Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Biopower: Theory Origin Story

             Biopower has been a very useful term for analyzing the Japanese populace, but why did Foucault coin this term to begin with? After all, an idea is never without a catalyst. With this in mind, it is important to denote that Foucault is not fond of origin stories. His theories are intentionally endowed with evasion of ontological needs and essentialism. However, to analyze Foucault does not necessitate discourse in accordance with his beliefs. Origination is a worthwhile endeavor in that, throughout the course of human history, bodies have not always been subjugated to this nature of control. The existence of biopower is inextricably linked with the establishment of a nation-state. Despite this fact that one cannot exist without the other, solely pinpointing the first nation-states is not the most fruitful way to fully understand the term. The origin of biopower lies with the term’s creator, Foucault, and subsequently the environment in which it was inseminated. In the pursuit of understanding biopower, it is crucial to not only analyze nation-states, but principally their relation to the creation of mental asylums. These institutions were developed with Foucault surveying them, and are ironically what sparked his heavily surveillance based ideology.
             Directly stated, biopower is about the discipline and control of entire populations by a nation-state. It is inherent, therefore, that a nation-state abides by a certain set of values they intend to mold into their populace. The propagation of these ideals is so subtle and common to members of a populace, that it seems natural, and occurs with seemingly little rebellion. Akin to Latour’s notion of a black box, this system is observed in terms of its input and output, with little to no knowledge or recognition of its internal components. A citizenry is given direction on how to be, and then executes and embodies these directions. How is it possible for this system to keep continuing without somebody raising their hand and objecting? Well, it is rather difficult to protest when labeled insane, and/or thrown into societal isolation. By creating asylums, the nation-state defined a proper manner of human existence, and created a hurdle nearly impossible for objectors to tackle. Any existences that deviate from a nation-state’s definition of being human are subsequently dehumanized, and stripped of value.
             Thus, if the subjugation of bodies, and subsequent control over entire populations wasn’t an insidious enough ideal already, biopower’s origin story seals the deal. Foucault observes that by creating spaces to hide and condemn citizens, nation-states affirm that they have an idea of what they want their populace to look and act like; i.e. biopower. 

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