Biopolitics

The term “biopolitics” has four distinct but overlapping meanings in modern scholarship. According to Lemke’s history of the term (Lemke 2011), political scientists used “biopolitics” in a variety of ways as early as the 1920s, and the Third Reich used it to describe their eugenic plans. But the term really found common usage first among 1960s political scientists interested in the relationship of evolutionary biology and politics (Caldwell 1964). Forming the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences (APLS) in 1981, they defined “biopolitics” as any investigation of the effect of biology on politics, from the primate origins of hierarchy to infectious disease impacts on warfare to the influence of the health of leaders on their decision making (Somit and Peterson 1998).

Biopolitics scholars argued against the prevailing social science model that human beings were a tabula rasa shaped by socialization. During the fights over sociobiology (Wilson 1975) in the …

This essay may be found on page 22 of the printed volume.

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