Document Type


Publication Date

January 2009


This essay explores the claim that bioethics has become a mode of biopolitics. It seeks to illuminate one of the myriad of ways that bioethics joins other institutionalized discursive practices in the task of producing, organizing, and managing the bodies—of policing and controlling populations—in order to empower larger institutional agents. The focus of this analysis is the contemporary practice of transnational biomedical research. The analysis is catalyzed by the enormous transformation in the political economy of transnational research that has occurred over the past three decades and the accompanying increase in the numbers of human bodies now subjected to research. This essay uses the work of Michel Foucault, particularly his notion of docile bodies, to analyze these changes. Two loci from the bioethics literature are explored—one treating research in the United States and one treating research in developing countries. In the latter, we see a novel dynamic of the new biopolitics: the ways in which bioethics helps to create docile political bodies that will police themselves and who will, in turn, facilitate the production of docile human bodies for research.


Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Volume 34, No. 4, pp 384-408 (2009). DOI: 10.1093/jmp/jhp026