how childhood has become a strategy that answers to questions concerning the (un)governability of life. The analysis is organised around the concept of “biosocial power”, which is shown to be a particular zone of intensity within the wider field of bio-politics. To grasp this intensity it is necessary to attend to the place of imagination in staging biosocial strategies, i.e. the specific ways in which childhood is both an imaginary projection and a technical project, and to this end Agamben’s concept of the “anthropological machine” is used to examine how biosocial power has been assembled and deployed. The paper begins with the question of childhood as it was posed toward the end of the nineteenth century, focusing on how this positioned the figure of the child at the intersection of zoē and bios, animal and human, past and future. It ends with a discussion on how the current global obesity “epidemic” has transformed this one-time vision of mastery into a strategy of survival.
When Giorgio Agamben wrote his Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, he undertook the ambitious, even audacious, task of “completing” Michel Foucault’s work on power. The literature that has since grown around this book is perhaps testimony to the fact that the study of power is unlikely to reach a terminus, i.e. to be completed in the literal sense of tidying up any and all loose ends. More intriguing, there is shadowy supplement to Homo Sacer: an other figure that seems to co-habit the “thresholds” and “zones of indistinction” that form the theoretical armature of Agamben’s exposition, and which offers a very particular way of examining the relation between zoē (“bare” or naked life) and bios (life which is “qualified”). The figure in question is that of the child.
While not the focus of Homo Sacer, elsewhere Agamben has examined childhood as an “unstable signifier”. Conceptualised in this way, childhood is a disruption between past and future, between death and life, nature and culture, animal and human – relations that appear dichotomous, but which are in fact “zones of indeterminacy”. It is through attempts to govern this indeterminacy that modern Western childhood has been constituted as a particular zone of intensity within the wider field of bio-politics, and to grasp this intensity – the way it is assembled and configured – it is necessary to attend to the centrality of the imagination in staging biopolitical strategies, that is, the ways in which childhood is deployed both as a technical project and as an imaginary projection. This article examines how childhood is one important – and largely overlooked – way in which zoē entered into the realm of politics which, for both Agamben and Foucault, “constitutes the decisive event of modernity”. The analysis begins with a specific apparatus – a technology of life – that was assembled at the turn of the twentieth century, and which takes the form of biosocial power.
By biosocial power is suggested a mode of power that shares much with Foucault’s concept of biopower but which, with the help of Agamben, is shown to be specific to childhood. The inquiry begins with the question of childhood as it was posed during the 19th century, examining how this positioned the figure of the child at the intersection of zoē and bios, animal and human, past and future. It ends with a discussion on how the current global obesity “epidemic” has transformed this one-time vision of mastery into a strategy of survival