Biological Citizenship

Jessica Mulligan

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online February 2017 | | DOI:
Biological Citizenship

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  • Anthropology
  • Human Evolution
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Physical Anthropology
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology


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Biological citizenship—also called medical citizenship; biocitizenship; health citizenship; therapeutic citizenship—describes forms of belonging, rights claims, and demands for access to resources and care that are made on a biological basis such as an injury, shared genetic status, or disease state. The term ties political subjectivity to processes of (bio)medicalization, the exponential growth in genetic knowledge in a post–Human Genome Project world, the profitability of biotechnologies, and struggles over access to life-saving care. In an increasingly globalized world, these biologically based rights claims are not made exclusively on states, but also on transnational actors like nongovernmental organizations, international governmental bodies, and pharmaceutical companies. Most uses of the term biological citizenship are explicitly influenced by the work of Michel Foucault, particularly his writings on biopower and the premise that the control and management of life is one of the major targets of governance. Since the early 2000s, anthropologists, science and technology studies scholars, sociologists, and philosophers, among others, have employed the term. Biological citizenship produces new identities, communities, expertise, and hope. But it also has a disciplining and differentiating capacity, as biological citizenship generates new forms of inequality and strengthens the hegemony of biomedical frameworks. Rose and Novas 2005 and Rose 2007 describe biological citizenship as an active form of citizenship that produces new forms of belonging, claims to expertise, and access to resources oriented around biological claims. They are interested in political economies of hope, the potential of new biotechnologies to cure and treat disease, and the creative and generative potential of new biologically oriented forms of belonging. Others have argued that biological citizenship is better understood as a highly stratified form of citizenship that excludes the non-compliant, non-normative or disabled subjects, racialized and immigrant bodies, as well as the very poor. As claims for rights and recognition are increasingly made in biological terms, this potentially crowds out other forms of citizenship that are articulated around more traditional solidarities such as national identity, labor organizing, and party politics. This article discusses the primary debates and tensions among proponents of this framework and introduces some of the critiques of biological citizenship both as a conceptual tool and social process. The article is organized according to the major fields that the term biological citizenship has been applied to interpreting: addiction and pharmaceuticals; HIV-AIDs; mandating health, genetics and disability; and race and immigration. Though the major works on biological citizenship are classified into one of these groupings, there is quite a bit of crossover (for example, all of the works on HIV-AIDs are also necessarily about pharmaceuticals). Therefore, reading around in other sections may be valuable. The article ends with a discussion of the major critiques of the term.

Article.  5693 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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