Mbembe’s “Necropolitics” (personal response)

Here’s my personal response to Mbembe’s “Necropolitics” that I shared in class yesterday and should have included in my original post:

Mbembe argues for a “reading of politics as the work of death.”  How is necropolitics different from biopolitics?  How is necropower (control of who dies) different from biopower (control of populations)?  Isn’t control of who dies also control of a population?  My initial answer to these questions is that necropolitics lacks the positive goal of biopolitics: to foster/cultivate/protect the population.  It was also suggested in class that necropolitics, as a theory, does not discount the existence of this positive goal, but it certainly emphasizes the importance of the negative goal: control over death.

The rest of Mbembe’s essay was devoted to specific examples of necropower, and I found his discussions of war machines and a spatial reading of occupation to be particularly interesting and explanatory of personal observations and what I’ve seen through news media.

His alternate definition of sovereignty as “the capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not” is extremely relevant to the global organ market.  Sale of human organs is prohibited when citizens are seen as workers too valuable to compromise.  It is generally only allowed (and sometimes even expected as a way to pay off debts) for citizens deemed “disposable” or not even worth protecting.

Mbembe discusses the current “management of the multitudes” style of governance in Africa, which explains the widespread occurrance of control through massacres and relocation of refugee camps.  Is this idea directly opposed to the theory of individuation discussed by other authors this week (and next week)?


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