Paris attacks, bio-power and capital accumulation

The recent attacks remind us of the war we are all involved in, the great majority of us without choice. Like it or not, we just find ourselves involved. What will the solution be? How should the French respond to the recent bloodshed in Paris? The Young Turks discuss on their YouTube channel in America. Without democratic referendum, the solution will continue to be tighter border control, more population surveillance, and more foreign air strikes in the name of global security. Our gut feelings would tell many of us “No”, but what say do we have in the mater?


More surveillance, more control and increased military-political power some would argue is the solution, and France has already closed off its borders for internal population control. For others the such a outcome is just inevitable; and the solution seems a problem in itself.

This solution keeps with tradition since Paris has always been a city of surveillance, absolutley. ‘It is still a matter of debate as to whether Haussmann built the new boulevards of Paris after 1853 primarily for the purposes of military control over a restive population or as a mean to facilitate the easier circulation of capital within the confines of a city straitjacketed in a medieval network of streets and alleys’, David Harvey (2003) noted in his book written after the 9/11 terror attacks and second invasion of Iraq. The question draws our attention to the pressing modern, or “post-modern” issues of power and internal/external, nation-state surveillance on the one hand, and then the associated, sometimes conflicting issue of capital accumulation on the other.

Eventual Parisian, Michele Foucault, made predictions about the future world that was emerging, that we are now living in; and his theory of bio-power managed to score close to the mark. Bio-power ‘was without question an indispensible element in the development of capital’, Foucault wrote, ‘the latter would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic process’ (1998: 140-141). Like Lyotard, his turn away from Marxist theories of capital accumulation, historical materialism, towards theories of power, surveillance and knowledge was the result of a revolution in France that failed to come about.

The darker side to Foucault’s theory of bio-power, what Giddens’ would refer to as the ‘dark side of modernity’, informs us that there will unfortunately be little internal or external escape from this vicious loop of bio-power, increasing security, increasing surveillance and increasing counter-terrorism.

The technologies of surveillance (i.e. mobile phone, the Internet, GPS) is what gives all terrorist attacks their “viral” form and character. These are the same technologies through which we express our appeals for life.

Bio-power is a vicious cycle. ‘Wars’ Foucault wrote, ‘are waged on behalf of the existence of everyone; the entire populations are mobilized for the purpose of wholesale slaughter in the name of life necessity; massacres have become vital’ (137). In order to live in civilized societies, securely, as many of us do, they certain amounts of death will need to be administered on our behalf.

The theory of bio-power would offer a feasible explanation as to why, without referendum, without democratic choice, and conducted on “our” behalf, David Cameron announced to the UK that ‘Jihad John’ was killed as the result of a drone airstrike. His speculation was based upon the information generated by a collaborative force of international, military intelligence agencies. This death was administered by military powers, and very few of civilians of Western civilizations can control neither the processes nor the outcomes. In some ways his announcement tried to reassure families in “secured” nations that they can now rest in peace. Increasingly however we should begin to understand – as Foucault did – that security and civility could come only at that price. Of course then, revenge was imminent, since such horrific occurrences will return with ongoing, karmatic-like consequences.

On the other hand, Harvey’s neo-Marxist theories of ongoing capital accumulation points – worryingly – to the necessity of capitalism to access raw materials and foreign markets as a means of stabilising the economic system and postponing inevitable market crises. Foreign intervention, foreign invasion is a systematic necessity to the economic system that delivers us cheap food, cheap commodities and the Christmas shopping we must all do. Our presence in the Middle East is fundamental to ongoing economic prosperity. We are tied, economically committed, to securing these geographical locations since without security in this area, advanced globalised economies would risk systemic failure. If the environmental crises are not enough to warrant the urgent development of renewable energy resources, then economic dependence on Eastern oil must add a more crucial driver, since counter-terrorism seems to stem from the ongoing and forceful extraction of raw materials from the Middle East.

European outrage about the neglect of the preservation and protection of the lives of Syrian refugees not only demonstrated the technologies of surveillance (social networking media, the Internet) that make us aware of the negative, external effects of foreign intervention and the politics of administrable Death, but the politics of administrable Life, reminding us about this current age of bio-power and how affects our everyday lives.

Refugees-by-Banksy-at-Dismaland

As I write this I can hear police sirens echoing through the streets of Cambridge, as has been the case since the terror attacks in Paris last night. Without being informed that the UK is in a state of high-terror alert, I can only assume that it is. I possess little to no empathy for the terrorists yesterday and neither I do not empathise with drone-pilots of advanced nations. We need to get past this reoccurring loop of administered death and revenge.

If we are trying to think “progressively” about future societies, secure societies or even an idealistic or utopian Society, then there are two theoretical loops that we need to decouple ourselves from; to be found in their theories of Foucault and Marx/Harvey.

Read more:

  • Foucault M. (1998) Right of Death and Power over Life. The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality: 1. London: Penguin Books, 135-159.
  • Harvey D. (2003) The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.