From Biopower to Empower – How to Get Plump, or Why Do We Choose What We Choose?

  • Ignaas DevischEmail author
Part of the Advancing Global Bioethics book series (AGBIO, volume 8)


With concepts like ‘governmentality’, ‘pastoral power’ or ‘population’, in his later lectures on biopolitics, Michel Foucault attempted to conceive the question how the care for public health became indeed a central task and for politics and for all of us. Health is not only on the political agenda of many governments (governmentality), it’s presence runs as an bioimperative through the whole of society. It appeals to all of us (a totalizing technique) and to each one of us (individualized). There is obviously something wrong with us (pastoral power) if we don’t obey the imperative. I apply his analysis to the contemporary discourse on health promotion, the growing interest of the government and insurance companies in our daily activities and their attempt to interfere in it. Analysing the case of obesity, I will explore how the discourse on patient empowerment is actually the ethico-medical way through which people are governed. Far from a neutral plead, patient empowerment puts the individual responsibility for our health right at the centre of today’s medical discourse. Being unhealthy has become the synonym for not having done enough. It is therefore no coincidence that today, public health, especially in industrialised countries, has also become a question of having no longer access to the health insurance due to ‘bad behaviour’, of being excluded from health facilities, of food industry trying to get a grip on our food habits and tastes with food supplements, etcetera. What we are dealing with today – public health as an explicit task of contemporary politics – not only can be understood as the culmination of an ongoing process of government of our daily life out of a medical perspective; it is also an explicit political evolution which needs to be made explicit, in order to understand the biopolitical ideology behind it.


Foucault Biopower Governmentality Obesity Public health Risk 


Acknowledgements and Conflicts of Interest

This invited article has drawn indirectly and in the last section verbatim on the content of the previously published paper ‘FOUCAULT AT THE BEDSIDE: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF EMPOWERING A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE ‘((2015) Devisch, Ignaas and Vanheule Stijn, Foucault at the bedside: a critical analysis of empowering a healthy lifestyle. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice. Doi: 10.111/jep.12329). This derivation has been utilized to re-present and emphasize previously articulated observations, opinions and contentions. The author of the current paper declares no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ghent UniversityGentBelgium

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