Body Authonomy or Authonomy of the Body?
Foucault discusses biopower and biopolitics extensively in his works. He defines biopolitics as the use of institutionalised authority to regulate and manage the lives of individuals through their bodies and the use of data collected from measurements to justify social inequalities. This leads to the definition of biopower, namely a form of power that seeks to control and shape individuals by exercising authority over them, while biopolitics is a form of power that seeks to control and shape individuals by collecting data from them and using it to support existing social inequalities. Foucault argues that these two forms of power are inextricably linked and that they are used to maintain social control and privilege.
hence, it is important to remember that the 'lived' body, with its materiality and concreteness, can be a powerful symbol in challenging the established social order. Yet this struggle can be either voluntary or not. It can be a deliberate refusal of commonly accepted rules or a pathological state. Michael Taussig (1990, qtd. in Fabietti 2011, 155) noted, for example, how in Brazil, during the military repressions of the 1970s-80s, the wives and daughters of men victims of military and police repression gave rise to epidemics of nervous breakdowns, panic attacks, and nerve paralysis; and this was, in a way, an embodied reaction to societal disturbances.
This raises the issue of how much volition is present in this 'struggle' to confront power structures, and if it is done intentionally. It appears that the body instinctively responds to subconscious elements in order to guard itself, particularly when reality is not tenable. As a result, the body is a site of both resistance and self-preservation, acting alongside more rational forms of defiance in the face of oppression. This begs the question: does it suggest that the body is, in a sense, autonomous?
Fabietti, Ugo. Elementi di Antropologia Culturale. Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2011.
Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Translated by Colin Gordon et al., Pantheon Books, 1980.
Taussig, Michael. “Terror as Usual.” Social Text, Fall-Winter 1990, pp. 3-20.