For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Biopolitics in the ‘Psychic Realm’: Han, Foucault and neoliberal psychopolitics"

by Alphin, Caroline; Debrix, François (2021)


This article explores German Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han’s notion of psychopolitics and his concept of the neoliberal subject. For Han, mental processes are now the primary target of power. This means that, according to Han, biopower must give way to what he calls psychopower since perspectives that critically seek to understand neoliberalism through a biopolitical lens are no longer adequate to contemporary regimes of neoliberal achievement. This article examines and evaluates Han’s argument that Foucauldian biopolitics is obsolete in today’s neoliberal age because of biopolitics’ primary focus on the body over mental processes. We suggest that, instead of emphasizing the need to move beyond biopolitics, Han’s theorization of psychopolitics could benefit from paying closer attention to some of Foucault’s insights on biopower and from identifying key connections between biopolitics and psychopolitics. By highlighting some important continuities between Foucault’s biopolitics and Han’s psychopolitics (instead of emphasizing the discontinuities between both theorists’ perspectives, as Han tends to privilege), this article seeks to move towards improved theorizations of concepts like achievement, subjectivity, otherness or optimization, concepts that are key to Han’s understanding of contemporary neoliberal practices.


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