Kathryn Zacharek profile

Kathryn Zacharek

Kathryn Zacharek

University of Brighton (2023)


Dr Andy Knott


The Biopoiltics of Right-Wing Populism: The People, The Population and Racializing Assemblages


This research aims to offer a more specific insight into racialised violence under current conditions of capitalist democracy by drawing upon populism studies and biopolitical theory so that we can interrogate racial violence produced by right-wing populism as well as put us in a better position to discuss what constitutes a more democratic practice of biopolitics. We currently live in a “populist moment” (Mouffe,2018) whereby the internal antagonism between “the elite” and “the people” has been exploited by right-wing populist actors to produce a social frontier on the grounds of race. This is due to the continued lack of democratic control over many aspects of ordinary people’s lives (Canovan,1999). Additionally, although biopolitical theory does offer an account of racism (Foucault,1975-76; Agamben,1998; Esposito,2008), since the Covid-19 pandemic, questions around how biopolitical mechanisms are deployed to police “the people” and its outside have come to the forefront.

I argue that it is necessary to study this problem by drawing on both populism and biopolitics because populism's emphasis on formulation and political strategy means that there is no thorough survey of history and its effects on the construction of "the people" on the grounds of race, it only offers the means to reinterpret the discursive construction of these social movements. Yet, this normative element is something that is missing from biopolitical theory. Although theorists such as Mbembe (2003) offer an account of biopolitics that situates race at the heart of their work, it is too focused on diagnoses. Biopolitical mechanisms do not operate in a political vacuum, and the ideologies and discourses which underpin them warrant investigation. Yet, in both bodies of thought, there remains a profound yet unconfronted ambiguity in how racialised body features. A theoretical encounter is required, which shall be staged through this research project to overcome this.