Shaping the human soul

I thought I would venture to write something about biopolitics, because, at least from a certain point of view, it provides an excellent basis for the analysis that should be used when examining, for example, labour policy. 

At the outset, a distinction should be made between the two terms bios and zoe, which describe life. The latter means life as such, as it is common to all living things. Bios, in turn, refers to the way of life of a group or individual, that is, the way we live our lives (see Agamben 1996, 151). Aristotle used the term bios to describe the human aspect of life, its social and political dimension. Today, the term is making a comeback through concepts such as biopower and biopolitics (Kordela 2013, 99.)

 For example, the Foucaultian definition of biopower is ”the right to make live”, which is very different from the sovereign right  ”to put to death” (Lemm & Vatter 2014, 9).  So it is no longer a question of keeping people in check by scaring them with death, with lethal force, but of paying attention to life itself and beginning to construct it in such a way that it serves certain ends. It is a question of managing life in order to renew the conditions of existence of a given population (Lazzarato 2006, 63). The techniques known as biopolitics address the species-human. They are techniques for regulating life, which is affected by illness, old age, death and unemployment (ibid., 68).

Jussi Vähämäki has pointed out that the closest term to biopolitics in the public debate is labour-power or labour policy. According to him, it is labour-power that forms the rational core of biopolitics. After all, labour-power is the ability to do something. It is pure possibility (Vähämäki 2003, 28.) Therefore, managing it from the perspective of a specific population and the renewal of the system is essential. The human ability to do anything or at least something is to be harnessed to a particular purpose. It is not only about the sovereign will or ability to limit people’s actions, as already mentioned, but the aim is to make people act in a certain way, to make them live under certain conditions. It is no longer enough to make people obey, but to make them want in a certain way.

Against this background, Finnish labour policy looks interesting. If we take Kananen’s 2012 comparison of different Nordic countries, we find that in Finland the various reforms have been considerably more severe and have offered much more strict controls to eliminate unwanted behaviour than in the other Nordic countries. In other Nordic countries, the egalitarian side of things has been preserved to a much greater extent (Kananen 2012, 558.)  And recent reforms in Finland have done little to dispel this perception. So what has happened? We can speak of a neoliberal turn, where the aim is to make people ’marketable’. He must be made active and entrepreneurial. Markets are not regulated, they are created, and in the process people must be shaped to respond and adapt to the market. According to Hänninen, this has been the basic objective of labour policy in Finland for the last couple of decades (Hänninen 2014, 187-188.) It can also be said that competitiveness has been a key dimension of Finnish social policy since the 1990s (Pessi & Saari 2011, 16). It is therefore not enough to regulate undesirable behaviour, but to create life in a way that fits a certain mould. This is the labour policy, the management of human potential for specific ends, which is far from neutral, however technical the issue may be presented. It is part of the same process of turning man into human capital and of beginning to carve out his status as a citizen. A topic I will write about later.

So labour policy is not its own isolated bastion, dealing only with labour issues. Rather, it seems to create a kind of center for social life as a whole. Indeed, a number of reforms suggest that there has been a significant increase in labour-centredness in society (see Karjalainen & Keskitalo 2011, 8).

So when we talk about labour policy, we are also talking about the politics of life, because the two are intertwined. Various active measures often seem to be aimed at changing the ”soul” of a person. This is often true when people simply do not seem to want anything from life. Then one has to begin to carve the soul into some form, so that the possibility does not remain a possibility. But the question must be asked. Are these various labour policy techniques neutral? The answer is probably not. They place themselves in the toolbox of a particular political will to manage and control. There is no need to take a position on that political will per se, but this must be understood. There is no such thing as a neutral labour policy because, as we have seen, it cuts across the whole of humanity. Although I write about techniques, people should understand that unemployment, for example (and especially the problems it causes), is not just a technical issue. It is a political issue. In a world where humanity has solved the problem of survival (we have enormous productive forces that can even produce directly to waste while some people suffer from scarcity) there is no reason to treat others as if they were parasites that undermine the national economy. 


Agamben Giorgio 1996. Form-of-Life. Teoksessa Radical Thought In Italy. Toim. Hardt Michael & Virno Paol. s. 151-156

Lazzarato Maurizio 2006. Kapitalismin vallankumoukset. Tutkijaliitto. Helsinki.

Lemm Vanessa & Vatter Miguel 2014. Introduction. Teoksessa Teoksessa The Government of Life : Foucault, Biopolitics, and Neoliberalism. s. 1-14 Toim. Lemm Vanessa & Vatter Miguel

Hänninen Sakari 2014. Työttömän työntekijän mahdoton mahdollisuus. Teoksessa Eriarvoisuuden rakenteet – Haurastuvat työmarkkinat Suomessa. Toimittaneet Lempiäinen Kirsti ja Tiina Silvasti. Vastapaino. Tallinna. s. 184-208

Kananen Johannes 2012. Nordic paths from welfare to workfare: Danish, Swedish and Finnish labour market reforms in comparison. Teoksessa Local Economy 27(5–6) 558–576. Sage publications.

Karjalainen Vappu & Keskitalo Elsa 2013. Mitä on aktivointi ja aktiivipolitiikka? Teoksessa Kaikki työuralle! Työttömien aktiivipolitiikkaa Suomessa. Toim. Karjalainen Vappu & Keskitalo Elsa. Juvenes Print – Suomen Yliopistopaino Oy. Tampere. s. 7-20.

Kordela  Aglaia Kiarina 2013.  Being, Time, Bios – Capitalism and Ontology. State University of New York Press

Vähämäki Jussi 2003. Kuhnurien kerho. Tutkijaliitto. Helsinki

Pessi Anne Birgitta & Saari Juho 2011. Auttaminen kilpailukyky-yhteiskunnassa. Teoksessa Hyvien ihmisten maa – Auttaminen kilpailukyky-yhteiskunnassa. Toim. Saari Juho & Pessi Anne Birgitta. Juvenes Print Oy. Tampere. s. 15-42