Measuring progress: calculating the life of nations

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningfagfællebedømt


In recent years, sociological examinations of genetics, therapeutic cloning, neuroscience and tissue engineering have suggested that 'life itself' is currently being transformed through technique with profound implications for the ways in which we understand and govern ourselves and others. In this paper, I argue that a growing focus on frontier technologies in the life sciences in discussions about bio-power today has come at the cost of empirical investigations into how, for example, 'quality of life' came to be a crucial object of bio-power in the 20th century. Just as Foucault outlined the emergence of a multiple body - the population - in the 18th century, I suggest, building on work by Rose, Rabinow and Hacking, that we can also discern the emergence of a multiple subjectivity - state of civilisation, public opinion, human capability, national attitudes, culture - as scientific and political problem. If bio-politics deals with the population as a biological and political problem, then what we might think of as an anthropo-politics deals with a collective subjectivity as a psychological, sociological and/or anthropological problem that can be measured, mapped out and intervened upon in much the same way that mortality rates, life expectancy or morbidity rates can. By analysing the concrete ways in which human progress has been globally measured and taxonomised in the past two centuries or so, I will show how global stratifications of countries according to their states of 'civilisation', 'development' and more recently 'human capability', have relied not just on the population as biological object, but also on a collective subjectivity. Using this analysis, I will go on to conclude that the politics of life is in no way limited to biological contestations and problems, but equally importantly includes psychological, sociological and anthropological problematisations about what a 'good', 'healthy' or 'quality' life is and how they might be measured.
TidsskriftDistinktion : Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory
Sider (fra-til)65-82
Antal sider17
StatusUdgivet - 2007

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