Experience and the technological propitiation of life - Authority ...


Oct 2, 2013 (4 years and 9 months ago)



Experience and the technological propitiation of life: On biotechnology
and biopower

Aécio Amaral

Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, England and
Department of Social Sciences, Universidade Federal da Paraíba, João Pessoa,

Address for contact:

Aécio Amaral

Rua Moema Palmeira Sobral, 235

João Pessoa




Biographical note:

Aécio Amaral teaches Sociology at Universidade Federal da Paraíba, João Pessoa, Brazil and is
a PhD candidate in the Centre f
or Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London. This
paper is part of his doctoral research, which is sponsored by CNPq, Brazil.

Words count: 8,000

Experience and the technological propitiation of life: On biotechnology
and biopower



article states that contemporary biotechnologies install an
epistemological shift in the link between technics and experience in Modernity.
suggests that the technological propitiation of life brought about by techniques of
sequencing and representing
DNA requires a reformulation of the Foucauldian
thesis about the way in which an anthropo
philosophical understanding of
finitude underlies the understanding of experience in Modernity by informing the
spheres of life, labour, and language. Insofar as comp
uter language manages to
reconfigure these fields of positivity, one should focus on Bernard Stiegler’s
claim that life differs from itself by means others than life, by means of technical
objects. Such claim seems to install a novel index for the sociolog
understanding of the current pattern of experiences typical of the contemporary
technological culture, one in which the immanence of life to knowledge is not in
debt to an anthropological self
referential finitude. The link between knowledge
and autho
rity that derives from such epistemic shift should take into account the
constituency of life and technics.

Bioinformatics; contemporary technological culture; knowledge;


In the last lecture of
Society Must Be

(2004), Michel Foucault makes an
association between nuclear power and ‘excess of biopower’. Such association is
intended to account for a paradox typical of modernity: the increasing, ceaseless
improving of the living brought about by the entranc
e of the biological heritage into the
political scope clashed, in the nuclear era, with power’s potential to destroy life itself.
The paradox constitutes a variation of the Foucauldian controversial claim for the death
of Man as conceived by the philosophi
cal discourse throughout the mid
seventeenth and
nineteenth centuries. Parallel to this diagnosis, albeit not drawing on it, current
sociological analyses largely informed by the Foucauldian studies of the phenomenon of
the biopolitical reduction of ex
perience in modernity have displayed a framework on

biopower to account for the emergence of the so
called technologies of life within
strategies of population control. This recent update of part of the Foucauldian agenda
does not seem aware of the rather
discomforting statement it heralds: there is a thread
tying nuclear power and biotechnology.

This article claims that biotechnological systems of storage and sequencing of
biological data may constitute an instance of ‘excess of biopower’, that is power’s

ability to create living matter. Yet, if an excursus into Foucault’s studies of biopower
bears the mer
it of displaying

a discomfort but elucidative line of continuity between
biotechnologies and nuclear power,

so far it has not sufficed to provide a powe
epochal argument for the understanding of the subtle link communicating the former to
forms of social control. As we shall see, the field of bioinformatics seems to put into
question Foucault’s association between ‘excess of biopower’ and the perspect
ive of
radical destruction of life. It seems as if the working of biotechnologies within domains
such as bio
medicine, bio
value, and governmentality requires the understanding of a
problem that is at the core of the Foucauldian critical project and yet cl
aims for an
updating: the role played by finitude in the constitution of a principle of ordering

By putting forward a theoretical argument based on the understanding of the
dislocation of finitude in the formalization of knowledge provided by co
biotechnologies, the article intends to contribute to the understanding of the link
between contemporary forms of production of knowledge and the constitution of
authority. If, as Claire Blencowe suggests in this volume, a critical confrontation

the epistemological privilege attached
by modern knowledge
finitude is a key condition for the idealization of worlds in common, the understanding
of the link between bioinformatics and the constitution of experiential forms

subjectivity may represent a productive way to approach the relationship between
knowledge, power and authority.

With this problematic in mind, the article suggests that an outline of the


For a clarification of the link between biotechnologies and nuclear power from the viewpoint
of the history of sciences, see L. Kay 2000.


Under this aspect, this article intends to develop further the theoretical arguments on the
relationship between life and objectivity, and knowledge and authority developed in this
volume by Claire Blencowe in “Life, Objectivity and the Conditions of Auth


biopolitical dimension of bioinformatics allows an engageme
nt with Foucault’s legacy
as follows: 1. This field of knowledge points out a molecularization of biopower that do
not necessarily anticipates the annihilation of life, one that installs a tension between
therapeutics and liberal eugenics, and entails deci
sions around what defines a living
being; 2. It defies the narrative on the analytic of finitude, insofar as it represents a way
of ordering knowledge whose underlying conditions are no longer human
transcendental limits, but instead the re
orientation of
the spheres of life, labour, and
language towards the ideal of unlimited combination of organic matter.

