Annotation: Michel Foucault’s “Part Five: Right of Death and Power over Life” (1990)

Peer-Review: 0

Foucault, Michel. “Part Five: Right of Death and Power over Life” The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. 135-159. Print.

In this essay Foucault discusses the historical changes in sovereign power as the absolute “right to decide life and death” eventually came to be conditioned by exceptional circumstances where the sovereign’s life was threatened (135). In these instances, he would be able to “legitimately wage war, and require his subjects to take part in the defense of the state; without ‘directly proposing their death’” (135). Foucault asserts that in modern times sovereign power “as the ‘power of life and death’ was in reality the right to take life or let live” (136). The sovereign exercises his power over life through the deaths that he can command and exercises his power over death by the lives he can spare. Foucault accentuates that in this framework power is exerted according to the model of “deduction, a subtraction mechanism,” that “culminate[s] in the privilege to seize hold of life in order to suppress it” (136). He notes, however, that since then power in the West has undergone a radical transformation.

No longer a deductive force that attempts to “suppress” life with the threat of death, now “power…exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavors to administer, optimize, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations” (137). Foucault calls attention to how wars have ceased to be waged in the name of an individual sovereign but rather for the defense and survival of whole populations. He emphasizes that modern states exercise power in this manner, stressing life even as they expose their subjects to death. Foucault asserts “that the ancient right to take life or let live was replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death (138). He notes that because power can only exerts its influence over life, “death is power’s limit” (138). Foucault explains that suicide, as an individual, private act, subverts power, and classifying it as a crime is power’s grasping attempt to manage life.

He goes on to describe how “power over life evolved in two basic forms” since the 17th century (139). Foucault describes how the first form is “centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities…the parallel increases of its usefulness and its docility, [and] its integration into systems of efficient and economic control” (139). He groups all of these mechanisms of power under the heading of “disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body” (139). Foucault asserts that the second form is “focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality…life expectancy and longevity” (139). These mechanism he groups under the heading of “regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population” (139). Foucault emphasizes that power mobilizes to discipline the human body and regulate populations, giving rise to a “great bipolar technology—anatomic and biological” that works towards “invest[ing] life through and through” (139).

He further notes how this “bio-power” has been instrumental to the rise and expansion of capitalism. Foucault insists that the success of this economic system “would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes” (141). Capitalism, which demands growth—the creation of new markets, the production of more goods and capital, etc—ultimately relies on a power capable of fostering, optimizing, and regulating life rather than death (141).

Foucault argues that modernity is marked by mankind’s development of political measures to specifically maintain and perpetuate its own existence. But he suggests that one important consequence of “bio-power” is the normalization of power beyond the formal legal system. He asserts that “law operates more and more as a norm, and that the juridical institution is increasingly incorporated into a continuum of apparatuses (medical, administrative, and so on) whose functions are for the most part regulatory” (144). Foucault further notes how the right to life has become the underlining demand of most political struggles.

He finally concludes his essay with a discussion of how sex has gained so much political significance within this schema of power because it is tied to both “the disciplines of the body” and “the regulation of population,” a “means of access both to the life of the body and the life of the species (145, 146). Foucault goes on to offer a fascinating argument about the management of sexuality and deployment of sex, which I have chosen not to go into detail about here.

Annotation: Tobias Hübinette’s “Asian Bodies Out of Control” (2007)

Peer-Review: 0

Hübinette, Tobias. “Asian Bodies Out of Control: Examining the Adopted Korean Existence.” Asian Diasporas: New Formations, New Conceptions. Eds. Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C. D. Siu. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007. 177-200. Print.

