Foucault, Bio-Power, and the Security State


Foucault: Bio-Power, and the Security State

Philosophy 777000

Mondays 4:15-6:15, Room 8404 GC


Professor Linda Martín Alcoff

Department of Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center

Office Hours at GC room 7109: Mondays 6:30-7:30


This course will provide an extensive analysis of Foucault’s political thought from the publication of Discipline and Punish (mid 1970’s) until the end of his life in 1984. In a series of writings, interviews, and lectures that have only recently been translated into English, Foucault developed a highly original and influential account of the ways in which domination operates in the modern period, inventing new concepts of discipline, bio-power, governmentality, docility, and the security state as the key mechanisms of subject-formation in European modernity.  Bio-power refers to the ways in which life is disciplined and regulated, rather than simply commanded and constrained. Foucault suggested that the trope of the ‘security state’ would become the central mechanism for circulations of power and the development of new techniques of disciplining modern subjects, and he produced prescient analyses of neo-liberalism. We will also consider in some depth Foucault’s analysis of the emerging categories of race in relation to populations and security. We will read mostly Foucault’s own writings but also several of the interpretive debates about the implications and salience of Foucault’s account as well as other related work on bio-politics and security from Ann Stoler, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Georgio Agamben, Jurgen Habermas, and others.


There will be four short papers (2-3 pages of textual interpretation) due throughout the term. These are mainly opportunities for explication but are also places where you can develop your critical analysis. Topics for the short papers will be given a week in advance. There will also be a 15 page seminar paper due at the end of this course.

I will also ask students to choose one day to prepare some remarks on the readings with some questions to lead into discussion.


The following books are available at Shakespeare and Co. on Lexington at 69th St.:

1. Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison 2nd edition, Vintage, 1995.


2. Michel Foucault Power: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault vol. 3 The New Press, 2001.

3. Michel Foucault Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France 1975-76 Picador 2003.

4. Michel Foucault The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France 1978-1979 Picador 2010.

5. Michel Foucault Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France 1977-1978 Picador 2009.

6. Michel Foucault The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the College de France 1982-1983 Picador 2011

There will also be some essays available for xeroxing in a folder in the dept lounge, and some material on Blackboard.


Schedule of Readings


Aug. 27: Introduction to the course


(NO CLASS Sept. 3 for Labor Day)


Sept. 10: “A Question of Method” in Power

Discipline and Punish Parts One and Two (esp. imp. pp. 24-31)


(NO CLASS Sept. 17 for Rosh Hashanah)


Sept. 24: Discipline and Punish Part Three



Oct. 1: Discipline and Punish  257-292

“Truth and Method” and “The Subject and Power” in Power



Oct. 10: (Wednesday instead of Monday)

Arnold Davidson’s introduction(s)

Society Must be Defended Lectures 1, 3, 4


Oct. 15: Society Must be Defended Lectures  8, 11



Oct. 22: Ann Stoler, “Towards a Genealogy of Racisms” and

 “Cultivating Bourgeois Bodies and Racial Selves”

optional: “Placing Race in the History of Sexuality”


Oct. 29: Security, Territory, Population Lectures 1, 3, 5


Nov. 5: Security, Territory, Population  Lecture 8

The Birth of Biopolitics Lecture 1

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Part One



Nov. 12: The Birth of Biopolitics Lectures 2, 6, 7


Nov. 19: The Birth of Biopolitics Lecture 9, 10, 11


Nov. 26: Selections from Agamben, Homo Sacer



Dec. 3: Habermas The Future of Human Nature


Dec. 10: The Government of Self and Others Lectures 1, 2, 4, 6


Dec. 17: The Government of Self and Others Lectures 16, 19