Securing the Pandemic: Biopolitics, Capital, and COVID-19


  • Mark G. Kelly Western Sydney University



Biopolitics, Capitalism, COVID-19, Foucault, Marxism, Security


In this article, I consider the interoperation of twin contemporary governmental imperatives, fostering economic growth and ensuring biopolitical security, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. At a theoretical level, I thereby consider the question of the applicability of a Marxist analysis vis-à-vis a Foucauldian one in understanding state responses to the pandemic. Despite the apparent prioritization of preserving life over economic activity by governments around the world in this context, I will argue that the basic problem that COVID-19 posed for the state was one of sheer unknowability and that the fundamental motive for the governmental response was a concern for security in Foucault’s sense, that is, ensuring a baseline predictability in the social field, upon which economic activity, like myriad other social activity, is premised. I argue that this drive for security motivated states to appeal to medical experts to determine the direction of their response, who in turn applied a default model of quarantine. While we cannot be certain that the medically-guided response was optimal in terms either of health outcomes or economically, I argue it served its essential purpose by providing a structured framework for social action in the face of the unknown. While this is vital for the maintenance of the basic coordinates of capitalist society, I argue it nonetheless cannot entirely be explained simply by an appeal to Marxist categories and instead requires Foucault’s insights into the medicalization of society.

Author Biography

Mark G. Kelly, Western Sydney University

Mark G. E. Kelly is Associate Professor and Area Convenor of Philosophy at Western Sydney University. He is the author of six books, each pertaining to Foucault's thought, including most prominently The Political Philosophy of Michel Foucault (Routledge, 2009) and most recently Normal Now: Individualism as Conformity (Polity, 2022).


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How to Cite

Kelly, M. G. (2023). Securing the Pandemic: Biopolitics, Capital, and COVID-19. Foucault Studies, (35), 46–69.



Special Issue: Biopolitical Tensions after Pandemic Times