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Part- I: Reading George Orwell and Interpreting Surveillance and Politicization of Biology

By Raj Shah

This article interprets the dystopian impulse in George Orwell’s works[1] that has shaped intellectual agencies’ submissions regarding exploitative power which restricts human freedoms and choices. Such a power aligning with government machinery and administrated via pursuance of a majoritarian outlook or a subversion of government schemata to an individual or a combination of both manufacture accounts of dominance affected by surveillance of modern life. Monitoring inter alia located in restricting physical interactions between individuals constitutes what Michel Foucault called ‘biopower[2]; such existence of biopower constructs those supportive of freedoms and choices as human compositions in defiance of public order and inculcating moral decadence in public life while outlaying a moral ideal through state embodiments. The other aspect I have tried addressing is the power promulgated through suppressed usage of vocabulary, misconstrued versions of history and absence of deviant views from government ideology to manufacture consent for governmentality in citizens. Orwell’s examination of such surveillance and politicised biology of citizens channeled subtly through biopower, focused on a totalitarian regime extending to democratic forms of governance. Apart from that, this article outlines relational comprehension of societal freedoms and expansion of government in public sphere commenting on subversive and prohibitive policies as pursued in North Korea, People’s Republic of China, U.S.S.R and the Republic of India. under Stalin’s regime, and in Indian sub-context through Section 377 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and enactment of AFSPA in Jammu & Kashmir and North-Eastern states through governmentality. This article utilizes Orwellian literature with particular energy on surveillance in modern context weaves itself with Foucault’s theories about governmentality and biopower. This article is divided into two major thematic parts; the former dealing with the subject of Orwellian literature and its lineages to governmentality whereas the later dispenses towards reflections on modern-day usage of biopower through the framework built in the former part. The concluding remarks in the third section separate from analytical engagement sum up the arguments positing questions on sovereignty and development.


Governmentality in its formative understanding has been related to the use of discipline and power to produce and furbish human beings’ agencies in forms favorable to governments’ policies. This view linked with neoliberal phenomenon of governance systematically forwarded since the start of 19th century as traced by Foucault (1975) gained prominence in late 20th century in modern-day policies captured by academic literature [for example Lemke (2002), May (2012) & Walters (2012)] been concerned about a positive outcome of disciplinary public policies. The genesis of such a system is forgotten in aligning governmentality with positivity and the necessity of giving up certain rights of the individual to construct a sovereign body. In that construction of sovereign body – in modern nation-state entities, the government – the inexplicable use of invisible violence through suppressed civil liberties is justified to produce the good of society which may well be pretentious and imaginary.

Orwell in his works such as Animal Farm (1945a), Politics and the English Language (1946), and his magnum opus 1984 captured this nature of exploitative power much before Foucault made his shift from optimist understanding of Discipline in his Discipline and Punish (1975) to concerned account of power in everyday life in The History of Sexuality Vol. I (1978) where he outlined the concept of ‘biopower’. At this juncture, it is appropriate to make the clarification pointing to the difference between discipline and biopower. Foucault himself in Society Must Be Defenced (2003) put forth that “discipline is the technology deployed to make individuals behave, to be efficient and productive workers, biopolitics is deployed to manage population; for example, to ensure a healthy workforce (pp. 242)”.[3] Therefore, biopower as a technology of power dealt more with an analytical eye to a ‘panopticon’ where an authority oversees an entire population divided in individual modes through control over rates of reproduction, mortality among others to derive control, to name a few.

To George Orwell, such technologies enforcing surveillance above population meant restrictions on expanding human choices and freedoms thereby on free will generating better political and economic outcomes. This was particularly true in pre-modernity where subjects – not citizens – were dealt through taxes, and power did not add to economic inflows. Such suppressions above social and political life of citizenry were especially focused in the socialist regime under Stalin which Orwell criticizes for its all-pervasive limiting on choices. Under such totalitarian state which resemble an all-powerful dictator or as Orwell called a ‘big brother’, the limitations in social and political life are effected through subdued vocabulary created by the state. In 1984, Orwell outlines a new language of English called ‘newspeak’ which is inspired by his earlier work of Politics and the English Language. This language created by the state deletes words that would enable the population to dissent against the establishment. In that book, the society is divided into three parts, namely the ruling elites which form the inner party and are key members of establishments, the outer party whose members execute establishment decisions and the proletariats who represent a large majority of the population which is responsible for labor works and lives segregated pointing to politics of spaces. Language in such a society deprives proles to dissent thereby becoming a technology of power to forward domination techniques. In that regard, it is evidentiary that “the language of the conqueror in the mouth of the conquered is ever the language of the slave (Chomsky, 1979: 191)”. Although what should be noted about Orwell’s views about language was his anti-globalist perspective of keeping the English language pure of foreign elements as evidentiary in Politics and the English Language (1946).