Foucault helps us to identify in power’s ability to create living matter the feature
that holds together nuclear power and bioinformatics as part of th
e same epochality.
Nevertheless, I argue that any attempt to display a Foucauldian framework for the
understanding of the role played by the broad field of biotechnologies within the current
biopolitical reduction of experience faces with a twofold difficu
lt: 1) The efficacy of
biotechnological regimes of power
knowledge no longer resides in the working of an
transcendental divide based on a self
referential human finitude, but instead in
the recombination of genetic matter at a non
restricted leve
2) In spite of his concern
with the constitution of disciplinary societies in the awake of the industrial revolution,
Foucault fails to provide an analysis of the dynamics proper to technical objects. Given
that genetic memory is increasingly stored and

developed further by technical objects,
the epochal interrogation into the analytic of finitude lacks an essential feature for the
understanding of the principle of ordering knowledge typical of bioinformatics, namely,
an organology that accounts for a th
ird genre of being, technics. I end suggesting that
Bernard Stiegler’s proposal of a new organology might appear as an alternative to the
lacunae typical of the Foucauldian
. It permits the understanding of
bioinformatics as a device of technical m

Biophysics and Regulation of Species Beings

The discussion on nuclear power and excess of biopower is held in the first out of three
lectures series delivered at the Collège de France in the academic years of 1975
78, and 1978
79, in whic
h Foucault settles a platform of research whose aim is to
demonstrate that the regime of power characteristic of Western societies from the end of
the eighteenth century onwards is based on a biological definition of life. (Foucault

2004, 2007, 2008) More
precisely, it is the basic biological features of human species
which constitute the target of political intervention and strategies. (Foucault 2007: 1) It
entails a transformation in the sovereign’s gaze over life and death, in a way that creates
an alter
native to a modality of power exerted by means of a set of disciplines inscribed
into individual bodies. As in the disciplinary mode of power, the aim of sovereign and
institutional action seeks to extract force in order to increase production. Yet, unlike

disciplinary power, the regime under consideration takes the population and its
biological features as a problem which is at once scientific and political.

The common ground underlying these studies is the assumption according to
which liberalism as a for
m of government encompasses a biopolitical dynamics in
which the prime object of regulation and enhancement is life in its biological
dimension, seen as the life of populations. Although the lectures series have been
justifying a prolific empiricist agenda

of research about current technologies of life, bio
economy, and processes of subjectification within the literature on biopolitics, it seems
that an aspect which is at the core of Foucault’s argument remains underestimated: the
analysis of the way in whi
ch Western societies operate through a biopolitical mode
entails the understanding of the link between nineteenth century physics and biology
theories and liberal approach to power. This is addressed in the last lecture which
Society Must Be Defe
(2004: 256
7), and it is particularly stressed in
the two first lectures of
Security, Territory, and Population
(2007: 1
27; 29

The most striking example of this trend is the governmental appropriation of the
notion of
, which belongs to th
e field of physics and was introduced in biology
since Lamarck, for strategies of population control based on the regulation of circulation
within modern towns. (Foucault 2007: 20) Foucault is outlining the constitution of a
political technique working at
a biophysical dimension, one which demarcates a
difference from both disciplinary apparatuses and sovereign juridical notions.

This is


Commenting on the scientific and political problem of circulation raised by modern towns,
Foucault states: ‘...the sovereign will be someone who will have to exercise power at the point
of connection where nature, in the sense of physical elemen
ts, interferes with nature in the sense
of the nature of the human species, at that point of articulation where the milieu becomes the
determining factor of nature. This is where the sovereign will have to intervene, and if he wants
to change the human spe
cies [...] it will be by acting on the milieu. I think we have here one of
the axes, one of the fundamental elements in this deployment of mechanisms of security, that is

the point in which ‘biopolitics’ replaces or complements ‘anatomo

The analysis of the entrance of the biolo
gical heritage into the scope of
sovereign and institutional power gives rise to two terms which nowadays became
strongly associated to Foucault’s work,
. Given their broad
acceptance within the sociological discourse, one should
recall what Foucault
understands by these terms. The former encompasses the redefinition internal to the
sovereign’s right over life and death brought about by the entrance of the biological
heritage in the lens of sovereignty. Foucault states:

‘It seems
to me that one of the basic phenomena of the nineteenth century was what
might be called power’s hold over life. What I mean is the acquisition of power over man
insofar as man is a living being, that the biological came under State control, that there

at least a certain tendency that leads to what might be termed State control of the
biological’. (Foucault 2004: 239

The sovereign’s hold over the human biological heritage is then
, a
mode of governing that differs from disciplinary power, w
hich is addressed towards the
allocation of individual bodies into the social space. Insofar as Foucault intended to
stress the differences between these modes of power at the empirical level of techniques
of intervention in life,

appeared as a

fundamental analytical tool. One reads:

‘...we see something emerging in the second half of the eighteenth century: a new
technology of power, but this time it is not disciplinary. [...] Unlike discipline, which is
addressed to bodies, the new non
linary power is applied not to man
body but to
the living man, to man
being; ultimately, if you like, to man
species. [...] the
new technology .... is addressed to a multiplicity of men, not to the extent that they are
nothing more than the
ir individual bodies, but to the extent that they form, on the
contrary, a global mass that is affected by overall processes characteristic of birth, death,
production, illness, and so on. [...] After the anatomo
politics of the human body

to say, not yet the appearance of a notion of milieu, but the appearance of a project
, a political
technique that will be addressed to the milieu.’ (Foucault 2007: 23)


