Research Exercise

SOCA3666 Research Exercise
Jane Doe
Research Exercise No.
Bibliographic Details
McLean, K. 2011 The biopolitics of needle exchange in the United States. Critical
Public Health (21): 71–79.
Synopsis of article
This article examines how needle exchange programs (NEPs) are positioned within
Foucault’s notion of biopower within a governmentality framework. Concern about
the spread of infectious diseases with regard to national security and economic growth
is a direct link to biopolitics (the Foulcauldian concept of optimising a populations
vitality). Despite the rise of neoliberalism and an individual’s responsibility for
self, NEPs are a marker of a broader policy than simply care of individual drug
users. Aspects of NEPs that are discussed include the fragmented and illegal nature of
early exchange programmes; how early activism has initiated a broader
argument regarding the welfare of drug users and the wider population; the
positioning of drug users as informed consumers. It also discusses whether NEPs
are examples of bio or necro politics. And, if it is biopolitics; whether or not NEPs
are sacrificing one population for the sake of the majority.
Why is the article relevant to this week’s topic?
The relevance of this article is to topic 4, which can be seen in its close association
with Michael Foucault’s frameworks of governmentality, discourse and biopower
when examining the role needle exchange programs play in the United States.
Bio-power was a concept developed by Foucault with a concentration on the
surveillance of the general public with a focus on hygiene, fertility and crime. The
topic of needle exchange programs and in turn the members of society who choose to
engage in intravenous drug use draws a clear connection with Foucault’s bio-power
theory when one considers the hygiene and crime aspects of NEPs. Hygiene is being
manipulated by the authority as, with the establishment of NEPs, many users of
intravenous drugs feel that having access to clean, new needles is a better option than
risking the sharing of used needles that are possibly contaminated with HIV/AIDS
blood. Simultaneously the authority is able to keep a track on how many users are
taking advantage of NEPs and thus make population predictions based on these
numbers. Considering the crime factor the very possession and use of intravenous
drugs are in themselves illegal. Thus predictions on criminality may also be made.

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