Modern Living and Vital Race: Foucault and the Science of Life

  • Mary Beth Mader University of Memphis


The paper examines the relation between Foucault’s account of modern race and racism in the "Society Must Be Defended" lectures and his analysis of the emergence of the modern notion of life and its science in The Order of Things. In "Society Must Be Defended," Foucault uses the term ‘life’ both with respect to pre-modern and modern political regimes, arguing that in the pre-modern eras there was a particular relation of sovereign power to life and death that differs from the relation to life and death which prevails in the modern era. In The Order of Things, Foucault also discusses the concept of life and the historical emergence of the science of life, biology, in the nineteenth century. For Foucault, modern biological racism is a specifically scientific death sentence. The paper argues that the kind of death at issue in this modern racism must be understood in light of the new evolutionary accounts of life as a transorganismic continuity that emerge in the life sciences.

Author Biography

Mary Beth Mader, University of Memphis
Mary Beth Mader is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Memphis. Her research specializations are in Recent and Contemporary Continental Philosophy; Feminist Philosophy; Twentieth Century French Philosophy; Ontology; and Continental Philosophy and the Life Sciences. She is the author of Sleights of Reason: Norm, Bisexuality, Development (SUNY Press, forthcoming February 2011), and articles on the work of Luce Irigaray, Michel Foucault and Sarah Kofman. Essays on Foucault include "Foucault and Social Measure" and "Foucault's 'Metabody.'" She is the translator of Luce lrigaray's book, The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger, Léopold Senghor’s essay, “What the Black Man Contributes,” and Emmanuel Levinas’ article, “Being Jewish.” Her current work focuses on the ontology of genealogy and on the history of the philosophical concept of intensity in relation to the thought of Gilles Deleuze.
Special Issue on Foucault and Race