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The Politics of Life Itself: biomedicine, power and subjectivity in the 21st century

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Nikolas Rose
Princeton University Press (November 2006)

For centuries, medicine aimed to treat abnormalities. But today normality itself is open to medical modification. Equipped with a new molecular understanding of bodies and minds, and new techniques for manipulating basic life processes at the level of molecules, cells and genes, medicine now seeks to manage human vital processes. The Politics of Life Itself offers a much-needed examination of recent developments in the life sciences and biomedicine that have led to the widespread politicisation of medicine, human life and biotechnology.

Avoiding the hype of popular science and the pessimism of most social science, Nikolas Rose analyses contemporary molecular biopolitics, examining developments in genomics, neuroscience, pharmacology and psychopharmacology and the ways they have affected racial politics, crime control and psychiatry. Professor Rose analyses the transformation of biomedicine from the practice of healing to the government of life; the new emphasis on treating disease susceptibilities rather than disease susceptibilities rather than the disease; the shift in our understanding of the patient; the emergence of new forms of medical activism; the rise of biocapital; and the mutations of biopower. He concludes that these developments have profound consequences for who we think we are and who we want to be.


'As a leading interpreter of Foucault's work, Rose is uniquely suited to make the theorist's ideas about biopower applicable to the 21st century where possible, and brave enough to reject or refine them when necessary. The result is a deft treatment of the many changes in conceptions of personhood, community and kinship following the decoding of the human genome.'
Alondra Nelson, Yale University

'The Politics of Life Itself offers a compelling cartography of how practices in human genomics are transforming out social landscapes, reshaping the contours of medicine, citizenship, race and other political formations. It is sure to be widely consulted and discussed.'
Stefan Helmreich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

'Neither Engels, nor even Foucault, could foresee the intimate level at which biocapitalism and biopolitics have extended themselves into our subjectivity and citizenship. While philosophers are still trying to bridge the 'mind/body' gap, Nikolas Rose shows that this gap is evaporating under our very eyes. Are we posthumans then? Not necessarily. This long and detailed enquiry considers another, rather incredible, option: a complete rethinking of what the Fathers of the Church used to call "incarnation".'
Bruno Latour, Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines, Paris

Press cuttings

American Scientist Online
Our Bodies, Our Selves (8 June 07)
A review of The Politics of Life Itself: biomedicine, power, and subjectivity in the twenty-first century, by Nikolas Rose, Director, BIOS Research Centre for the study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society. The article also refers to research by Professor Sarah Franklin, Department of Sociology.