Bio politics 9/13 – architecture and urban planning

Summary and Reflection – Third week Written assignment
Society must be defended (part 3)

Following the development of political thought, the unveiling of scientific knowledge, and the collapse of sovereignty, the structure of power was forced to undergo multiple difficult transitions- in attempt to adapt and exert control over an explosive demographic transformed by industrialization.

These adjustments, to my understanding, can be roughly categorized into two domains, the individual body and the phenomena of population.

The first domain operates on a local level, with the attempt to discipline individual bodies through surveillance and training orchestrated by small-scale institutions like schools, hospitals and workshops. Due to its smaller scope, adjustments made to address the first domain are relatively easy to carry out (I assume the results are also more immediate), that’s why it was introduced as early as the 17th century. However, its effect can also be limited by its fragmented influence.
The second domain on the other hand, operates on a way larger scale and is orchestrated on the state level. It deals with the biological and bio-sociological processes characteristic of human masses, which have to be studied over a period of time and implemented over a period of time. These adjustments are difficult to make because it implied complex systems of coordination and centralization, which wont come into existence till the end of 18th century.

More specifically, these two domains can also be considered as two separate mechanisms – disciplinary and regulatory. The disciplinary mechanism engages with individuals and their bodies in practical terms, whereas regulatory mechanisms operate in an unobtrusive manner, acting as a supporting measure that encourages disciplinary mechanisms. A good example Foucault raised to demonstrate this argument is the 19th century working class estate.

According to Foucault, the very grid pattern and layout of the estate articulates the disciplinary mechanisms that controlled the human body. He explained in one passage: “ It localizes families to one house, and individuals to one room, the fact that individuals were made visible and normalization of behavior meant that a sort of spontaneous policing or control was carried out by the spatial layout of the town itself.” The regulatory mechanisms that were installed to consolidate these disciplinary mechanisms were laws/rules and programs related to housing, likes saving, renting and purchasing of accommodations. These earlier regulatory mechanisms foreshadow the highly debated health insurance/health care system and old-age pensions in the 20th century.

The reason why I chose to elaborate on Foucault’s structure of power and Biopolitics real life appliances is due to my interest in architecture and it’s inconspicuous yet effective functions. If we say that the definition of Biopolitics determines its range, then we can readily assume that Biopolitics deals with the human body, political entities and ultimately power itself. But what I find intriguing in Foucault’s example of a 19th century work estate is the presentation of a whole new element, which may significantly extend the limits of Biopolitics. This new element is the physical space, or one can say physical structure that surrounds the human body.

Renowned architect Mario Botta once described the establishment of architecture as a constant fight between man and nature. “ The first act of architecture is to put a stone on the ground. That act transforms a condition of nature into a condition of culture; it’s a holy act.” In line with Botta’s quote, we can see how humans extend themselves through a simple alteration of their physical environment. The artificiality was highly praised here as an evidence of civilization, or perhaps a testimony of human’s mental and physical prowess. My corresponding question to Botta’s quote is : If architecture is seen as an extension of human body, then how else can power manifest themselves through physical buildings?

I maintain that Human beings are endowed with the ability to manipulate nature and architecture so that it echoes their creative needs, or provide comfort in distinct ways, nonetheless, we are also capable of creating structures that confines and regulates our very own behavior. At this moment, I still can’t quite figure out the intricacies within the relationship between biopolitics, nature and architecture, but this essay serves as a good starting point for future projects related to this topic.

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