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National Enterprise Emergency: Steps Toward an Ecology of Powers

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Scientific publication
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Theory, Culture & Society, 26 (6): 153-185

The figure of today’s threat is the suddenly irrupting, locally self-organizing, systemically self-amplifying threat of large-scale disruption.

This form of threat, fed by instability and metastability, is not only indiscriminate, it is also indiscriminable; it is indistinguishable from the general environment. The figure of the environment shifts: from the harmony of a natural balance to the normality of a generalized crisis environment so encompassing in its endemic threat-form as to connect, across the spectrum, the polar extremes of war and the weather. Michel Foucault characterizes the dominant contemporary regime of power, coincident with the rise of neoliberalism, as ‘environmental’: a governmentality which will act on the environment and systematically modify its variables. Its actions, he emphasizes, are not standardizing since the shift in the figure of the environment has moved it out of reach of normalization. Given the indiscriminateness of the environment’s autonomous activity, environmentality must work through the ‘regulation of effects’ rather than of causes. It must remain operationally ‘open to unknowns’ and catch nonlinear, transversal phenomena before they amplify the stirrings to actual crisis proportions. What systematicity is this? And: does power’s becoming-environmental mean that, politically, we are dealing with natural subjects? Where Foucault’s question ends is where, today, we must begin, in light of how the recomposition of power whose dawning he glimpsed in 1979 has since played out. In the context of Foucault’s theories of power, the question amounts to asking: is this still ‘biopolitics’?

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