Biopolitics, biopower, and the return of sovereignty

Mathew Coleman, Kevin Jon Grove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Citations (SciVal)


In this paper we want to open up for discussion what counts as `biopolitics'öa term frequently used by critics and devotees alike to describe the organization of political power and authority in a world after Bretton Woods, the Cold War, and 9/11. We do so on two fronts. On the one hand, we contrast Foucault on war and the normalizing society, Agamben on thanatopolitics, and Hardt and Negri on biopotenza. Our goal here is to draw attention to multiple competing definitions of biopolitics, and in so doing problematize the term as a catchall category to describe either the `nonsovereign' or the `postsovereign' operation of power. On the other hand, while refusing some baseline definition of what counts as biopolitics, we develop our own specifically geographical criticisms of Agamben and Hardt and Negri on the topic of biopolitics. Following Sparke's recent interrogation of postfoundational thought on account of its oftentimes buried metaphysics of geopresence, we submit that Agamben as well as Hardt and Negri deploy biopolitics in both metaphysical and metageographical ways. We contrast this with Foucault's inductive, genealogical, and time-specific and place-specific use of the concept.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-507
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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