A1 Journal article (refereed)
When did biopolitics begin? : Actuality and potentiality in historical events (2022)

Prozorov, S. (2022). When did biopolitics begin? : Actuality and potentiality in historical events. European Journal of Social Theory, 25(4), 539-558. https://doi.org/10.1177/13684310221077198

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editors: Prozorov, Sergei

Journal or series: European Journal of Social Theory

ISSN: 1368-4310

eISSN: 1461-7137

Publication year: 2022

Publication date: 03/02/2022

Volume: 25

Issue number: 4

Pages range: 539-558

Publisher: SAGE Publications

Publication country: United Kingdom

Publication language: English

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/13684310221077198

Publication open access: Openly available

Publication channel open access: Partially open access channel

Publication is parallel published (JYX): https://jyx.jyu.fi/handle/123456789/79707


The article addresses the ongoing debate about the origins of biopolitics. While Foucault’s analysis of biopolitics approached it as a modern rationality of government, Agamben’s Homo Sacer series presented biopolitics as having a longer provenance, dating back to the antiquity. These polar positions are not mutually exclusive but coexist in these and other theories of biopolitics, which approach its object as both modern and ancient, having its chronological origin in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries yet also possessing a prehistory of precursors. The article interprets this dual origin in terms of Paolo Virno’s theory of historical temporality, which distinguishes between the chronological past of historical events and their potential past, which accompanies and is negated in them. Coexisting with its own unrealized potential, every historical event remains incomplete and extends itself both backwards and forwards, positing its precursors and prefiguring its future outcomes. While modern in the chronological sense, biopolitics is retrospectively inscribed in a longer historical lineage, its antecedents easily identifiable in the history of political thought. Finally, we apply this approach to Virno’s own account of the history of biopolitics, questioning his identification of past potential with labour-power.

Keywords: political philosophy; biopolitics; power (societal objects); sovereignty; temporality; conceptual history

Free keywords: biopolitics; Agamben, Giorgio; Foucault, Michel; Virno, Paolo; potentiality; Esposito, Roberto; temporality

Contributing organizations

Ministry reporting: Yes

Reporting Year: 2022

JUFO rating: 2

Last updated on 2023-30-08 at 09:20