The first cases of a novel coronavirus infection were reported by Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in Hubei, China, at the beginning of December 2019. Unlike its early genera, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARSr-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), its rate of human-to-human transmission is faster (WHO 2020a). This infection did not remain specific to a territory but spread to more than a hundred countries, sparking a pandemic. The two fundamental reasons why the virus became a global crisis are that its early symptoms and acute phase are almost nonspecific, catalysed easily spread by the droplets across both geographies and populations. During this initial phase, the experts expected that the number of cases and deaths would gradually increase until the development and social acceptance of a vaccine, and it worked out as expected. As of February 2023, there have been around 674 million cases and 6.7 million documented fatalities worldwide (Worldometer 2023), although vaccinations and other protective techniques have greatly contributed to the decline of the disease. Meanwhile, as pharmaceutical companies, that is, medical-neoliberal authorities for pandemic containment competed, the governments of countries like Turkey resorted to introverted national measures. Such neoliberal trends entailed the invention of new political and medical pathways that consequently gave rise to new power structures and subjectivities by both local and global actors.

In connection with juridico-political studies and healthcare practices, Michel Foucault is one of the leading figures focusing on the debates of power and subject. Politically and often critically oriented studies draw on his critical legacy to analyse the power relations underpinning the regulatory techniques of medical care. In this framework, the extent to which the Foucauldian trajectory diverges from macro-politics dealing with the state and its functions, may not give us sufficient insight. However, his emphasis on repressive systems aligned with the micro-politics and expansion of the classical mode of power can guide us to shed light on the issue of medical governance. It may be hard to discuss a ready-made Foucauldian theory that can be applied pragmatically in this regard, given that ‘what Foucault provides to us is a series of quite specific, precisely theorized analyses, each one mobilizing a customized methodology designed to address a theoretically defined problem from a strategic angle of inquiry’ (Garland 2014, p. 366). For this reason, his notion of power (or dispersed power) associated with governmentality and exclusionary sovereign paths enables us to develop a critical inquiry into the Turkish pandemic experience, rather than providing a ‘fine-grained methodology.’

By its very nature, the pandemic also incorporates the risk of transmission into the power modes thereby manifesting itself as a potentiality and threat. At this point, For Brian Massumi, a Canadian social theorist and contemporary philosopher whose treatises primarily cover the debates on the perception of risk, a threat cannot be eliminated because its potentiality is an ‘infra-element’ of the present conditions (2015b, p. 10). His approach, therefore, addresses how the pre-personal elements of experience shape personal (intra) wisdom and actions. He asserts that in addition to individual consciousness, the socio-political structures and the physico-biological makeup of the body have an impact on these external (environmental) aspects that are fundamental to individual patterns. To describe such experiences, his analysis suggests that we pay attention to pre-personal dimensions, which Massumi also refers to as ‘affective forces and tenors’ that exist in a zone where affectivity and rational calculation are indistinguishable from one another. By doing so, he underscores that there is ‘an infra-individual complexity’ because what resonates at that level is an interaction between things that cannot be separated (Massumi 2015c, p. 8). Based on this idea, the text will go beyond the Foucauldian exposition of managing risk for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 by considering the infra-level interaction where the pre-emptive actions are intertwined with the exceptional policies.

In particular, the infra-level ramifications of the emerging crisis have presented a challenge to governments in identifying and encapsulating the measures intended to stop the inflow and spread of coronavirus. At this point, there have been several failed attempts of ‘affective performance’ by politico-medical authorities to halt the spread of COVID-19. Utilising strategies in this period, we are able to categorise territories in which such authorities have emerged from a geopolitical standpoint in two distinct ways: first, where the virus has been confirmed, and second, where the virus has not yet been identified but could potentially be observed. In the latter regions, the policies based on the absence of a clear framework have been instrumental to control the process. Turkey was one of these regions in which the uncertainties were fiercely felt and performed. Notably, it has moved to risk strategies to cease the virus from entering its borders, while the rest of the planet was fighting the ontological manifestation of the disease.

In this direction, the pre-pandemic stage in Turkey has not been identified by COVID-19 itself but by the risk of acquiring it. It has been viewed as a menace on ‘the national borders,’Footnote 1 thereby paving the way for fear in society. This social anxiety, later called coronaphobia (Arora et al. 2020), prompted the Turkish government to bolster measures to decrease the spread of both risk and virus. Such pre-conditions emerged as a by-product of the national border policies, which served as the pre-emptive and operative reason for the politico-health restrictions on the frontiers. In this sense, the first point of the debate focuses on how the biopolitics of public health evolved into infra-national policies through the pre-pandemic in Turkey. We will start this part with an introduction to Foucault’s notion of biopolitics and disciplinary power in relation to the Turkish experience. The argument will next cover how these patterns take advantage of pre-emptive measures to establish an infra-level of healthcare paradigm by regarding the environmental mode of power which modifies simultaneously the formation of the present and future. Drawing on this, by disclosing ‘the earlier policies than necessary,’ the article will discuss how the Turkish government’s border restrictions unveiled as a set of pre-emptive actions, and they took shape in the body of risk caveats.

The third section will evaluate the post-pandemic stage from a specific Foucauldian prism, initially by considering the sovereign mode of power. However, in this part, the axis of the text will principally shift to Giorgio Agamben’s study of (de)subjectivity and the state of exception. Then it will move to the critique of how the exception in the Agambenian sense manifests itself in the Turkish healthcare policies coupled with the environmental power proposed by Massumi. Regarding sovereign power, Agamben interprets this exclusion as an ‘illegalisation’ of the existing juridico- and bio-political structures. In his book, Society Must Be Defended (2004, pp. 240–47), Foucault describes what this pair means: the sovereign power asserts its domination visible often by the decree as ‘the right to kill,’ whereas the biopower is an invisible type of ‘power to make people live’ through the political anatomy of biological characteristics that are taken for granted. In this regard, he accentuates the decentralised form of power that not only coexists with social life but also nullifies the central control of the sovereign or the state power—defined through juridico-political terms (Foucault 2004, p. 29). At this point, Agamben (1998, p. 4) offers an alternative perspective, particularly by drawing on the scholarly debates advanced by Arendt,Footnote 2 Schmitt, and Benjamin while critiquing the varying interpretations of biopolitics. This insight is regarded as ‘the entrance of zoē into the sphere of the polisFootnote 3—the politicisation of bare life as such.’ Consequently, he redevelops the notion of exceptionFootnote 4 (or emergency) as the explanatory guidance for current politics to clarify this paradoxical relationality.

