Jemima Repo, The Biopolitics of Gender, Oxford University Press, Oxford UK, 2016,232 pages, $49.95 hardback, ISBN 9780190256913.
A genealogical approach to social science’s objects and categories helps in pushing further and partly displacing the very function of critical discourse: as Jemima Repo puts it, building on Foucault, “in a genealogical inquiry it is not enough to simply denaturalize and destabilize discourses […] the central stage of genealogy is to examine the condition of possibility for the emergence, expansion, intensification, transformation and destruction of discourses” (page 9). In The Biopoltics of Gender, Repo fully achieves this goal, retracing the emergence of gender theory and showing its centrality in mechanisms of contemporary biopolitical governmentality. Repo traces back to the 1950s the emergence of gender as a social, political and medical category that has been embedded from the very beginning in “logics of social control that reconfigured the sexual order of things” (page 25). Hence, her genealogical account shows that, far from originating within the feminist tradition, gender appeared firstly in the regulatory discourses of US sexological studies. Then, gender has been put to work by demographers with a purpose of social control and has functioned as a primary mechanism within contemporary biopolitics of populations. What clearly emerges from the book is that gender works through, and within, biopolitical technologies of government. Pushing this argument further, Repo shows that gender has not simply contributed to the affirmation of neoliberal biopolitics, but it also constitutes a “biopolitical apparatus” in itself, for regulating populations and governing life. By acting both upon populations and upon singular conducts, gender (similarly to dispositive of sexuality) represents a crucial hinge between the level of individuals and that of multiplicities. In fact, in The Will to Knowledge Foucault contends that sex “was at the pivot of two axes along which developed the entire political technology of life” (1998: 145). More precisely, according to Repo, “gender became invested with dangers, norms and vitalities that previously were terrain of sexuality” (page 73).