Biopolitics, Counter-terrorism and Law After 9/11.

  • Svetoslav Nenov

Student thesis: Phd


Biopolitics is a concept that, much like the apparatus it refers to, has kept evolving ever since Foucault coined its modern meaning in 1976. Its usage and interpretation have especially changed with the recent publication of The Birth of Biopolitics and Society, Territory, Population, books that helped expand its perceived field of application, specifically vis-à-vis the modern governmental rationales of neo-liberalism and, by association, neo-conservatism. In a separate development, the Western dispositif (apparatus) of biopolitics has undergone a dramatic transformation as a result of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, attacks after which, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, 'everything changed'. My thesis takes both of these developments into account and provides a critical exploration of contemporary biopolitical US counter-terrorist measures. Emphasis is placed on a contextual juridico-political analysis that sheds more light on the complex interrelations between the relatively novel biopolitical dispositif and the classical legal dispositif of sovereignty. This is accomplished by a two-part empirical genealogical study that traces some of the pivotal judicial changes that have resulted from the counter-terrorist measures introduced in the wake of 9/11. It proposes that the PATRIOT Act, one of the primary legislative tools introduced after 9/11, is a distinctively 'bio-legal' document that allows for the integration of the biopolitical discourses of pre-emption, exception and contingency within the existing legal framework. I argue that this is a genuinely novel development that significantly alters the intersection of biopolitics, geopolitics and law. The second part of the empirical analysis presents a detailed interrogation of the legal disputes that involve the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and, over the course of three key legal cases, shows that, even though the logic of biopolitics has now established a foothold within the US juridical system, the classical apparatus of Sovereignty still plays a decisive role in US governance. My key arguments are preceded and supported by an extensive overview of the notion of biopolitics, both as it was first introduced and developed by Foucault over the course of five publications, and as it is currently being used by key contemporary social theorists, especially insofar as this usage relates to the changes in Western politics after 9/11. Overall, the thesis provides a profound interrogation of the epistemic status of biopolitics, and it supplements this purely theoretical analysis with a detailed overview of how biopolitics and sovereignty interact in practice through the mechanism of the law, in the context of US counter-terrorist policies after 9/11.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorNicholas Thoburn (Supervisor) & Graeme Kirkpatrick (Supervisor)


  • Bio-legal
  • Guantanamo Bay
  • The PATRIOT Act
  • Law
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Biopolitics
  • Foucault

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