Given that the COVID-19 emergency in Turkey has been shaped by both sovereign patterns and politics of uncertainty, the Turkish case will be treated in this context as a reflection of the state of exception and infra-level of the healthcare regime. Based on this, the study will attempt to explore the root causes of how new pandemic-related restrictions like lockdowns and curfews, which rely on surveillance and exceptionalism, engender concurrently new forms of power and subjectivity. In the last section, it will be argued whether such policies and restrictions ensured by the politico-medical authorities in Turkey allow the formation of new types of ‘infra-victims’ by use of pre-emptive interventions, taking into account both of the state of exception developed by AgambenFootnote 5 and ‘infra-(in)dividuality’ characterised by Massumi.

Reading the pre-pandemic experience in Turkey: rationalisation, optimisation, and standardisation of health knowledge

The pre-pandemic process corresponds to the Turkish experience, beginning with the announcement of preliminary cases and fatalities outside Turkey in the first quarter of January 2020 and ending with the date when the first case was officially reported on March 11, 2020. This period highlights the significance of the COVID-19 chronology in understanding how the infection transformed into an outbreak in the country. Immediately before COVID-19 became a global crisis and thus a Turkish concern, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in China declared a cluster of unexplained pneumonia cases (WHO 2019). The genome sequence analysis of the disease was made public by Chinese experts on January 12, 2020. On the very next day, Thailand became the first country in which the case of a new coronavirus was confirmed outside of China (Joseph 2020). The virus, which was first recognised in Japan and South Korea, spread rapidly throughout East Asia before making its way to Europe, with the first case being spotted in France on January 24, 2020. Six days later, World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 infection as the first global public health outbreak (ECDC 2020). It has been thus labelled a worldwide pandemic because of the cases that were still increasing in European countries, notably Italy and Spain (WHO 2020c).

The new cases were being reported not only in Europe but also in the Middle East. Iran was most likely one of the epicentres within this period and saw the most severe effects. That caused its neighbours, including Iraq and Turkey, to request a temporary travel ban, closing their borders and suspending all flights there as a response. Concerns grew in Turkey, which straddled both regions, as the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in Europe and the Middle East climbed. Despite the public policies in Turkey regarding this global health calamity, the first case was reported on March 11, 2020, on a man who contracted the virus while traveling to Europe (Daily Sabah 2020a). As the COVID-19 crisis was becoming more serious around the world, the measures for primary care in Turkey arose as the securitisation of its border regime against the coronavirus as an external factor, which potentially allowed a third way of becoming to appear. At this juncture, the steps that aimed to make its citizens live and to keep public health at a certain optimum might be unfolded in two different but interrelated patches in terms of governmental techniques: the first is biopolitical mechanisms, which include the body imbued with the operation of nature-culture dichotomy, and the second is related to how an individual’s affective leanings resonate with non-human patterns at both the infra-individual and transindividual levels by surpassing this dichotomous connection (Massumi 2015c).

To adequately explain how a ‘normal (healthy) body’ has been instructed and taken on its present form, Foucault characterises the genealogy of power and governmentality enveloping our daily lives. In his view, the omnipresence of such modes is a productive force for how social institutions engage in ‘delinquency and abnormality.’ His critical angle often argues that these structures wielded typically as an episodic or sovereign force are the essential source of bios, which fosters discipline and conformity in society. This is the basis for his critique, which proposes the different forms of power that are distinct from kingly or sultanate rule, thereby concentrating on the optimisation of bodies and social wholes. More specifically, he not only develops the concept of ‘biopower,’ which seeks to maintain populations and individuals in a certain optimum by manipulating social variables like reproduction, sexuality, recidivism, and morbidities, but also inspects how disciplinary institutions like the hospital, prison, family, and school were both run and evolved in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. In other words, this duo refers to the bipolar technique which combines discipline and biopolitics.

The disciplinary power pertains to the anatomo-politics of making bodies ‘docile, normal, and functional’ for the persistence of existing modes. Yet, biopolitics arose to design the populations that are optimised and demographically mapped in accordance with social factors like longevity, the rate of mortality and birth, life expectancy, and healthy diet (Perron et al. 2005). By adapting itself to changing social and environmental (non-human) circumstances, the biopower thus thrives in proportion to the extent to which the health span of the population is both preserved and reproduced. This form makes individuals that are flexibly ‘in the state of becoming (O’Sullivan 2009, p. 157), an optimal subject to the given context.’ Within this framework, the role of the state and government in the transfer of power from a group of authorities to the entirety of bodies cannot be understated; however, their exigency has waned in modern life due to the evolving nature of management techniques. The biopolitics of health-promoting a ‘specific way of life’ therefore not only concerns the (docile) bodies (Foucault 1995), but also has a very adaptive texture in terms of modifying the fixed and existing health parameters. This does indeed provide a legitimate basis for new measures and regulatory models to emerge in response to changing health conditions and risks (Rose 2001). In this respect, the pre- and early post-COVID-19 policies in Turkey are most likely to reveal a schema to pursue the biopolitics of risk and healthcare. This may be more specifically illustrated through the growth of regulatory agencies centred on health issues during the early stages of the pandemic.

The Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, which was set up by the Ministry of Health on January 10, 2020, is arguably the most recognised and authorised regulatory body in Turkey. The board has frequently offered specific policy recommendations over what Turkish citizens should adhere to the obligations placed on them regarding their health, in particular, once the cases were on the rise. In this sense, Foucault’s insight on rational choice is critical in seeing how a community healthcare system that is at stake, was developed by the authorities. This is because traditionally medico-politics serves as a guide for adopting protective behaviours and appropriate countermeasures against transmission risk. When disentangling such patterns that intervene in the decision-making process, Foucault stresses on the assemblage of both rationality whose birth dates to the Enlightenment (Wrobel 1999), and the governance of social practices. By doing so, he explains how rational choice creates an illusion that makes people believe their decisions are free and subjects them to social norms rather than liberating them. In this sense, governmental entities seek to form an overarching discursivity where individuals conform to ‘rationally act’ for their healthcare through a variety of invented medical discourses and technologies. From this aspect, it seems that the Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board and other medical authorities built a model guiding what ‘normal (rational)’ action should be taken during the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic periods.

By combining the tandem of rationality and government, in this respect, Foucault emphasises (2008) the notion of governmentality as a method of studying power that places a greater focus on positively altering human conduct than on having the only authority to make laws. In his analysis, the governanceFootnote 6 process typifies a nexus of social factors such as the state, society, family, and the practices that create subjects, as well as being satisfied by ‘these normative institutions.’ From this vantage point, it is evident that the Provincial Health directorships, which have been redesigned to inform people about the potential impacts of COVID-19, assumed a role in the formation of public opinion and control. These institutions, especially by way of health information systems, led to new subjectivities, which might bear their own responsibility.

This model also secured that medical safety signs and daily counts of cases and deaths were located and maintained on the websites and in all public spheres, as well as intruding into private spaces via social media and TV spots (WHO 2020d, p. 9; see Aykan and Güvenç-Salgırlı 2015). Given the risk policies that are both echoed through medical, judicial, and political dispositives and reified by the fusion of such control mechanisms, the healthcare system may be regarded as a form of medical governmentality (see Foucault 1991, pp. 87–104). In addition, the measures and metrics not only perform a regulatory role but also instil the idea of average risk management. As Rose says (2001, p. 6), ‘national health indicators, here, do not measure the fitness of a population as a whole; they function as aggregates of the health status of individual citizens and families.’ As part of overall health governance, they set the tone for a collection of medical recipes that seek to achieve ‘the sum of optimal (healthy) population’ in terms of cases and deaths. In this regard, the Turkish medical governance, like that of other countries, did not wrestle with how many people would contract COVID-19 or die from it, but rather with how the number of cases might be held to a certain amount (see Kenny 2020), through ‘the rationalised and optimised’ structures and (docile) bodies.

The health information promising instant access to medical guidance, released on different media outlets by the Minister of Health, medical board members, and directorships, constituted another basis for the biopolitical subjectivation in the pre-pandemic experience (WHO 2020d). Such medical-governmental (state-led) communities, which were involved even in the post-pandemic, were often featured in the Turkish media to solicit their preferences, enticing citizens to comply with emerging healthcare regulations. The goal was to alter what was thought to be the optimal level of health knowledge and to monopolise regulatory mechanisms through media networks. Consequently, these authorities and the information they provided facilitated the incessant development of new risk policies under the guise of ‘positive intervention’ (Büscher 2018, p. 161), which coerces individuals to adopt a healthcare standard. In this line, the pre-pandemic experience might be predominantly formulated in a tripartite response—the rationalisation, optimisation, and standardisation of health knowledge.

Starting from these risk objectives, the biopolitical manoeuvres and strategies not only signal the crystallisation of entrenched hierarchies but also the ambiguity that emanates from the alternative (more-than-human) modes that have the chance to somehow materialise. This compossibility entails an inter-location where biopolitics would be put into practice in the case of non-actual—non-human agencies, e.g., the potentiality of risks. Such intricacies address not only the transformation but also the concomitance of new forms of politics based primarily on pre-emption (Massumi 2007), which anchors itself as a governance of the future in the universe of uncertainties. In conclusion, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to multiply the oscillating spaces in which preventive and pre-emptive policies act as a bridge for a nonstandard but symbiotic milieu for the different modes of power.

Managing the non-actuality but potentiality: medical alarmism and borders restrictions in Turkey

For Foucault, power structures that underlie neo-liberal governmentalities, ‘act on the environment and systematically modify its variables.’Footnote 7 Since the bodies are subjected to new mechanisms in a way that is predetermined but not necessarily in an ontological sense; in other words, the modes of power may alter depending on spatio-temporal variations. By critically examining Foucault’s notion of biopower, Massumi rearticulates this pre-emptive effort. Thereupon, he portrays the control and life-support strategies from a more Deleuzian standpoint (see 2015c, p. 8), by focusing on which bodies get involved in interactions with the extracorporeal circuits. In his seminal essay called the Postscript on the Societies of Control, Deleuze points to a novel form of medicine ‘without doctor or patient’ that identifies potentially ill persons and subjects at risk, which in no manner to individuation replacing the individual or numerical body with the code of a ‘dividual’ material to be controlled (1992, p. 7).

The dividual is grounded in his studies collaborated with Guattari and focused on the debate of rhizomatic connections deriving from the bodies and non-human becomings. They bind such connections to affect, where a third matrix beyond regulatory conditions flexibly modifies both (in)dividuals and their capabilities by a force of immanence in a definite coincidence ahead of time, rather than by being tied in either their mental or somatic status (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, p. 169). This approach to affect not only draws on the in-betweenness of human and non-human interactions but also approves a set of chaotic non-human interactions to become possible earlier than necessary. Deleuze’s following emphasis supports this insight (1988, pp. 127–128):

A body can be anything; it can be an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea; it can be a linguistic corpus, a social body, a collectivity. We call longitude of a body the set of relations of speed and slowness, of momentum and rest, between particles that compose it from this point of view, that is, between unformed elements. We call latitude the set of affects that occupy a body at each moment, that is, the intensive states of an anonymous force (force for existing, capacity for being affected). In this way we construct the map of the body. The longitudes and latitudes together constitute Nature, the plane of immanence or consistency, which is always variable and is constantly being altered, composed and recomposed by individuals and collectivities.

