Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Lars Thorup Larsen (2015): “The problematization of fertility treatment: biopolitics and IVF policy in Denmark”, Distinktion 16(3): 318-36.

DOI: 10.1080/1600910X.2015.1089520

With the demographic challenges facing many European states, one would perhaps expect the state to invoke a biopolitical imperative to ‘faire vivre’, as Foucault termed it, and attempt to regulate birth rates. This expectation is too simple, however, as this article shows both theoretically and empirically. In order better to understand the possible counterweights to biopolitical concerns about the birth rate, the conceptual distinction between biopolitics and governmentality is useful. Scholarly debates about biopolitics and governmentality have been surprisingly silent on what constitutes the internal relationship between the two or how they may come into conflict. The article elaborates this conceptual distinction and demonstrates its relevance in a genealogy of how fertility treatment has been problematized in Danish assisted reproduction policy. Since access to IVF treatment does not appear to follow a biopolitical imperative to ‘faire vivre’, it is interesting to explore and compare how IVF treatment – and its doctors, patients, and children – has been problematized instead. In a variety of different ways, the biopolitical concern about the low birth rate has been overshadowed by concerns about how to govern. Either the new treatment has been problematized as an unnecessary cover for private or special interests, for instance doctors’ illegitimate attempts to self-govern, or problematization has centered on prospective parents characterized as demanding or selfish. The interface between biopolitics and fertility treatment is thus only understandable with a view to problems of governing and the resulting tension between governmentality and the biopolitical imperative to ‘faire vivre’.

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