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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 (July 2007)

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 politicization 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. 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; the shift in our understanding of the patient; the emergence of new forms of medical activism; the rise of biocapital; and the mutations in biopower. He concludes that these developments have profound consequences for who we think we are, and who we want to be.

Nikolas Rose is James Martin White Professor of Sociology and director of the BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society at LSE. His books include The Psychological Complex, Governing the Soul, Inventing Our Selves, and Powers of Freedom: reframing political thought.


'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 inquiry 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

'The Politics of Life Itself offers a compelling cartography of how practices in human genomics are transforming our 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, author of Silicon Second Nature: culturing artificial life in a digital world

'As a leading interpreter of Foucault's work, Rose is uniquely suited to make the theorist's ideas about biopower applicable to the twenty-first 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

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Press cuttings

Science Magazine, USA
Reflecting on the surfaces of life (July 07)
A review of the book The Politics of Life Itself: biomedicine, power, and subjectivity in the twenty-first century, by Nikolas Rose, professor of sociology at LSE.