This hints at the existence of a potential that supersedes both individuals and the tiers of power that encompass them, a force that has not yet materialised but may do (or not) so in the time. In other words, there occurs an infra-phase in which a pre-emptive reason opens novel prospects for the bodies through an ‘infra-force,’—affect, and thus necessitates the potentialities by partly transgressing ‘intra-individual complexities.’ Starting from this exposition, Massumi presents a politics of (in)dividualism that would acknowledge the complexity and erratic decision-making that it includes. He continues by expressing that this third type of force might result in strategies for navigating the zone of indistinction to designate the becoming-modulations where potentiality emerges from a switching between the trans-individual and individual (Massumi 2015c, p. 35). That is, instead of being limited to ‘intra-action’ levels (Barad 2007), such layers of risk are exposed on an infra-level of becoming.

More specifically, this spectrum brings about an infra-type of power, known as the ontopower or environmental power, which is the affective force that modifies the prospective actions. At this point, the power has currently been restated as ‘becoming-environmental’ rather than its biopolitical (intra-calculable) spaces. Massumi clarifies this margin as follows (2015b, p. 40): while ‘the biopower normatively regulates the life conditions obtaining in the territory,’ ‘pre-emptive power operates on a proterritory tensed with a compelling excess of potential which renders it strictly unlivable.’ In this regard, environmental power as a ‘power through which being becomes’ (Massumi 2015b, p. 71), on the course of pre-responsibilised bodies (or subjectivities); that is, infra-individual—a junction point in which the subject of interest perceives its self, while consciously noting the force of the motions that traverse it (Massumi 2015c, p. 40).

This potential zone of liminality, instead of an absolute psychophysical dispersal, not only stimulates ongoing trans-corporeal connection but also emerges as the prime motivator for pre-emptive action (Massumi 2002, p. 110). The pre-emption especially urges governments to exercise vigilance by formulating policies in advance of emergencies. This potency ushers in a political climate where the infra-level of actions transcends the individual but does not outperform its absolute exteriority by encroaching on its environmental circuits (Massumi 2015a, pp. 14–35). For Massumi, the ontopower, therefore, gives rise to the politics of affect tending to quasi-real textures, new potentialities, and futurities, in contrast to the biopolitical process, which subjugates bodies to fixed degrees. In this regard, the infra-medical governances based on the pre-emption are likely to emerge from the collection of such orchestrated possibilities, which pinpoints the state of increased alertness and excessive discretion.

The proof of this alarmism is evident on the Republic of Turkey Directorate of Communications website (COVID19Turkey 2020): ‘The Scientific Advisory Board’s first order of business is to stop the coronavirus from entering Turkey as long as possible, in order to prepare the country’s healthcare system and raise awareness amongst medical professionals and the general population.’ The statement not only underlines the deployment of biopolitics through the emphasis on the general population but also alludes to pre-emptive politics, which strives to keep the coronavirus from entering Turkey. In this setting, the government grappled with not directly virus itself—but with its capability to permeate within geopolitical boundaries even though it was outside of the borders. From the Massumian viewpoint, the measures thus solidified its non-spatial yet rationalised action to regulate the ability to experience affectivity (see 2015a, p. 26). This medical governmentality merged preventiveness and pre-emptiveness by making an infra-level of connections that have not yet formed but have the potential to do so. In other words, the Turkish experience empowered the combination of biopower and ontopower into a single continuum, ‘although the goal of both is to neutralize threat, they fundamentally differ epistemologically and ontologically’Footnote 8 (Massumi 2015b, p. 5). As such, what makes Turkey’s position unique is that it was one of the last regions where the cases have been confirmed while unifying the various modalities of power.

During that whole time, the battling policies against the entrance of coronavirus into the borderlands were carried out by the Turkish ministries, primarily those of Foreign Affairs and Health, as well as members of the Scientific Advisory Board, via border security and punitive forces. Their responsibility has centred on fear politics which has been the primary catalyst for measures that formed the backbone of pre-emptive actions and initiatives. Fahrettin Koca, the Minister of Health, to illustrate, has reiterated the urgency of these measures: ‘We want to keep Turkey away from the virus as long as possible though we cannot rule out any possibility. We see cases everywhere, in Europe, in Italy for instance, but they quickly took measures’ (Daily Sabah 2020b). This politico-medical discourse focuses primarily on preventing the disease from endangering the healthcare and security of citizens. That is, the concern is not so much with the virus itself as with the possibility of its arrival. This led to the ongoing use of instruments that recreate the fear politics and the emergence of new infra-individuals by its occurrence and transmission potential. The objective of such affect politics was to control and reduce the risk in question (see Massumi 2015b, pp. 232–235), and unveiled itself as ‘an infra-state of exception’ in which healthcare is potentially in danger. Notably, this mode of emergency, which might be introduced through the borders and airlines, served as the ‘infra-apparatus’ of the threshold used as exclusion. These two bordering politico-medical weapons in Turkey designed to guarantee a ‘safe and healthy journey’ characterised a set of restrictions and temporary regulations by (CNBC Health and Science 2020; REUTERS Healthcare 2020; The Straits Times 2020):

  • using infrared cameras to check the identification and health status of citizens, diasporas, and foreigners;

  • restricting international flights;

  • permitting citizens or diasporas to cross frontiers whether diseased or not, but refusing foreigners;

  • keeping borders closed to countries where cases have been confirmed.

