Biopolitics, Governmentality and Humanitarianism
'Caring' for the Population in Afghanistan and Belarus
Routledge – 2015 – 208 pages
The book critically analyses the changing role and nature of post-Cold War humanitarianism and how we can make sense of it, using Foucault's theories of biopolitics and governmentality.
While it is widely acknowledged that, since the 1990s, the nature of humanitarian action has been changing, and much effort has been invested into producing various accounts of these changes, there is a lack of serious theoretical engagement with a view to making sense of the policies and practices associated with new humanitarianism, their conditions of possibility and their implications. At the same time, the complexity of the post-Cold War developments and associated changes in the humanitarian enterprise call for an approach that would pay close attention to the constellations of power relations driving these changes and help us understand their effects at different levels.
Using Michel Foucault’s theorising on biopolitics and governmentality, the book interprets the policies and practices associated with the new humanitarianism in general, as well as the dynamics of two specific international assistance efforts: the post-2001 conflict-related assistance effort in Afghanistan and the post-2000 Chernobyl-related assistance effort in Belarus. The book thereby demonstrates that it is possible to generate a powerful and insightful interpretation of the changing role and nature of humanitarian action, and, in so doing, to better understand contemporary humanitarianism, as well as identifying resistances to it and envisaging alternative ways of addressing humanitarian concerns.
The book makes an important contribution to several areas of scholarship: on humanitarianism and the changing nature of post-Cold War humanitarian action, on Foucault’s theorising on biopower, biopolitics and governmentality and its applications, and on the conflict-related assistance effort in Afghanistan. Not only does it offer an analysis of the nature, role and effects of contemporary humanitarian governing, but also analyses them at different levels (i.e., global and local). It is also be one of the first works to engage critically with Foucault’s later theorising and the ‘corrections’ offered to it by Agamben and Esposito to better understand the relationship between sovereignty and biopolitics as technologies of governing and the ability of biopolitical governing to produce negative, and even lethal, effects, something that it then uses to identify and analyse such effects prevalent in humanitarian governing, for example, what is termed in the book ‘biopolitics of endangerment, invisibility and abandonment’.
This book will be of much interest to students of critical security studies, humanitarianism, governmentality, and IR more generally.
Introduction 1. ‘Working with Foucault after Foucault’: biopolitics, governmentality and the international2. ‘New’ humanitarianism as a regime of governing: context, agendas, actors, technologies 3. ‘Caring’ for the population of Afghanistan: the biopolitics of aid securitisation and militarisation 4. ‘Caring’ for the population of Belarus: problematisations that matter and Chernobyl’s ‘ghosts’ Conclusions
Volha Piotukh is a teaching assistant at the University of Leeds and has PhD in Politics and International Studies.