In his essay Hübinette asserts that the experiences of Koreans adopted by Western countries after the Korean War has been largely overlooked by scholars in academia. He argues that these adoptees can be understood in terms of Gayatri Spivak’s conception of the “subaltern” because “up until recently they could not speak for themselves, represented as they were as mute physical bonds by supplying and receiving governments and as grateful rescue objects by adoption agencies and adoptive parents” (178). The international adoption industry framed Koreans as the “model minority” adoptee success story, declaring that above all other groups, they were the most well-adjusted to their Western lifestyles. It was only by the 1990s that the Korean adoptees began to speak for themselves and break out of their subaltern status. In his essay Hübinette specifically examines autobiographical narratives “taken from journals and magazines, books and anthologies, or from Internet homepages and sites as the adopted Korean movement is very much a virtual community” (178).

He emphasizes that for the most part these Korean adoptees grew up in entirely white families and communities, eventually learning to identify as white and perform whiteness. Hübinette ultimately challenges the popularly celebrated postmodern conceptions of hybridity and cosmopolitanism, suggesting that these Korean adoptees experienced great “psychic violence and physical alienation” as a result of their mixed-race and fragmented identities. Hübinette points to “the high preponderance of suicide rates, mental illnesses, and social problems among international adoptees “ as evidence of some detrimental effects of hybridity (179).

Hübinette begins his essay with some helpful historical background, explaining that international adoption was first configured as a “rescue mission” to “transfer mixed-raced children, who were fathered by American and other U.N. soldiers” during the Korean war “to adoptive homes in [the] United States and Western Europe” (170). He reveals, however, that it was also a highly politicized movement on the part of the Korean government, which was interested in “cleansing the country of mixed-race children,” counteracting the domestic problem of overpopulation and improving the country’s foreign relations with Western nations Korea hoped to be allies with. International adoption eventually grew into a profitable economic enterprise as well. North Korea, however, remained staunchly opposed to the initiative, denouncing the South for “selling Korean children to Westerners” (180).

Hübinette notes that most of these children have been adopted by “middle- and upper-class white couples or singles and have accordingly grown up in white suburban, countryside, or small-town communities and neighborhoods” (182). He emphasizes that “adoption ideology” has long encouraged adoptees to develop a “white subjectivity” because it promotes “racial harmony” and helps them succeed in a world that largely celebrates and rewards whiteness (185). Hübinette argues, however, that this is an extremely destructive ideology because adoptees are driven to disown their Asian heritage and essentially become “strangers to their own bodies” (186). He claims that the adopted Korean experience is particularly distinct because they are more or less entirely severed from Asian peoples and culture. Their exposure to Asian-ness is often Orientalist representations in American popular culture and they unwittingly internalize these stereotypes because that is the only way they can know their Asian heritage.

Hübinette notes that in the early 1990s some Korean adoptees began to publish personal narratives about their adoptive experiences, but “it was not until the mid-1990s with the breakthrough of the Internet that adopted Koreans started to be more visible and make themselves more audible in the public space” (182). He suggests further that this once invisible, highly marginalized group is beginning to organize nationally as well as globally. But beyond the optimism of this emerging politically active and supportive diasporic community, Hübinette reveals that the personal narratives by Korean adoptees are often fraught with pain and confusion. He suggests that the contradiction between their internally white sense of self and their external Korean body reflected in the mirror becomes a source of great psychic violence. Hübinette asserts that Korean adoptees often feel need to “perform whiteness even more intensely and often in combination with an over-exaggerated middle- or upper classness with the hope of being taken for an Asian adoptive child to a white elite family and not mistaken as a working-class Asian immigrant” (191). They also deliberately choose to not associate with other Koreans and more generally, other Asians and people of color out fear of tainting their already unstable white identity.

Unable to find a place where they can truly belong or cultivate a sense of comfort within their own bodies, Hübinette suggests that many Korean adoptees resort to suicide as a means of overcoming their fragmented identities and the painful disjunction between psychic white self-identification and their physical Asian-ness. He concludes his essay, ultimately “regard[ing] this acquiring of a white self-identification by adopted Koreans as a complete subordination to white hegemonic power and as a magnificent symbol of the final triumph of the colonial project” (196).