As a result of pre-invented panic, the potentiality has always pushed the government into a state of alert and palliative governmentality acting on the environmental variables. At this stage, these measures towards keeping the virus out have been qualified by Turkish citizenship and nationality. In one respect, such efforts can be captured by Massumi’s ontopower as the pre-existing mechanism that subjects to potential activity, corresponding to the state of in-betweenness.Footnote 9 This is because politics centres itself on the infra-level of capacity over, As Blackman (2008, p. 106) remarks, ‘bodies to acquire more and more connections to artefacts, techniques, and practices.’ It also seems that Hardt (2015, p. 219) affirms this line: ‘The correspondence between the power to be affected and the power to act is at this point only a potential one.’ His point of view suggests the potentialities of regulatory modes manifest themselves through infra-force politics. In terms of such affective regulations, the pre-pandemic experience has thus crafted a set of malleable conditions equipped with the universe of risk and panic, while prioritising Turkishness at the borderlines.

In a nutshell, the alarmism towards COVID-19, which is based ‘neither on a moral philosophy nor on a social ontology’ (Gordon 1980, p. 235), caused the incarnation of infra-level power forms by means of the medical and political state departments. These control mechanisms might be juxtaposed as the Scientific Advisory Board, medical practitioners, border and airport security officers, and provincial health directorships. In this risk invention, firstly, one can speak of the embodiment of pre-defined subjectivation in certain respects, but these subjects were gripped on the level of ‘the potential threat’ (see Massumi 2015b, p. 14), rather than an ontological level over the regulation of bodies and totalities as Foucault conceives (see Foucault 2002, pp. 56–57). Second, the end date of the pre-pandemic era in Turkey was not known at the time, as was the end date of the post-pandemic phase. Due to this ambiguity, the infra-modalities of power in the Turkish case rendered the pre-emptive strategies based on the quasi-biopolitics in order to subjectify some who are on the verge of ‘the new normalised yet unossified healthcare and alertness condition’ against COVID-19 that occurred outside but were close to the geopolitical borders.

What the ‘Provisional (Exceptional)’ measures in Turkey tell us: in-betweenness from Foucault to Agamben

The biopolitical experience of affective structures (Blencowe 2012) has persisted in pre-conditioned (or possibly infra-conditioned) domains with neoliberal implementations over the last three decades, and Turkey has also been influenced by this global paradigm. Still, it bears noting once again that this practice was founded on modernism regimented by westernised standards and values. To dislodge this unidirectional relationality, Foucault unearths (2004), how the sovereign deploys forceful action or violence, and the growing involvement of biopolitics to bereave people of their self-construal and convert them into the pawns of several scientific dispositives. He uncovers the duality between these embedded standards through power mechanisms that fence all realms of life by enslaving, thereby looking for ways to surmount it. Along with Foucault, many other ‘the post-structuralists,’ such as Barthes, Deleuze, and Derrida, have employed a variety of strategies to unleash and deconstruct these dialectical patterns.

Nevertheless, Agamben today occupies a significant position with the new critique of subjectivity, unlike these figures who develop a post-structural trajectory, especially stressing on the flexible character of the action. He provides a focal point questioning the exceptional cases where such binary relations tend to disappear. That is, Agamben (2005), proposes the concept of a ‘state of exception (emergency)’ that would dissolve or intertwine such dichotomies. Given that the Massumian methodology is predominantly inspired by the Deleuzian philosophy, it grasps the connections as empirical and discovered by affect, it is essential to know how Agamben’s starting point differs from Massumi (Allen 2020, pp. 355–378). What makes him different in this context is that Agamben attempts to strike the state of exception by establishing a balance between the transcendental view presuming such connections are historically determined, and the empirical view focusing on the interplay between them (Brophy 2019). However, the main objective of the study is not to separate these two approaches from each other completely, but rather to make an effort to demonstrate how they are reciprocally embodied. To fully comprehend the big picture before illustrating this coexistence, it should be pointed out how the early COVID-19, as a state of emergency, resulted in an alternative mode of ‘(de)subjectivation' through the exceptionalism of Turkey.

First, it is crucial to remember that Turkey is not so remote geographically from the Far East, where the first coronavirus cases were identified, but is a neighbour to the countries in which the significant diffusion of the virus was observed in Europe, the Middle East, and the Near East as well. Its geopolitical proximity to these regions made Turkey ‘a preferred niche’ as a destination for those fleeing the infection in addition to saving time and money. This escape led directly to confirmed cases, principally amongst the Turkish diaspora from across the world and the pilgrims who had just returned from Mecca. After nearly a month, when the first cases were reported by officials in March 2020, the daily case toll in the country began to rise and became a national crisis in April (WHO 2020b). This rapid upsurge has created an avenue in Turkey where a domestic emergency is monitored by the medico-political commissions. Along this line, the Foucauldian perspective might enable us to appreciate the disciplinary and biopolitical horizons of healthcare interventions in terms of the surveillance and management of the crisis to a certain extent. It is therefore essential to reacquaint with his analysis.Footnote 10

Above all, Foucault believes that power is a pervasive and politico-social phenomenon. From this viewpoint, he articulates its omnipresence as follows (1998, p. 63): ‘power is everywhere’ and ‘comes from everywhere.’ At this juncture, he implies (1980, p. 120), that power ‘does not only weigh on us as a force that says no; it also traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms of knowledge, produces discourse.’ This analysis expresses that power is the relational and regulatory fact, which may develop and function by enmeshing itself in social organisms and grabbing hold of its self-existence through intermittent, often forceful action. Therefore, the immanence of power imbues bodies with responsibility and the sense that they are constantly being monitored. As we have already mentioned, this broader spectrum widens the horizons of the classical understanding of sovereignty as reconstructing the social contract that people have with a sovereign upholding law and order. In other words, the classical mode of power has become invisible over time, thereby being replaced by the ubiquitous collections of a modern one.

