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The Competing Meanings of 'Biopolitics' in Political Science: Biological and Post-Modern Approaches to Politics

Laurette T. Liesen

Lewis University

Mary Barbara Walsh

Elmhurst College


APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper

The term “biopolitics” carries multiple, sometimes competing, meanings in political science. When the term was first used in the United States in the late 1970s, it referred to an emerging sub-discipline that incorporated the theories and data of the life sciences into the study of political behavior and public policy. But by 1996 at the American Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting, the term biopolitics was adopted by post-modernist scholars who followed Foucault’s work in examining the power of the state on individuals. Foucault first used the term “biopolitics” in the 1970s to denote social, political power over life. Consequently, there are two groups of political scientists using this term in very different ways. This paper will examine the parallel developments of the term “biopolitics,” how two very different sub-disciplines have gained/lost control of the term, and what the future may hold for its meaning in political science.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 30

Keywords: politics and the life science, biopolitics

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Date posted: August 1, 2011 ; Last revised: August 22, 2011

Suggested Citation

Liesen, Laurette T. and Walsh, Mary Barbara, The Competing Meanings of 'Biopolitics' in Political Science: Biological and Post-Modern Approaches to Politics (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1902949

Contact Information

Laurette T. Liesen (Contact Author)
Lewis University ( email )
One University Parkway
Romeoville, IL 60446
United States
Mary Barbara Walsh
Elmhurst College ( email )
190 Prospect Avenue
Elmhurst, IL 60126-3296
United States
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