chapter  21
12 Pages

Biology, vulnerability and politics

ByBryan Turner

In the history of social thought, ‘nature’, and more recently ‘biology’ and ‘genetics’ have been contrasted with ‘society’ in a moral discourse, the aim of which is to discipline people. In this moral paradigm, self-discipline is necessary, if society is to achieve its civilising effects. Individuals cannot achieve selfhood without the civilising process. For example, Malthusian population theory was an attempt to regulate human sexuality through an argument about natural scarcity that condemned human beings either to regulate their sexuality or starve to death. Contemporary genetic counselling attempts to improve the quality of the product of human sexual relations by, in effect, regulating reproductive rights in the interests of social production. The relationship between knowledge and (human) nature was the principal theme of Michel Foucault’s history of the social sciences, in which he sought ‘to sketch out a history of the different ways in our culture that humans develop knowledge about themselves: economics, biology, psychiatry, medicine and penology’ (Foucault 1997: 224).