For a detailed explanation of how the biopolitics of population control at once replaces the
politics of disciplinary societies and extrapolates contratualist noti
ons of juridical
sovereignty, see Foucault 2007: 20


established in t
he course of the eighteenth century, we have, at the end of that century, the
emergence of something that is no longer an anatomo
politics of the human body, but
what I would call a “biopolitics” of the human race’. (Foucault 2004: 243)

The technologies o
f power typical of societies that operate in a biopolitical mode

such as ratio of birth and death, fertility, reproduction, and so on

are oriented
towards the enhancement and optimization of collective states of life. They are
conceived to achieve, at
a mass, global scope, a general state of equilibrium between
natural and social environments within a population in a given period of time. Like
disciplinary power, such mechanisms are intended to maximize and extract forces in
order to assure production,
but they work in such a way as to put bios itself in a state of
producibility and reproduction. The producibility and control of bios displayed by
biopower is achieved by means of what Foucault names
. (cf. Foucault 2004:
7) Regulation differ
s from discipline insofar as its target is phenomena related to
population control instead of the investment in the body as a way of rendering it
productive and docile. As such, it regulates individuals as living beings, or, in a
combination of Foucault wo
rds quoted above, man

The consequence of the extension of power through general biological processes
is a twofold one. It leads, on the one hand, to what Foucault names ‘excess of
biopower’, the outcome that appears “...when it becomes t
echnologically and politically
possible for man not only to manage life but to make it proliferate, to create living
matter...”. (Foucault 2004: 254) This excess of biopower leads in its turn to a paradox
within the theory of sovereignty: the power to make

live and to assure the producibility
of bios may provoke the destruction of life itself. The atomic era is representative of
such paradox.

The first part of this twofold diagnosis has exerted a considerable influence upon
current sociological studies of
biopower in the Anglophone social sciences. Particularly,
in analyses of the way in which the creation and reproduction of living matter gives rise
to novel strategies of value production (Birch 2006; Cooper 2008; Rajan 2006; Shukin
2009) and affects the c
onstitution of forms of subjectification based on self
(Rabinow & Rose 2006; Rose 2007), and gives rise to novel fields of expertise (Rose
2007; Thacker 2006). However, little attention has been consecrated to the second
aspect of Foucault’s dia
gnosis: the excess of biopower may lead to the limits of human
sovereignty. Such statement grounds Foucault’s famous prediction for the end of the

figure of Man as conceived during mid
seventeenth and mid
nineteenth centuries.

The reader who has some acquaintance with the Foucauldian critical project
might be wondering how the problematic instantiated by biotechnologies fits into the
Foucauldian body of work. As it is well known, the general motif of Foucault’s
contribution to a

critical project consisted in identifying in modernity an epochal mode
of rendering life the object par excellence of both knowledge and control. The joint
influence of Nietzsche and George Canguilhem upon Foucault’s early choices makes it
clear: from

Birth of Clinics


The Order of Things


the fundamental
problem is the understanding of regimes of truth and power in which humankind
appears as both the subject and object of knowledge. The popularity acquired by
Foucault along the late 196
0’s and early 1970’s was due to the way in which he
developed an agenda of research based on the producibility of what he names the
transcendental divide in the construction of power
knowledge regimes.

The study of the constitution of disciplinary

societies is exemplar of such
undertaking. In
Discipline and Punish

Foucault analysed the work of discipline
by reference to a political anatomy responsible for the distribution of bodies into the
social space. Foucault was concerned with the over
lap of two non
necessarily related
domains which were essential for the constitution of the useful and intelligible modern
body. Firstly, an anatomico
metaphysical register, represented by Descartes’s
philosophy and its unfolding into modern science. Secon
dly, a technico
empirical, register, ‘...which was constituted by a whole set of regulations and by
empirical and calculated methods relating to the army, the school and the hospital, for
controlling or correcting the operations of the body.’ (F
oucault 1997a: 141)

If we are to remain close to the analysis proposed by Foucault, what is the
‘metaphysical’ register which complements the technologies of power that operate as an
empirical level constituting forms of regulation of population in the bi
opolitical era? It
seems as if both moments of Foucault’s oeuvre belongs with the same epochality,
although he did not develop further the way in which the empirico
transcendental divide
informs the constitution of a biopolitical regime of power

The problem
seems all the more pertinent, given Foucault’s assumption in
Society Must Be Defended
that the limit of biopolitical regulation, that is power’s ability to create living matter,
requires a reconsideration of the main representative of the empi
divide, the philosophical figure of Man.