One another aspect involved in an explicitly controlled society deals with politics or rather subjugation of memory about places and people. In 1984, the nation depicted as a totalitarian regime, Oceania is at perpetual war with either of only two other nations existing on earth namely Eastasia and Eurasia. But no member of outer party or proles know the reality with which Oceania is at war; only rhetoric of war are published declaring as one of the states as enemy where in actual the inner party itself is bombing Oceania to perpetuate hatred in the collective consciousness. Essential to hyper-nationalistic sentiments and obedience to authority, such sentiments in popular mind give a basis to formulate emergency economic measures of deprivations only to enrich the inner party; a proposition which Orwell had earlier delineated in his Notes on Nationalism (1945b). To Foucault’s analytical engagement with Bentham’s idea of ‘panopticon’, this constituted disciplinary power in the governmentality of the state forwarded through the will of an authoritarian (here the ‘big brother’). Defiance of such discipline by an individual would result in what Orwell referred as ‘unperson’ – someone whose records would be erased from public memory – who never existed but in reality would be subject to brutal torture by the ‘secret police’ ultimately leading to consent with establishment’s views.

Apart from the constrained account of social and political life, the totalitarian regime in Orwell’s understanding effectively suppressed the sexuality of human beings. Foucault’s concept of biopower has emerged from controls in this very sphere concerned with intimate sphere developed in The History of Sexuality Vol. I (1978). Here, governmentality formulates its shape devoid of and bypassing apparatus based outlook of government through institutionalised processes about the morality of sexual behaviour in society. This particular view about sexuality originated in the Victorian era where moral attitudes’ association with intimacy was central to create biopower. Biopolitics in that sense restricted networks of reproduction in society being control on population and also on pleasure. Deviance to such constructed account of morality faced punishment as was the case in Orwell’s 1984 where state ordered marriages and reproduction of the population. Defiance in the form of sexual relationship outside marriage or without marriage through love would result in ‘unperson’ing of such individuals as was the case with Winston Smith, the protagonist of 1984. With this framework of lineages between Orwellian literature and governmentality in the backdrop, the next section would focus on modern-day practices of such biopower.

Raj Shah is a student of Masters in Public Policy at Jindal School of Government and Public Policy.


[1] As this seems to me the best literature resonating Foucault’s biopower.

[2] For a fuller understanding of the concept vide, Foucault (1978).

[3] Here too, one can observe a relative optimism in Foucault’s stance about use of biopower or the politics of it too produce favorable outcomes for the population; a stance which took a shift only in his later works.

Image Source: Biography


  1. Foucault, M. (1978). The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality I. London: Penguin Random House.
  2. Chomsky, N. (1979). Language and responsibility: based on conversations with Mitson Ronat. (J. Viertel, Trans.) New York: Pantheon Books.
  3. Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. London: Secker & Warburg.
  4. Orwell, G. (1946). Politics and the English Language. London: Horizon. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from
  5. Lemke, T. (2002). Foucault, Governmentality, and Critique Rethinking. Rethinking Marxism, 14(3), 49-64.
  6. Walters, W. (2012). Governmentality: Critical encouters. Oxon: Routledge.
  7. Foucault, M. (2007). The Meshes of Power. In W. J. Crampton, & S. Elden (Eds.), Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography (pp. 153-162). Hampshire: Ashgate.
  8. May, S. (2012). Language and Minority Rights: Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Politics of Language. New York: Routledge.
  9. Foucault, M. (2003). Society Must be Defenced: Lectures at the College De France 1975-76. (M. Bertani, A. Fontana, Eds., & D. Macey, Trans.) New York: Picador.
  10. Lazzarto, M. (2002). From Biopower to Biopolitics. Pli 13, 99-113.
  11. Runciman, D. (2008). Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, From Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond. Princeton: Princton University Press.
  12. Orwell, G. (1945a). Animal Farm. London: Secker & Warburg.
  13. Orwell, G. (1945b). Notes on Nationalism. London: Polemic.
  14. Park, S. H. (2002). North Korea: The Politics of Unconventional Wisdom. Boulder: Lynne Riennar Publishers.
  15. Schumpeter, J. (1976). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Routledge.
  16. Sen, A. (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press.
  17. Kobie, N. (2019, January 21). The complicated truth about China’s social credit system. Retrieved from Wired UK:


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