Biopolitics and the Longevity of Left-Handers

Part of the Advancing Global Bioethics book series (AGBIO, volume 8)


One aspect of Foucault’s concept of biopolitics concerns how society manages or governs certain groups of people, in particular when that sort of governance requires scientific knowledge about the group or kind of people in question. Left-handers are one example of a kind of people that has to be studied and managed. In the early twentieth century, left-handedness among school children was perceived as a growing problem. Not only parents, but teachers and school principals had to deal with this problem and they called upon scientists to give them more knowledge about these problematic children. Since then there has been no end to research on left-handers, in particular in psychology and health sciences. The paper discusses one such case, a series of studies aimed at answering the question whether left-handers die on average younger than right-handers. Discussion of these studies reveals how problematic the scientific definition of left-handedness is and also what effects (what Foucault termed power-effects) this sort of research has on its subjects. Although there is nowadays less pressure in the school system to manage left-handed children, the production of knowledge about left-handers continues. The paper focuses on how this knowledge is diffused through scientific literature, popular science literature and mass media; and how these studies have given rise to confrontation and conflict.


Foucault Biopower Life-expectancy Abnormality Classification 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Ethics and History of MedicineUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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