Agamben (2005), however, argues that these regulatory structures may take the shape of sovereign exclusion in times of emergency. From this aspect, the pandemic as a case of emergency in Turkey is more likely to become an encounter in which all modes of power overlap each other. To illustrate, the very first precautions, particularly those involving more palpable practices such as restrictions, were sometimes reformed and extended by medico-legal authorities in the early days of the post-pandemic (Bulut 2020)—and may be laid out as ‘sovereign power paths’ as such. This is because these restrictions were built on the potentiality that those who violate the rules will be severely punished, thereby performing their lives as victims (or bare bodies) by self-responsibilising them. Such visible management techniques were exerted as an exception to ensure the measures in Turkey. Agamben’s view of exception may be crucial in resolving the Turkish experience for this reason.

Agamben develops his concept of the state of exception,Footnote 11 which alleges that laws are suspended due to the unusual extension of sovereign power. This approach is heavily influenced by Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt. In this analysis, he underlines that nakedness has been requalified for the dominant juridico-political arena in which social cosmology resides, to strengthen his notion on how bare/natural life has pervaded the bios, albeit in contradiction to the zoē. In doing so, he elaborates on the process by which the Nazi Regime suspended the articles outlined in the German Reich’s Constitution (1940–1945) in order to expel Jewish citizens living in German-occupied zones to demonstrate where and when the state of exception ‘appears as the legal form of what cannot have legal form.’ After detailing the suspension of de facto laws in Germany, he also reveals how they were deported to the concentration camps in Auschwitz, i.e., death campsFootnote 12 where the bare bodies were performed in Poland. This condition obviously triggers the redescription of biopolitics envisaged by the Foucauldian repertory by blurring the boundary between the state’s normative legal framework and the enforcement of its own laws. The state as the sovereign power places the naked life as an exclusionary tool transformed through the bios, which refers to the political life for people, at the centre of the state of exception. The bare realm ontologically morphs into a contemporary paradigm for politics, contrary to what Foucault asserts. Not only can current legal norms and values be de-applied in this way, but the entire state power also has a monopoly on bare life and the politicisation of exception. In his book Political Theology, Schmitt (2005) defines the sovereign as the one deciding whether the state of exception can be declared as well as who is outside the reach of the law. By restating Schmitt’s idea of the sovereign, he dwells on the paradoxical ‘fact that the sovereign is, at the same time, outside and inside the juridical order’ (Agamben 1998, p. 2). A politicised exception is hence resurrected through the thanato-politics (the politics of death) of the bare life, described by Agamben as ‘the fundamental activity of sovereign power.’

He also argues that the state of exception has repeatedly occurred between centralised and democratic governances in the current political world as the special condition operating ‘the threshold of interdeterminancy’ (Agamben 1998, p. 121). In this respect, to wield ‘inclusionary exclusion’ as a political instrument over death, the state, which has ultimate control over all juridical authority, determines who is included and who is excluded in the zone of indistinction as implied above. Accordingly, exceptionalism could be viewed as a diagram for regulating the murdering of individuals in addition to the excessive use of force and the expansion of sovereign power in politico-scientific governances. Further, the exception has appeared as a contemporary paradigm that surrounds all of us by posing risks at any moment if seen through Agamben’s critical lenses. This is the reason that everyone has potentially been on the verge of being included to exclude; they are the prospective victims of the sovereignty of the states in the presence of risk factors. In Agamben’s words, this displayed a path where ‘we are all virtually homines sacri’ (1998, p. 115).

On this basis, the Turkish government not only intensified its efforts but also maintained urgent and strict measures until the day when the number of COVID-19 cases began to shrink. The first steps mainly comprised of ‘soft bans’ such as the extension of closures of workplaces, schools, malls, restaurants, and cafés as well as the imposition of restrictions on domestic travel and international flights (Bulut 2020; Gardaworld 2020a). All citizens who use public transportation, including private travel companies, must have the HES (Hayat Eve Sığar, translated as ‘Life Fits Into Home’) travel code restricting their movement. Along with the precautions taken by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior frequently represented a ‘supplier of suspended laws’ by dealing with ‘provocative social media posts’ through the Turkish National Police Department of Cyber Crime. In addition to the control over social media, there were curfews for people who are over the age of sixty-five and have chronic diseases, turning COVID-19 into a domestic security issue. Since youngsters tend to have the infection with mild symptoms or are asymptomatic compared to adults or those who have a chronic condition, this restriction in April was subsequently extended to those who are twenty years old and younger to minimise their interactions with the elderly. Drawing on this, health officials launched several campaigns to encourage the use of face masks ( 2020), which eventually became a legal obligation for all. Additionally, the introduction of temporary restrictions like healthcare circulars contributed to the social and legal exclusion of those who disregarded the emergent measures. Such temporary medical interventions created a climate in which anyone who disobeyed the burgeoning pandemic norms could face permanent victimisation.

Consequently, the state, in the uncertain cases where specifically the growing exceptional cycle of events occurs, re-legitimatises itself by suspending the de facto legal system and therefore, including ‘its citizens,’ who can be killed but not sacrificed for exclusion. The potentiality links to the ontological basis for any policy executed by governmental bodies through ‘lawful or illegal discursivities,’ rather than being determined by a pre-existing condition. This wisdom enables a discussion on Turkey’s early pandemic phase by advocating a spectrum for inclusionary exclusion that suspends the legal and political norms enforced by medico-scientific governance. As such, the subsequent experience in Turkey has begun to move toward harsher policies characterised as ‘the novel scientific methods of normalisation’ for living with COVID-19. From this viewpoint, the Turkish experience would serve as an illustration of how power in the Foucauldian sense is connected to the Agambenian version and manifests as a multipedal form. Yet, ever-increasing restrictions raise the prospect that these various modalities may also emerge in an infra-individual form due to the transmission potential of COVID-19. Therefore, the next chapter will try to explore how such modes of power may co-exist in the case of 'an infra-state of exception.'

