Biopolitics and Place

Biopolitical interpretation of society is connected to the debate on the changes of life and work conditions in a world where precarious social relations prevail. It underlines the radical mixing of private and public spheres of life, emerging for example in the form of constant reorganization of families and communities under the pressure of neoliberal globalization. Human beings, both as embodied individuals and population in general, have in this view become units of immediate social transformation. It is therefore argued that no spatial categories are needed in describing the embodied social change, co linking us all, now and everywhere, at the level of population.

The general social pressure becomes concrete in the biopolitical view through endless flows of contests and comparisons between unaccompanied actors, which results in increasing social insecurity. Individuals are under permanent threat of being replaced, both as laborers and family members. Social life grows now into full life at the level of audience and masses, always under the pressure of all encompassing and thorough changes. More and more attractive stimulus and excitement, offered and renewed everywhere, simultaneously, and continuously, compress humans into one universal population, or a multitude, characterized by chaotic heterogeneity.

Social change emerges in the biopolitical view without any stable spatial coordinates or location in a particular cultural arena. Multitude is universal and therefore it cannot be found under the banner of any nation or people and it does not exist in any specific neighborhood or factory. It neither gathers in the streets, nor in the market places for campaigns or demonstrations. Accordingly, the governing of masses does not succeed with the help of local or territorial measures but it is instead developed via the flows of mass communication and media, and is intimately linked to individual human minds and bodies.

Local positions are regarded as biased in biopolitical thinking as they rest on a false dichotomy between the global and the local. Local views are also considered misleading in their belief in an authentic inside that is valued as uncontaminated by the more general changes in society. Accordingly, local perspectives and strategies are criticized as they tend to mask the real risks of social change. Localism is accused of obscuring the alternatives and potentials for liberation from the dominating forms of globalization. Instead, participating in the local–global flows in all their complexity is therefore preferred.

The multitude, referring to the masses, population, and audience, is among the key words of biopolitical thinking, and it has also become a central concept in today’s globalization critique. This is no wonder as it clearly helps to explain and cope with the ongoing local–global changes in work, production, consumption, and politics.

The concept of multitude also links today’s globalization critique to the centuries long politico philosophical debate on the masses and their political organization stimulated by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, published in 1561. For Hobbes, multitude refers to the original state of human beings that are in struggle with each other. It is characterized by a plurality of voices and it precedes organized society. Hobbes’ multitude does not, however, remain a presocietal characteristic of the human past but is instead understood as an integral element of social renewal.

It is seen as both a threat to the dominating order and a potential source for change. Hobbes’ political community, the assembly of individuals, is established in the meetings of the multitude where matters of representation and participation are decided. The plurality of voices is united by giving up individual rights to the sovereign, the collectively chosen board or person who promises to work for the community. Multitude grows in Leviathan into the founding force of community, the primary cause for pol itical renewal.

This multitude can be interpreted as a preorganizational element in human history and even the opposite of ordered society, but it can also be seen as the ever present critical condition of social change. Consequently, the concept of primary multitude refers to the unruly state of humanity before the common rules of representation and participation are established, whereas the concept of political multitude links the power of the multitude with critical alternatives and civic pressure against the established order. The two interpretations diverge in their definitions of space and place.

The multitude can take the shape of a universal rhizome but it can also function as the critical condition for sociospatially diversified community building. The power of the multitude can thus emerge both through occasional or chaotic combinations of individual reactions and in the form of civic gatherings on the basis of specific sociospatial concerns. The latter alternative is, for example, explicated by Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, two of the most refereed examiners of biopower and the multitude, who jointly argue in Les intellectuelles et pouvoir (The Intellectuals and Power), initially published in 1972, that it is not wise to fight against power in general but, instead, do it on the basis of local confrontations and personal resistance. For them, various types of local–regional theories can help us analyze how the relations of power are articulated.