# HISTORY /// Biopolitics. From a society of blood to a society of sex and towards a society of shit

picture: Salo by Pier Paolo Pasolini (adaptation of Le Marquis de Sade’s 120 days of Sodom)

Here is a short article I just wrote for Meredith Tenhoor’s Pratt seminar Food/Architecture/Urbanism/Biopolitics :


Before the XVIIIth century, French (and by extension European) State’ sovereignty was applied on territories and on their subjects’ life and death. The Enlightenment and the constitution of Parisian literary groups and bourgeoisie (in opposition to Versailles’ nobleness) questioned the status of an omni-powerful monarchy embodied by Louis XIV and inherited by less strategic kings Louis XV and Louis XVI. This led to the French Revolution of 1789 and the creation of a Constitutional monarchy then a Republic in 1792. This whole institutional dislocation, followed by a very strong centralized power (again) from Napoleon Bonaparte, brought up and applied some new means of sovereignty that established what Michel Foucault calls bio-politics.

Bio-politics consists in a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death. Life is not anymore “let” by the sovereign institution but is sustained and organized in an ambiguous mix of philanthropy (at first perhaps) and precise control on the manpower of the country. The result is a subjectivation of bodies which become as many pieces of a machinist system aiming towards what we now know as global capitalism.

The goal of technology – and by extension of architecture – consists in the invention of apparatuses used to regulate and normatize the bodies submitted to them. We are all familiar with the object “panopticon” as such an apparatus. However, architects tends to stubbornly consider it as a literal architecture forgetting that it is before all, a system of power relation providing a scheme for the entire society – and therefore for the city. The panopticon is not just applied to prison. It adapts itself literally (meaning architecturally) or abstractly to other institutions of control such as barracks, schools, factories and hospitals.


Food being part of the “bios” (life), it is interesting to study the way the whole process of production is also submitted to those apparatuses. The Halle au Blé in Paris seem then paradigmatic by the extreme. In fact, building such a centripetal building in the center of Paris in such a centralized country that France is, constitutes an incredible symbol of the institutional control of food supply. La Halle au Blé was prophesying the Napoleon III and Haussmann’ tremendous plans for Paris, during the second part of the XIXth century, that applied such policies of control of food, hygiene and security at the scale of the whole city.

Capitalism, in order to exist, has therefore to take advantage of the shift from what Foucault following Sade calls a society of blood (power embodied by war and death) to the society of sex (power applied on bodies’ anatomy and biology). The ecological crisis being its next obstacle, capitalism seems to mutate towards the last step of the Sadian journey (and following the article of Dana Simmons) the society of shit that will apply power on raw materials, objects from now on more valuable than human’ life and body.


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