The Analytic of Finitude

The Order of Things
, Foucault undertakes a reflection on the underlying
epistemological conditions that established the basis for a modern understanding of life,
abor, and language whose cornerstone is an anthropo
philosophical definition of Man
and finitude. The acknowledged aim of this reflection is to find the principle of
organization of knowledge that acts as a common
a priori

element that is at once
and determinant of scientific statements throughout the natural history, political
economy, and linguistics. In the foreword to the English edition one reads:

‘What I wished to do was to present, side by side, a definite number of elements: the
of living beings, the knowledge of the laws of language, and the knowledge of
economic facts, and to relate them to the philosophical discourse that was contemporary
with them during a period extending from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century’.
ault 2009: x)

This definition of the plan of the work presents us with the twofold analytical
dimension of Foucault’s undertaking. Firstly, Foucault aimed to provide a narrative that
could account for the history of the emergence of the modern subject in

societies during the referred period. According to this peculiar account, after the epochs
of Renaissance and the Classical Age, there appears the Age of Man as that in which
man manages to cast for himself the role of subject and object of its ow
n knowledge. In
concomitance with this narrative, there is the methodology which acts as its meta
narrative, namely, the archaeological approach to the
a priori

conditions of knowledge
that are implicit to a given society. This second aspect was developed
in a more detailed
manner in the subsequent
Archaeology of Knowledge

, in which Foucault
grounds the idea of “episteme” as unconscious rules that are responsible for the ordering
of knowledge out of experience, that is, as historical
a priori

In both the narrative and the methodological dimensions, Kant’s philosophical
legacy is the main object of contention. However, the contention is played within the
domain already circumscribed by Kant himself, namely, the horizon of the critique of


See also the prior ‘Sur l’archéologie des sciences’. (Foucault 1994a)


the con
ditions of possibility of knowledge and experience.

Foucault then re
the critical question by attempting to free himself from its anthropological constraints.
(Foucault 1972: 15, Han 2002: 5) The notion of “historical
a priori
” will be the soluti
provided by Foucault in order to gain some autonomy with regards to the Kantian
influence to the narrative about the emergence of modern subject.

For Foucault, what defines modern subjectivity and inaugurates ‘man’s mode of
being’, is a philosophical
attitude that consists in affirming a constituent, self
finitude, against the evidence of original infinity derived from the absence of God as the
ground for order. The affirmation of human finitude takes place in a dual manner: 1. It
points out m
an’s concrete, factual limitations, as the positive elements against which
knowledge figures as a transcendent (fundamental) expression; 2. It is self
insofar as it constitutes the source of all facts. Foucault names ‘the analytic of finitude’
is philosophical manoeuvre of rendering human finite limits the positive foundation
for the possibility of knowing. (Foucault 2009: 317) Seen under this dual aspect, man
appears as ‘...a fact among other facts to be studied empirically, and yet as the
scendental condition of the possibility of all knowledge’. (Dreyfus & Rabinow
1983: 30) It is this ambiguous condition of being observer and observed, of defining an
anthropological discourse in which concrete limitation is at once empirical and
ntal, that, according Dreyfus & Rabinow (1983: 33), to turns man into a self
producing source of perception, culture, and history.

This anthropological attitude is based on a certain tension between the evidence
of human’s natural finitude and a conceptio
n of life as a ceaseless source of knowledge.
From this moment on, there occurs the decline of representation as a foundation for
knowledge. The empirical objects are no longer understood by reference to the
correspondence between the representative elemen
ts within specific fields of
knowledge. The domains of political economy, modern biology, and linguistics
constitute the terrain in which this displacement of representation takes place. Within
each of these domains, there will be the delimitation of an in
ternal principle of order


For an exhaustive account of the acknowledged post
Kantian framing of Foucault’s
undertaking, see Béatrice Han’s
Foucault’s Cri
tical Project

(2002). For an introductory and
illustrative engagement by Foucault with Kant’s critical project, see ‘What’s
Enlightenment?’ (Foucault 1997b)


that breaks the relation of representation between objects, insofar as it establishes a
criterion that is heterogeneous to them, that operates from the outside of the positivity as
such. This element is the very finitude of life,
which is taken as a theme or idea, and
which rules a novel metaphysics that defies the realm of being. Life operates as the
source for knowledge as it contains in itself the root for existence, being, but
simultaneously is revealed as finite.

The above m
entioned epistemic shift was introduced within the fields of
political economy, biology, and linguistics by means of a re
orientation in the
understanding of categories such as labour, life, and language. Foucault summarizes it
as follows:

‘From this even
t onward, what gives value to the objects of desire is not solely the other
objects that desire can represent to itself, but an element that cannot be reduced to that
; what makes it possible to characterize a natural being is no long
the elements that we can analyse in the representations we make for ourselves of it and
other beings, it is a certain relation within this being, which we call its
organic structure
what makes it possible to define a language is not the way in which it

representations, but a certain internal architecture, a certain manner of modifying the
words themselves in accordance with the grammatical position they take up in relation to
one another; in other words, its
inflectional system
. In all these
cases, the relation of
representation to itself, and the relations of order it becomes possible to determine apart


