some point due to the vagaries of blog database backups or changing of styles, etc. It should be cleaner text now.

Biopolitical Production — Empire reading notes

Foucault lays groundwork for investigation of material functioning of imperial rule in two ways

Firstly, from disciplinary societies to societies of control (22-23)

Disciplinary society: production and regulation of customs, habits, and productive practices (23).

Society of control: intensification and generalization of normalizing apparatuses of disciplinarity, extends beyond social institutions through flexible and flucturating networks. Organises brains (comm. System, information networks) and bodies (welfare systems, monitered activities) toward a state of autonomous alienation from the sense of life and the desire for creativity. (23)

Secondly, Foucault’s work allows recognition of biopolitical nature of the new paradigm of power. (23)

Biopower is a form of power that regulates social life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, absorbing it, and rearticulating it. (23-24) Refers to situation where production and reproduction of life itself is at stake.

Only society of control can adopt biopolitical context as its exclusive terrain of reference (24).
Disciplinarity fixed individuals within institutions. Control society with power becomes entirely biopolitical the “whole social body is comprised by power’s machine and developed in its virtuality” (24) “Power is thus expressed as a control that extends throughout the depths of the consciousness and bodies of the population – and at the same across the entirety of social relations” (24). [how is it possible to write about it then? Is this another level of control? ie Neo in the Matrix as another simulation?]

Unlike Marx (real subsumption of labour) or Frankfurt school (real subsumption of culture) Foucauldian passage deals fundamentally with plurality and multiplicity (as do Deleuze and Guattari). (25) “milieu of the event” (25)

Society of control and biopower describe central aspects of Empire. (25) [endnotes 437]

The Production of Life

“The control of society over individuals is not conducted only through consciousness or ideology, but in the body and with the body. For capitalist society biopolitics is what is most important, the biological, the somatic, the corporeal.” (Foucault quote in Empire 27)

Foucault still operating within a structuralist epistemology: “the reinvention of a functionalist analysis in the realm of the human sciences, a method that effectively sacrifices the dynamics of the system, the creative temporality of its movements, and the ontological substance of cultural and social reproduction” (28) “What Foucault fails to grasp finally are the real dynamics of production in biopolitical society.” (28)

“Deleuze and Guattari discover the productivity of social reproduction (creative production, production of values, social relations, affects, becomings), but manage to articulate it only superficially and ephemerally, as a chaotic, indeterminate horizon marked by an ungraspable event.” (28).

Contemporary Italian Marxists: productive labour and its living development in society, using terms such as “mass intellectuality,” “immaterial labour,” and the Marxist concept of “general intellect.” (28-29) They develop two research projects:
1) A new political theory of value for intellectual, immaterial, and communicative labor power (29)
2) the problem of new figures of subjectivity through knowledge, communication, and language. (29)

A shortcoming has been to reinsert production into a biopolitical context almost entirely on the ideal plane by focusing exclusively on the horizon of language and communication. (29) However, “the productivity of bodies and the value of affect are absolutely central in this context.” (30) Three primary aspects of immaterial labour in contemporary economy:
1) communicative labour of industrial production that has newly become linked in informational networks
2) the interactive labour of symbolic analysis and problem solving
3) the labor of production and manipulation of affects (30)

Build on partially successful attempts recognize potential of biopolitical production, not ideal forms but within dense complex of experience (30)

Corporations and Communication

Huge transnational corporations construct the fundamental connective fabric of the biopolitical world. Unlike national colonialist and imperialist systems defined by the imposition of abstract command and the organization of simple theft and unequal exchange, “they directly structure and articulate territories and populations” (31).

Example presented by monetary perspective, nothing escapes money (32).

“The great industrial and financial powers thus produce not only commodities but also subjectivities” (32).

Example of communications industries (32-33), they produce producers. Power is immanent to production and social relations (33). “Language, as it communicates, produces commodities but moreover crates subjectivities, puts them in relation, and orders them. (33)

Question of legitimation. The subject that produces its own image of authority. (33) Not Habermassian (33-34), still relied on external point of legitimation.

Machine is self-validating, auto-poetic (34) uses and reuses master narratives for legitimation


Exercise of legitimate force (34), like legitimation, intervention has been internalized and universalized (35)

Involve the exercise of physical force on the part of the imperial machine over its global territories (35).

