For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"About Immaterial Labor and Biopower"

by Atzert, Thomas; translated by Frederick Peters (2006)


… Cooperation and self-employment, along with knowledge, creativity, language and affect, had been important moments in the struggle against work under Fordism, a fact too often neglected today … The concept of biopower harkens back to Michel Foucault's analysis of power …

Key Passage

The concept of biopower harkens back to Michel Foucault’s analysis of power. From the mid-1970s, Foucault argued against the characterization of power as boldfaced repression (the so-called repression hypothesis) and emphasized the relational character of power: ‘‘At the very heart of the power relationship [...] are the recalcitrance of the will and the intransigence of freedom,’’ he wrote in 1982.18 This new conception of power has primary significance in the analysis of social institutions, which become effective in a force field of power relations, or power dispositifs (described by Foucault as normalization and discipline). Biopower’s central focus is the regulation of the population. The highest function of this power is to establish life and to penetrate all its aspects in order to rule it. Biopower describes a situation where biopolitical population policy is oriented towards the control of production and reproduction of life itself.19 Hardt and Negri use and expand the (historical and sociological) scope of the term biopower beyond Foucault’s usage. This expansion of the term occurs alongside a new ordering of social labor along the lines of communication, knowledge and affect. As the horizon of productive activities expands with this recomposition of social labor, and as life and production have a tendency of becoming one, the focus on biopolitics serves to redefine the Marxist conception of productive labor. The significance of the thesis of the real subsumption of society under capital becomes clear only with an analysis of biopower. (p.63)


Foucault, Marx, Socialism, Biopower, Immaterial Labor, Negri, Hardt, Tertiarization


On Foucault, Foucault

Links to Reference



How to contribute.