Let us stay with one example related to the way in which the replacement of representation by
a n
ovel attitude before life and finitude informed the constitution of the elements of the triad
life, labour, and language. For Foucault, modern political economy was seen as
representative of the argument about the decline of representation and the introduc
tion of
finitude as an ordering principle. Commenting on how the time of capital and production
works as a principle of order that not only differ from, but is also irreducible to, the analysis
of representation, Foucault states that “The equivalence of th
e objects of desire is no longer
established by the intermediary of other objects and other desires, but by a transition to that
which is radically heterogeneous to them; if there is an order regulating the forms of wealth
[...] it is not because men have
comparable desires; [...] it is because they are all subject to
time, to toil, to weariness, and, in the last resort, to death itself. Men exchange because they
experience needs and desires; but they are

to exchange and
to order

these exchanges
e they are subjected to time and to the great exterior necessity.” (Foucault 2009: 245)


from all quantitative forms of measurement, now pass through conditions exterior to the
actuality of representation itself.’ (Foucault 2009:

The understanding of the empirical positivities which inhabit each of these fields
of knowledge will be marked by a sort of ‘behind
scene’ abstract transcendental
subjectivity, one which works as a principle of order that is heterogeneous to th
positivities of life, language, and labour. Concrete limitation and finitude constitute the
fundamental basis of the task of knowing.
If we are to convey the current challenges
posed to this way of ordering knowledge, it seems important to come to grips
with the
following question:
How would genomics and bioinformatics relate to such epistemic
configuration? This is the turning point of the argument put forward in this article vis
vis the Foucauldian perspective.

Bioinformatics should be understood as

a technical device for storing and
analyzing genetic memory. It is a technoscientific achievement from the era of
Genomics. As a branch of molecular biology, genomics deals with the study of the set
of genomes that forms one or more organisms. Through its

inquiries into the particles of
deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that constitute an organism, genomics seeks to describe
the characters that are common to all living beings. The set of genetic information
contained in an organism allows the understanding of me
chanisms of heredity and
reproduction, as if the organism were the realization of a plan prescribed by its heredity.
(Jacob 1989)

In analogy with the information sciences, contemporary techniques of
sequencing DNA are seen as revealing the codes that are
part of the “programme of
life”. Once the genetic programme, that is the sequence of variations of DNA, which
rules the hereditary and reproductive properties of an organism, is defined, it is feasible
to intervene in the genetic configuration of a given s
pecies in order to correct diseases at
its molecular basis, as well as to technologically reproduce cells. Furthermore, the
codification of the characters common to all living beings has lead to attempts to
recombine organic matter, the so
called GMOs bein
g the most popular example.

The intervention into the genetic patterns of living beings, together with
techniques of reproduction of organic matter, converges toward the technical
reproducibility of the living and the recombination of species.
The out
comes of this
approach to life at a molecular level cannot be dissociated from (and actually are
constitutive of) their potential social effects

consider the practical attraction they

represent for both governments

in terms of policy making in fields s
uch as population
control, health care, criminal justice, etc.

and the commercial interests of biotech
companies and pharmaceutical trusts. (Birch 2006; Cooper 2008; Rose 2007)

therapeutic applications, to the use of biometric data as a technique of

identification and
border control, the living became a device for processes of subjectification, an
instrument of justice, raw material for value production, etc.
These examples
demonstrate that genomics reinforces one of the main features identified by F
oucault as
characteristic of the operation of biopower, namely, an increasing and ceaseless
improving and producibility of life.

The discovery of the
universal mathesis

which leads to a general theory of living
beings within molecular biology depends of technical devices in order to store genetic
memory. Programmes for sequencing and analyzing of DNA require the understanding
of a combination of genetic memory and techni
cal supports, insofar as biological data is
managed through a set of databases constituted by algorithms and computational and
statistical techniques. Thus, bioinformatics inscribes itself into a global mnenotechnical
system insofar as an increasingly unpr
ecedented amount of information related to the
molecular biological stock of populations, that is genetic memory, is trusted to
mathematical and computing approaches which aim to cross and to compare biological
data, as well as to provide 3
D views of prot
ein structures.

It is at this point that the problematic around the way in which bioinformatics
entails an empirical shift in the analytic of finitude, as defined by Foucault, arise as a
fundamental hypothesis in our argument.

Insofar as biological data c
an be performed,
concrete limitation is no longer the horizon for the impulse towards the task of
knowledge, and the then impermeable zone separating living species can be crossed, as
well as the one which separates the living from the inanimate. If, for F
oucault, the


Although Foucault could not predict the practical and theoretical consequences of
from the early 1970s he did engage in part with genetic biology, as his b
ook review on
François Jacob’s
The Logic of Life

indicates. (Foucault 1994b) In this text, Foucault affirms
that genetic biology subverts contemporary culture, insofar as it establishes the basis for the
first general theory of living beings based on the d
iscovery of the programme of life. Yet, the
extent to which such subversion exerts an impact either upon the constitution of a new
episteme or upon the constitution of biopolitical processes of subjectivation and control is
not further sketched.


realms of life, labour, and language constituted themselves by reference to a way of
ordering knowledge based on a self
referential human finitude, that is, by referring to an
anthropological notion of man, the perspective of manufacturing the

living seems to be
oriented by another epistemological order, precisely, the dislocation of finitude as the
horizon for experience.