The infra-state of exception: new normal and victims of early post-pandemic experience in Turkey

The restrictions imposed by the pandemic on social life have not been successively limited to workplace closures, the use of facemasks, and regional curfews. In April and May 2020, they intensified into ‘national interventions and lockdowns.’ The first lockdown was initiated in 31 cities during that time, foreshadowing the next days of quarantine and sequestering (Gardaworld 2020b). Depending on the number of cases reported in the coming days, public health measures have either been relaxed or tightened. The main target of fluctuations in the restrictions was to avert ‘mass gatherings’ and maintain ‘social distancing’ amongst citizens (Özkara et al. 2020, pp. 63–66), so that the implementations took on an institutional form by reiterating the sheltering in place or remaining at home. Stay-at-home directives here seek to diminish the risk by banning outdoor interaction with anyone except family members in the house. Furthermore, through media, people at home have been intensely exposed to public service advertisements that emphasise ‘wearing a mask, keeping distance, and practicing hygiene.’ Besides the emerging policies, both the pharmaceutical campaigns and distribution of medications for the treatment of COVID-19 have been featured on live broadcasts.

In the following months, wearing a face mask and keeping your distance in crowded or public areas became mandatory across the country (Anadolu Agency 2020). Police officers and municipal governments were able to impose significant fines for violations of these precautions due to the emergent condition. A person who is sick or deemed risky was then moved to the dormitories sponsored by the Higher Education Credit and Hostels Institution for fourteen days in addition to paying the fine. This practice signifies that the new pandemic norms utilise disciplinary power in a Foucauldian sense by punishing individuals as well as stimulating power paths. What is more, such regulatory requirements have been said to be essential for ‘the public’s health,’ based on the frequently produced public opinion of authorised medical experts and clergymen who argued that disobeying these rules amounted to the violation of human rights (Bianet 2020a). The medico-legal system, which can forcibly subject people to exclusion, thus visibly encouraged individuals to care for ‘being healthy.’ This paved the way for the re-invention of moral codes and new patterns to protect body health. It is conceivable that this pre-emption was accomplished through politico-scientific alliances to consolidate ‘the uniformity and monopoly of scientific truth’ while stifling dissenting voices. The sovereignty of scientific truth may be viewed as an inclusive exclusionary form that not only compels individuals to perform new healthcare practices but also limits them by veering from the existing medico-scientific norms. Therefore, in addition to sovereign exclusion, where individuals may kill but not be sacrificed, this pre-emptive action unfolds an infra-individual based on potentiality. This mode of subjection may allow us to investigate the relationship between the domestic responses and ‘new (de)subjectivities’ in Turkey by taking into account the multiplicity of power modes, which may be regarded as an exceptional condition that creates potentially de-subjectified bodies.

The main objective of Agamben’s study in this line is to provide nuanced information on the biopolitical facet of thanato-politics concerning the relics of sovereignty in the twenty-first century. In order to delve into this linkage, he initially draws on the two concepts: zoē which refers to ‘the simple fact of living common to all living beings’, and bios which denotes ‘the form or way of living proper to an individual or group’ by retracing Aristotelian philosophy (1998, pp. 1–2). By doing so, he places a strong focus on the birth of ‘homo sacer (sacred man)’ who has ‘the contingent status for being killed but not sacrificed’ as a paradoxical figure in Roman law (Agamben 1998, p. 8), through the production of bare life.Footnote 13 This form of state of exception signifies that if the self-existence of a state is jeopardised, its citizens may be dehumanised or de-legalised by itself. Unlike the docile bodies included by the regulatory mechanisms, homo sacer does not therefore purely faces exclusion, but rather is included for exclusion when the state of exception emerges. Throughout the post-pandemic period, this inclusionary exclusion may be handled by those who do not comply with the infra-healthcare (emergent) measures because a particular type of scientific knowledge offers itself as an ‘unquestionable epistemological and ontological solution’ for the public by monopolising alternative spaces.

Then, it is important to keep in mind that existing norms and legal regulations may be suspended under the guise of ‘common good or sense’ in exceptional circumstances. Although the fourth article of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (OHCHR 1966), certifies the rights, forceful and unrelated measures violating basic rights, such as freedom of speech and movement (Roth 2020), are likely to be taken through duly-authorised bodies. Therefore, it is clear that the modern state might function as the exerciser of sovereign power with the ability to de-subjectify bodies that are stripped of their legal-political entity and abolish ‘the right to have rights’ as a prerequisite to their fundamental human rights.Footnote 14 Based on this monologism, which allows certain scientific groups freedom of speech, visible scientific truths can potentially be distorted by the domination of any medical sovereign. In that regard, it is hard to directly conclude that the oppressive rule of juridico-political actors is the main reason for the state of exception; yet, it may be asserted that all emerging (affective) policies may be captured as ‘the product of totalitarian science’ (Josephson 2005), by ‘the potentiality.’ To strengthen and legitimise their capability to hinder multipolarity, many forms of power, including environmental, sovereign, and bio-power, may thus merge into or coexist with each other by reifying themselves as both the input and output of political-scientific discursivities.

Regarding the Turkish experience, physicians and pharmacists are the most visible professions, all of which cooperated and partnered with other sovereign state units such as law enforcements (Bakir 2020). When new measures were introduced, they typically appeared in the media and played a legitimising role. ‘These appointed practitioners’ deliberately chosen from the scientific boards often made infra-decisions in favour of the sovereign patterns, which exclude the different medical pieces of the knowledge thereby supporting infra-healthcare policies held by the government (see Daily Sabah 2020c). The main objective of such pre-emptive policies is to both devalue the different modes of experience and knowledge and enhance the supremacy of limited medico-scientific spaces. This a priori frame simply means that science and knowledge are not independent of discursive practices and ideology because scientific knowledge is defined by the context in which it is transformed and performed (Say 2010, pp. 232–238; Žižek 2008, p. 8).