Empire’s powers of intervention begin with moral instruments not weapons of force (35)

Example of NGOs (35-36), “completely immersed in biopolitical context for the constitution of Empire; they anticipate the pacifying and productive intervention of justice” (36), a prefiguration of world order (37).

From moral intervention prepares the stage of military intervention (37). These enemies are most often called terrorist, a crude conceptual and terminological reduction that is rooted in a police mentality (37).

Relationship between prevention and repression; controlling “ethnic terrorists” and “drug mafias”: “the actual repression of these groups may not be as important as criminalizing their activities and managing social alarm at their very existence in order to facilitate their control” (37)

Courts become a juridical body or system of bodies that dictate and sanction the interrelation among the moral order, the exercise of police action, and the mechanism legitimating imperial sovereignty (38)

Royal Prerogatives

Justification for interventions relies of state of permanent exception and deployments take the form of police action (39). The sovereignty of Empire itself is only realised at its margins, where borders are flexible and identities hybrid and fluid: center and margin seem continually to be shifting positions, fleeing any determinate locations [not sure about this? How can there be margins/center when biopolitics of control society operates on whole social body? D&G’s holey space, producing ‘margins’ on the ‘inside’] Process is virtual and that its power resides in the power of the virtual (39).

On the virtuality of Empire see this discussion here on Mark Poster’s alleged critique of Empire as virtual biopolitical machine argument, relevant extract:

Mark Poster’s take on the ‘virtual’ in Empire is frustrating for two reasons. He doesn’t seem to grasp the specific Deleuzian sense of ‘machine’ or ‘virtual’ in N&H’s use of the terms. Poster quotes Negri and Hardt without seeming to understand the context of the quote:
“Hardt and Negri, empire ‘appears in the form of a very high tech machine: it is virtual’ (ibid.: 39).” (105)
The complete quote from N&H is:
“Empire thus appears in the form of a very high tech machine: it is virtual, built to control the marginal event, and organized to dominate and when necessary intervene in the break-downs of the system (in line with the most advanced technologies of robotic production).” (39)
Poster then writes:
“They metaphorically transfer the attributes of ‘a very high tech machine’ to their concept of empire. But the term ‘high tech’ or even ‘very high tech’ is too vague. Do they mean a nuclear reactor or a linear accelerator? Probably not.” (105)
Well to answer his question, no they don’t mean any of those things. In N&H’s admittedly sloppy piece of writing, the _metaphor_ is the robotic production line and the _reality_ is a high-tech virtual machine. N&H are talking about a sovereignty that is machinic and ‘machinic’ in the specifically Deleuzian sense. According to D&G ‘machinic’ does not mean anything necessarily mechanical or technological (ATP, 435). But, without explaining it properly, it is closer to machinery belonging to the Autonomist notion of the social factory, which is now like the ‘advanced technologies of robotic production’. If Poster has made this big a mistake in his understanding of the main argument of Empire — that ‘empire’ is a virtual sovereignty-machine that is actualised in many different ways — then I don’t know how useful the rest of his argument is.
Second problem:
“The conceptual sloppiness of Hardt and Negri in using the term virtual is more than a minor oversight.” (105)
Poster makes the same mistake that other media scholars constantly make in their understanding of the ‘virtual’ as it is used by Deleuzian influenced scholars. It is excrutiating he would accuse N&H of conceptual sloppiness when he does not fathom they are using the term ‘virtual’ in a completely different conceptual way to his neo-platonic understanding, eg:
“The Internet is virtual not in its lack of territoriality but its departure from space/time configurations associated with earlier forms of communication. It affords virtual presence in the sense that it reduces distance and time factors in communication to zero.” (105)
The virtual relates to temporal manifold actualised as the present, not to real-copy distinction made of presence that media scholars, such as Bolter and Grusin and their followers, seem to love making.

Empire as globalised bio-political machine (40)

Neo-Weberian perspective (41)
1) traditional power
2) Extension of bureaucratic adapted physiologically to the biopolitical context
3) Rationality defined by the “event” and by “charisma” rises up as singularization of the whole and of the effectiveness of imperial interventions. [see Glen’s essay from art exhibition catalogue, “Road Tests”, for an example of an attempt of charisma used in this neo-Weberian functionalist sense]

7 replies on “Biopolitics Reading Group Notes 3 – Negri and Hardt”

Comments are closed.