If bioinformatics and nuclear power share the same distinctive mark of power’s
ability to create living matter, Foucault’s

epochal argument finds itself in a blind alley.
Provided bioinformatics stems from a combination between the traffic of ideas
involving physiology and physics within molecular biology and an interchange between
life sciences and information sciences that
dates from the 19

century, fields such as
biology and linguistics constituted themselves through principles of ordering knowledge
others than the one identified by Foucault in
The Order of Things
. Accordingly, the
argument that only with the advent of nu
clear power we are faced with the twilight of
the figure of Man as the horizon for knowledge sounds rather anachronistic.

Bioinformatics and the Integration of Life, Labour and Language

The above mentioned somehow discloses a hiatus internal to Foucault’s oeuvre.
Throughout the lectures series on biopolitics, Foucault did not deal with the theoretical
implications of biopower for the narrative about modern subjectivity displayed in

der of Things
. As a consequence, the claim for the death of Man sounds more
hypothetical or rhetoric than necessarily based on theoretical statements.
As noted by
Nikolas Rose & Paul Rabinow (2006) in their literature review on the concept of
biopower, wit
h the exception of the last part of the first volume of
History of Sexuality

(1978), Foucault does not provide further written theorization regarding the empirical
and epistemological shifts responsible, through the replacement of the sovereign right
life and death, for an economy of biopower based on a maximization and
enhancement of life. Insofar as the current literature on biopower puts aside the
problematic about the shift within the analytic of finitude as a point of reference for the
ng of the biopolitical significance of
enomics and biotechnologies, the gap

Under this aspect, Deleuze’s comment on the challenges posed to the analytic of
finitude by the molecular and digital turns into science appears as an almost unique

ment bearing evidence to the upheaval the genetic information paradigm may
represent for man as a proper figure of knowledge.

‘Biology had to take a leap into molecular biology, or dispersed life regrouped in the
genetic code. Dispersed work had to regro
up in third
generation machines, cybernetics
and information technology. What would be the forces in play, with which the forces
within man would then enter into a relation? It would no longer involve raising to infinity
or finitude but an unlimited finitu
de, thereby evoking every situation of force in which a
finite number of components yields a practically unlimited diversity of combinations.’
(Deleuze 1988: 131)

Albeit without sketching out the epistemic configuration that leads to the current state of
affairs, Deleuze locates a dislocation within the fields of life, labour, and language
provoked by the convergence of the life sciences and information sciences, and
simultaneously interrogates on the consequences the scenario entails for a re
of the role played by finitude in the constitution of these empirical positivities. One
should note that, according to the quote, both molecular biology and third
machines retain the ability to contain dispersed life or dispersed work. These emp
positivities are seen as dispersed, precisely because they are no longer attached to a
transcendental anthropological finitude which before allegedly worked as their
heterogeneous, external, source of validation and signification.

According to Dill
on & Lobo
Guerrero (2009), current biopower is characterized
by two transformatory processes. The first one is conducted by the general acceptance
gained by the perspectives of molecularization of life, and it is responsible for certain
reduction of life t
o its mere biological aspects. Within the biopolitical spectrum of
being, one ‘...has to be classifiable to exist in species terms. One now has to be


The main

incongruence of Foucault’s thesis is precisely to assure that the domains of biology,
political economy and linguistics constituted themselves by reference to an anthropological
referential finitude.
Referring to the general plan of work of
The Order

of Things
Canguilhem stresses the problem of identifying the role played by Kant’s transcendental
anthropology within the work of Georges Cuvier, David Ricardo, and Franz Bopp, in other
words, how the analytic of finitude informs the discourses on life,
labour, and language.
(Canguilhem 2003: 86


classifiable as informational code to be admitted to the category of contemporary
biological speci
es.’ (Dillon & Lobo
Guerrero 2009: 5) The second dimension is the
transformation of biological data into value. This second dimension became evident
mainly from the moment in which the Human Genome Project activated a race between
scientists affiliated to
public and private labs in the US context, and still provokes huge
polemics in the public sphere, for instance in current ethical, political and economic
issues related to legislation about bioinformatics’ systems and data bank; stem cell
researches; donat
ion of eggs for assisted reproduction, and so on.

The molecularization and monetarization of biological data lead to an
increasingly complex economy of affairs between classification, animation or
simulation, and value production. From the moment in whi
ch bios can be performed and
technologically produced or reproduced, there is a redefinition of the frontiers which
separate the living from the non
living. At first glance, technoscientific and
bioeconomic practices of classification, animation, and produ
ction of value based on the
serialization of biological data do not seem to appeal to transcendental arguments as the
ground to empirical positivities. (Dillon & Lobo
Guerrero 2009: 5) The idea of concrete
limit does not work as an outside constitutive of
the material manifestation of species
beings. Furthermore, G
enomics seems to point out a novel principle of ordering
knowledge not only by the dislocation of a self
referent and constitutive finitude, but
also by forming a complex in which life, labour, an
d language are integrated.

As we have seen, the application of computer science to molecular biology
designates the general function of bioinformatics.