In this connection, the purpose of forceful actions has been to provide for the dissemination of pandemic norms, which aim at the self-responsibility—even self-disciplineFootnote 15 by the ministries, directorships, and scientific boards. Although the national-medical strategies were designed to remain for the reproduction of (existing) social entities, concerning Turkey, albeit not entirely, they have been put in place hastily and hence lost their ‘usual function’ in the long run. In other words, in the case of an infra-state of emergency, in addition to health, many power structures that regulate and reproduce society, such as the economy, politics, education, law, etc., have had to control both risk policies and existing conditions. The new normalisation stage, therefore, sought to stabilise ‘emerging chaos’ by re-regulating the infra-healthcare system while also urging the maintenance of other social institutions at optimal levels. The economic disparity, for instance, between not only the social classes and the precariats but also sectors, has been growing (Aydın and Ari 2020), as measures mainly centring on the notion of ‘public health’ have intensified. Despite the financial help packages, the long-term socio-economic impact of the pandemic has brought about a sharp decline in the incomes of ‘marginalised actors’ like Syrians in Turkey and increased the vulnerabilities (Demir Seker et al. 2020), which did not also favour the lower middle class. Such imbalances between gradual policies aimed at adapting new rules and their exigency seeking to slow the transmission rate have obscured the path to both sustainable solutions and the use of force in terms of monetary, legal, medical, and societal stability. In this respect, we can argue that the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis has been due to the exceptional policies stemmed from the politics of risk as the juridico-scientific norm that served as a foundation for the infra-suspension of legal acts buried in discursive practices for ‘public health.’

The quandary state of the pandemic in Turkey has thus promised an arena in which new health standards and guidelines, particularly those specified by the Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, will be imposed. In response to this imposition, the Board members—who are ultimately the decision-makers—have made appearances in the media, hindering alternative ideas and criticisms (Bianet 2020b). These dissenting views, to illustrate, argued that there were remarkable discrepancies between the fatalities and cases recognised by the Ministry of Health and local governments. Their opposing positions have been marginalised and attempted to nullify by means of the infra-level of counterarguments. This marginalisation, therefore, raises the question of whether medical-scientific knowledge is distorted by ‘the pre-emption of political will.’ Another question that may be addressed by using the Agambenian lens is whether the states construct the exceptional agenda based on fatalities—the politics of death as holding a monopoly on the pharmaceutical and medical industries to define whom both are included and excluded. Put succinctly, the infra-healthcare policies, which might potentially convert into a despotic rule, especially pose the issue of whose life is more precious and vice versa. By criticising Italy’s quarantines and closures as a ‘techno-medical despotism’ on his website in late February, Agamben also reflected such contradictory facets of the pandemic (Caldwell 2020). Nonetheless, evaluating the Turkish dilemma only from Agamben’s angle does not present a fully clear picture, but his notion of the state of exception creates a space that allows us to explore whether and to what extent the emerging medico-political norms are solidifying to seek the future medical politics and governmentalitiesFootnote 16 as an inflected form of disciplinary and biopolitical power (Schecter 2010, p. 175). Therefore, COVID-19 as a risk factor in Turkey reached a state of emergency at the infra-level of health policy during this time. That is, it emerged as the pre-emptive form of an exception rather than a sovereign exception. Based on such collections of coexistence, Turkey’s early post-pandemic experience, which advertised the medical campaigns pre-empting people’s physical, mental, emotional, and social health, may thus be conceived of as a continuum that covered new (de)subjectivities—homines sacri by exploiting the infra-politico-medical and scientific power paths.


While the COVID-19 emergency has deeply impacted all aspects of social life in Turkey, it has taken on an environmental context both inside and outside of its frontiers. The policies against this threat were initially preconditioned by the pre-pandemic experience—danger revealed itself as a possibility, which fuelled the ontopower patterns for taking pre-emptive measures. The specific medico-political/scientific boards and directorships, supported by technological devices and security forces, have been given the authority and monopoly to put the pre-emption into effect. In this period, they played an ‘affective role’ in monitoring people’s health based on their citizenship status at the borders and designing risk policies so that the only Turkish citizens and diasporas were allowed to cross the borders, rather than foreigners. The pre-pandemic process has thus not only given rise to new subjectivities through the disciplinary and biopolitical risk policies but has also instilled a sense of ‘infra-alarmism and security’ in the national-based medical governmentalities.

The emergence of new regulations that poised individuals for getting used to living with the restrictions has had a dramatic effect on society, which has deepened with the first cases. Some medico-political discourses, such as ‘for common sense, public health, to be healthy,’ empowered the state departments while marginalising the alternative scientific views and reports. The objective of the infra-healthcare dynamics in this setting was to leverage the capability of the ministries and medical committees by standardising the scientific truth and enacting the ‘new normal.’ The sovereignty of scientific knowledge based on the discursivities that have been upheld and even canonised as ‘science never lies’ in the eyes of society is tightly connected to this normalisation. Further, a new infra-citizen is created in this mode of exception: This ‘infra-space of dividual’ not only allows for the performance of health practices but is likely to be immediately attached to not-quite occurrences due to the invention of new risk caveats. That is, while this political manoeuvre has no direct sovereign exclusion on events, it does limit future options for action. In this sense, those who performed the pre-emptive mechanisms in the Turkish pandemic experience were regarded as ‘good citizens,’ but those who refused to adhere to this model reached the contingent position of the infra-victims.

The ontological manifestation of this infra-level of the healthcare system has been crystallised by the potentiality of transmission during the pre-pandemic period, whereby a medical governmentality has emerged through the combined exercise of different modes of power such as biopower, environmental power, and sovereign power. Given the early post-pandemic, these modes have sought ways to normalise by exceptionality rather than potentiality. But to achieve this inclusive exclusion, where the infra-citizenship was constructed as the medical anatomy of COVID-19, pre-emptive tones were used in both stages. Since the politico-medical authorities utilised not only regulation of risk to include and sovereign but environmental exclusion to de-subjectify those who did not conform to the emerging standards, the pandemic experience in Turkey has embodied as an infra-state of the exception.