The Government of Life: Managing Populations, Health and Scarcity

Kaspar Villadsen, Ayo Wahlberg

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


The concepts of governmentality and biopolitics were contemporaneous and interlinked in Michel Foucault's initial analyses. These foregrounded how in the eighteenth century the population emerged as a ‘natural-cultural reality’ resulting from an integration of biological and economic knowledge. Subsequent research on biopolitics and governmentality has tended to separate the concepts, differentiating into distinct research traditions each with different intellectual pathways. We propose to bring these conceptual innovations together to understand contemporary problems of the government of life, that is, of managing, controlling and optimizing a living population. In this domain, the natural/biological continues to intersect with the social/cultural in novel and unexpected ways. Straddling the specter of biopolitics, we examine four dimensions of the concept: vital threats and the resurrection of death power, the interplay of sovereignty, discipline and security, governmentalization through medical normalization, and ‘securitization’ of life as circulations and open series. The article also introduces this special feature on the government of life in which significant scholars explores issues of population management by drawing upon, debating, and developing the conceptual heritage of Foucault.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEconomy and Society
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Biopolitics
  • Governmentality
  • Epidemics
  • Scarcity
  • Health Statistics
  • Foucault

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