Insofar as DNA and its computer
generated representation become intertwined, a whole political economy
, which one
could name bio
economy, develops itself based on the convergence between life,
labour, and language.

The role played by computer language is significant here, as it
works as that element which regroups

following Deleuze’s argument

al life


For an important account of the disputes around the Human Genome Project, see the
pioneering ethnographic study about American biotech companies provided by Paul
Rabinow (1996). Rabinow’s ethnography about F
rench biotech companies is also illustrative
of this set of questions. See Rabinow 1999.


See Thacker 2006: 51


For an accurate account of the standard protocols characteristic of bioinformatics
political economy and clinical trials, see Thack
er 2006: 65.


in the genetic code. Within the literature on the topic, the practices carried out by
bioinformatics’ systems in biotech companies and pharmaceutical labs are seen as forms
of immaterial labour that ground a whole bio
economy based on the possibili
ty of
pushing 'life' beyond its customary limits.

Once the correspondence between DNA and
computational codes is established, the criterion for defining exchange

and use
within bioinformatics is based on the unlimited possibility of combination of
and inorganic matter, instead of being based in a finite course of production.

Contrary to the association between labour and death characterized by Foucault
as the working of transcendental finitude as a principle of ordering knowledge within
itical economy, what is at stake in the processes of value production typical of
bioinformatics is a re
orientation of biological data towards circulation, connectivity,
and complexity (Dillon and Lobo
Guerrero 2009). Hence, there is a reconfiguration in
he correlation between time and production, one whose motto is the retention of
finitude, a way of mastering the exiguity of labour’s ability to extract force through
computer codification and connectivity.

A similar process occurs in the techniques that
allow researches involving stem
cells and researches on hybrid embryos. In both cases, the intelligibility of biological
data is not defined by its internal organizational properties or structure, but instead by
its propensity to be codified and to communi
cate either to other biological data or to
inorganic matter. In other words, both the therapeutic efficacy and the monetary
valuation of cells will be defined by their potentially infinite capacity to combine with
other cells. Such
modus operandi
also rein
forces the dislocation of finitude as an
ordering principle of knowledge, insofar as the limits between species, as well as the
opposition between the living and the non
living, become a question of degrees of
complexity. The ability to assure the connecti
vity between cells is another instance of
computer language’s dislocation and retention of finitude.

Bioinformatics and Te


Both G
enomics and bioinformatics are representative of an epistemological rupture

which may be traced back to the nineteenth century

with the idea of concrete


Regards to this point, see
Birch 2006, Cooper 2008, Thacker 2006.


limitation between empirical positivities as a ground for knowledge. Thus, they
constitute a differ
ent kind of excess of biopower, insofar as they display a way of
dealing with finitude at an epistemological level which is essentially distinct from the
perspective of annihilation of life posed by the nuclear era. These fields are not trapped
by the dile
mma regarding the simultaneous creation of matter and anticipation of
destruction of life itself. Instead, they push for a postponement of finitude and the
maximization of life, either in therapeutics or in strategies of value production.

The fact that co
generated representations of DNA occupy now a
prominent position in the regrouping of life and labour by genetics information and
molecular biology, requires an observation of the centrality of computer language in this
process. As implied by the pr
evious discussion, the general trend in both the fields of
economy and the life sciences is usually represented and gained public acceptance
by means of a linguistic sign, the discovery so
called ‘code of life’. This linguistic
metaphor has leaded the
current epistemological configuration, as well as the
understanding of the re
orientation operated in the triad formerly studied by Foucault.

If this is so, the link of
enomics and computer language has a role to play in
sovereign and economic strategies

of taking man and biological data as species beings.
Given the autonomy acquired by genetic information in popular culture, it seems as if
technoscience constitutes its own milieu, insofar as it introduces a novel dimension in
the problematic around circu
lation, namely, practices of genetic recombination entail an
operation of biopower whose main target is not only to increase collective states of life,
but also to assure the retention of finitude.

It is at this point that Bernard Stiegler’s claim for a n
ovel organology based on
the characterization of an epiphilogenetic or tertiary memory as a principle of ordering
knowledge seems to overcome the current gap between Foucault biopolitical analyses
and his interrogation into the analytic of finitude.

For St
iegler, both the shift internal to modern biology and the nuclear era must
be understood by reference to the ongoing industrial revolution, whose main effect is
the inscription of an upheaval in the economy of relations between technics, as the
domain of c
ontingency, and science, as the domain of necessity. The very conception of
technoscience perpetrates an inversion into the plays between real and possible, and
being and becoming which traverses both classical and philosophical approaches to
knowledge bas
ed on the distinction between technics and science. In both cases,

metaphysics is unable to provide an understanding of the demands posed by
technoscience and industrial revolution to knowledge. This point, crucial for Stiegler’s
proposal of a novel critiq
ue, is addressed in
La technique et le temps, 3: Le temps du
cinéma et la question du mal

(2001) through a comparative engagement with
Aristotle’s and Kant’s respective ways of formalizing knowledge by means of a
foreclosure of technics. In order to g
rasp such statement, let us start by outlining
Stiegler’s formulation of the novelty brought about by technoscience:

