January 14, 2021
First published on Turkish Policy Quarterly web page.
This article is an attempt to address Coronavirus crisis within the framework of French thinker Michel Foucault’s (1926-1984) conceptualizations. Foucault’s conceptualizations of “biopower” and “governmentality” can be used as analytical tools in the analysis of Coronavirus management of different countries. On the one hand, the vaccination campaign has being continuing in a steady way in many countries. Amid this process, on the other hand, the concerns and debates about the Coronavirus vaccines have been on the global agenda.
Coronavirus is continuing to spread all over the world with nearly 90 million confirmed cases in 190 countries and almost two million deaths. The COVID-19 pandemic which emerged in Wuhan city of China in December 2019 spread all over the world in a very short time and led to significant changes in both domestic and foreign policies of almost all countries. Coronavirus which started as a health crisis soon began to affect the political decision-making processes of countries with its economic and security dimensions.
In the international arena, COVID-19 has gone beyond a health crisis. Considering the economic costs, it can be said that even great states such as the USA and the UK have not been successful in crisis management. The insufficiency and inability of international institutions such as the World Health Organization and the European Union in this process is another side of the coin.
Unfortunately, in the early days of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic still remains as a serious threat to humanity. The development of the vaccine against Coronavirus can be seen as the most promising development in this process. As of the end of 2020, COVID-19 vaccination has started in countries such as USA, China, Israel, Russia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and United Kingdom. More than 18.9 million doses in 39 countries have been administered, according to the data of Bloomberg.
With regard to Turkish case concerning the pandemic, it is known that Turkey received the first batch of 3 million doses of the Chinese injection in late December. The samples from the vaccines are currently being tested in national laboratories. The Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca said that Turkey is currently seeking ways to increase the doses of COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Germany-based BioNTech company.
The Pandemic from a Foucauldian Perspective
Foucault’s term of “bio-power” can simply be defined as the power of exercising control over populations by the governments. The governments regulate and control populations through “biopower” (based on the application of political power on all aspects of life). Foucault’s analysis of power in Discipline and Punish was an analysis of anatomo-politics of the body focusing on the penal system. The new type of power that Foucault emphasized is biopower which means “the administration of bodies and the calculated management of life”. Biopower is directly related with the well-being of populations, governance based on biopolitics requires paying attention to diseases such as Coronavirus. Today, governments pursue ways to manage Coronavirus crisis and vaccination is one of the most applied strategies in this crisis management. Vaccination can be seen as a tool of biopolitics.
On the other hand, another concept coined by Foucault is “governmentality”. Governmentality can basically be defined as the sum of the techniques and strategies used to make a society governable. Governmentality requires multiple actors in human conduct. Besides state agencies, these actors include NGOs, scientific experts, the media, corporations, as well as natural processes that erode governance, such as pandemics. In this regard, it can be argued that COVID-19 pandemic has lately been a critical agent affecting state policies.
There are various policies of governments in fighting the Coronavirus pandemic. These policies differ from region to region and country to country. Every government has applied a different biopolitics approach. For example, what United Kingdom adopted in the early days of the outbreak of the pandemic was the “herd immunity” policy. However this caused the infection of thousands of people and created a serious problem. Chinese government preferred to keep government’s fight with the pandemic as a secret state policy. Turkish government has adopted a strong social welfare state approach in managing the Coronavirus crisis. A good example for social welfare state policy has been the establishment of Vefa Social Support Groups. The group was set up by the Interior Ministry to help citizens over 65 and those in need particularly those who live alone or with chronic ailments. It should be noted that Turkey has not begun vaccination yet unlike many European countries. This can be regarded as a challenge to effective governmentality.
In brief, as noted above, every government has adopted a different approach based on their own style “governmentality” and “biopolitics” but the purpose of each government has been the same: Efficient management of the crisis caused by the pandemic. Vaccination is a significant step in this path to reach efficient management of the crisis
 BBC, (Jan 8, 2021) Covid-19 pandemic: Tracking the global coronavirus outbreak, Covid-19 pandemic: Tracking the global coronavirus outbreak – BBC News (Accessed on 9.1.2021)
 Bloomberg, (Jan 9, 2021) More Than 18.9 Million Shots Given: Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker More Than 18.9 Million Shots Given: Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker (bloomberg.com) (Accessed on 9.1.2021)
 Hurriyet Daily News, (Jan 8, 2021) Turkey seeks access to more doses of BioNTech vaccine, Turkey seeks access to more doses of BioNTech vaccine – Turkey News (hurriyetdailynews.com) (Accessed on 9.1.2021)
 M. Foucault, (1977) Discipline and Punish—The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan, New York Vintage.
 M. Foucault (1978) History of Sexuality Vol.1., Pantheon Books, New York, p. 40.
 J. A. Baptista, (2018) Governmentality, Governmentality – Baptista – – Major Reference Works – Wiley Online Library (Accessed on 9.1.2021)
 B. Burak, (2020) Coronavirus as a litmus test for Turkey’s soft power and social welfare state policies, Coronavirus as a litmus test for Turkey’s soft power and social welfare state policies – BBurak (blogactiv.eu) (Accessed on 9.1.2021)
Author : Begum Burak