"This year I would like to begin studying something that I have called, somewhat vaguely, bio-power.* By this I mean a number of phenomena that seem to me to be quite significant, namely, the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power, or, in other words, how, starting from the eighteenth century, modern western societies took on board the fundamental biological fact that human beings are a species. This is roughly what I have called bio-power." — Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population.1

  • 1. Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-78, Edited by Michel Senellart, General Editors: François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana, English Series Editor: Arnold I. Davidson, Translated by Graham Burchell (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2009) 16. ​​​​
Roman Military Camp in modern day Algeria.
Roman Military Camp in modern day Algeria. © Jean-Claude Golvin

With the increasing growth of European cities in the 17th and 18th centuries and the search for new urban forms, Michel Foucault argues that a new form of politics also emerged: Bio-politics, a political strategy concerned with the human as a biological species. In this essay I would like to elaborate on Foucault’s argument regarding this relationship between the processes of urbanization and the question of the population. For Foucault, urbanization was the search for a new space, a space of circulation, or as he calls it: the construction of a milieu. Further, I will argue that the emergence of this space of circulation goes hand in hand with the emergence of new forms of scientific knowledge and measurement, and thus informs the politics of what in the 17th and 18th century, especially in Germany, was called Polizeywissenschaft.  To regard urban dwellers as a population, through which we can imagine a new urban space, becomes the instrument for many urban projects pursued under a regime of Bio-politics: from Cerdá’s Plan of Barcelona, to the Garden City, to the superblocks of Red Vienna, the “Siedlungen” of Frankfurt and Nazi Germany, and many more. Today we can even say that the regime of Bio-Politics has become newly encoded into the logic of sustainability.