‘Starting from the industrial revolution, technical becoming will .... always highlight to a
greater extent its

dimension, whic
h will become in some measure visible to the
naked eye and sensible to the bodies and the hearts ravaged by the infernal universe of
machines. Technical becoming will reveal a specific evolutionary logic to this dynamic
system, the technoscientific epoch h
ighlighting a process of technical individuation to be
strictly accurate [...]. The process of concretization, which accounts for the
morphogenesis of industrial technical objects, does not control only the becoming of the
object: it orders the technical e

and finally, from now on the global
mnemotechnical system.’ (Stiegler 2007: 30) [The italics is Stieger’s]

Since the early 1990’s, Stiegler has been developing a

oeuvre based on the
assumption that philosophy has failed to conceive of an organ
ology that co
technical objects as beings invested of their own dynamics. In order to develop further
such hypothesis, Stiegler has been attempting to establish, through the notion of
, the dynamics proper to a category of non

beings, or organized
inorganic objects.

Organized inorganic objects carry over a memory programme
which is at once autonomous from and constitutive of genetic memory. Current
technologies of information and bio

and nanotechnologies are but the most upda
exemplar of the originary co
constituency of technics (the proper name for organized
inorganic beings) and life, one through which genetic programmes exteriorize and
develop themselves further by means of non
genetic programmes.

The claim for a renewe
d organology, one which goes beyond the opposition
between mechanics and biology, brings along

fundamental consequence

for the
argument pursued by this article

life becomes conscious of itself through a domain


For an understanding of the notion of epiphylogenesis, see Stiegler 1998 (Chapter 3).


other than the immanence of finite experie
nce. At this point, Stiegler intends to give
continuity to Derrida’s grammatology, according to which the trace concretizes the
moment in which life pursues itself by means other

than life, i.e. by means of a
supplementary logic. The supplement breaks wit
h the ‘law of life’, a condition for the
continuity of life through its inscription in technical supports.

statement provokes a short
circuiting of transcendental philosophy’s
answer to the problem of immanence, insofar as for Stiegler the technical
cannot be reduced to a formal entity whose properties are understood by reference to an
ideality, as it is both always already irreducibly materialized and the possibility of
ideality itself. The process of exteriorizing inscription of life’s pr
ogrammatics into
artificial programmes is the condition of possibility of time, as the ceaseless negotiation
between the living and the dead through which life proceeds by differentiation. Stiegler
names this process
prosthetic synthesis

rosthetic synthesis characterizes the
movement by means of which the (always finite) retention of finitude depends on the
registration of genetic experience in technical instruments. Hence, the question proper
to philosophy is not one of the reciprocal tra
ffic between thought and Being, but instead
one of the relation between thought and technics.


The first outcome of this rather short excursus into Stiegl
er’s organology for our

is that it allows the understanding of possibilities of f
ormalization of
knowledge which do not take an anthropological self
referential finitude as its
cornerstone. Under this aspect, Stiegler’s approach seems able to provide the critical
analysis of the criteria of formalization of knowledge that are operating

within the field
of bioinformatics and the regrouping of the spheres of life, labour, and language it
entails. Insofar as this field of positivity pushes for the combination of organic matter at
a non
restricted level in order to technologically produce a
nd reproduce cells, computer


The ‘Introduction’ of
Technics and Time, 2. Disorientation

(Stiegler 2009: 1
11) pro
vides a
short summary of the understanding of the relationship between life’s programmatic,
artificial programmes and time in terms of (prosthetic) synthesis.


language becomes central in the structures of experience typical of the contemporary
technological culture.

The implications of the above outlined argument are not minor, if one recalls
that in
The Other Things

the problem pos
ed by Foucault as characteristic of knowledge
is the way in which the world is given to us by words. The current regrouping of life,
labour, and language by computer language displays a horizon of intelligibility of the
world which is eminently technologic
al, one in which life and words are coded. Within
this trend of argument, Stiegler is useful to help us to understand that the technical
objects by means of which we store and exteriorize genetic memory provide us with
possibilities of prosthetic synthesis
. Hence, Foucault’s account for the crisis of the
analytic of finitude might find here an analytical complement. The epistemological
understanding of the relationship between life and experience is no longer centered
upon an
, instead it is based
on the co
constituency of life and technics.

If this is so, one could assert that bioinformatics is one of the privileged
instances through which we can assess the understanding of the objectivity of life in
terms of its differentiation through technical,

tertiary memory. By trusting the analysis
and producibility of the non
restricted (human, animal, and vegetable) genetic heritage
to computer generated representations, we are inserting life

into an unprecedented
process of industrialization of mem


its political, ethical, economic, and cultural
consequences. Within such process, the constitution of experiences and forms of
based authority that arise from the fields of study of life, labour, and
language are oriented toward somethin
g else than finitude as the horizon for the
constitution of subjectivity. The paradox here is as follows

in the very moment in
which we celebrate the epistemological gains of the idea of
life itself
biopolitical effects, life develops
further by means others than itself.


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