The term “biopolitics” carries multiple, sometimes competing, meanings in political science. When the term was first used in the United States in the late 1970s, it referred to an emerging subdiscipline that incorporated the theories and data of the life sciences into the study of political behavior and public policy. But by the mid-1990s, biopolitics was adopted by postmodernist scholars at the American Political Science Association's annual meeting who followed Foucault's work in examining the power of the state on individuals. Michel Foucault first used the term biopolitics in the 1970s to denote social and political power over life. Since then, two groups of political scientists have been using this term in very different ways. This paper examines the parallel developments of the term “biopolitics,” how two subdisciplines gained (and one lost) control of the term, and what the future holds for its meaning in political science.
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