Necropolitics : Andrés Fabián Henao Castro

Juan M. Echavarria / ¿De qué sirve una taza? (What is the use of a cup?)

Necropolitics :
Andrés Fabián Henao Castro

Achille Mbembe’s “Necropolitics” (2003) represents death’s entrance into the conceptual field of political science.1  Since Socrates defined philosophy as the art of dying in order to qualify the nature of being human in the Phaedo, death had been under philosophy’s conceptual domain in the Western tradition.2 Other disciplines, however, had already started to think about death differently. Psychoanalysis did, for instance, when Sigmund Freud subverted his own theory of the libido by introducing the concept of the death-drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920); anthropology did too, when Johannes Fabian challenged the field claiming that death had “ceased to be a problem of anthropological inquiry.”3  So did sociology, when Orlando Patterson conceptualized modern slavery as a form of social death.4 But death had—when not subordinated to the concept of war (as in Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, etc.)—escaped the conceptual field of political science until Mbembe.

Mbembe writes “Necropolitics” under a double motivation. On the one hand, he does that to disrupt the ethical turn of critical theory toward ideal norms, under the influence of Jürgen Habermas. Here, Mbembe follows Paul Gilroy’s critique, who shows communicative reason to have been shaped by the “anti-discursive and extra-linguistic ramifications of power” characteristic of plantation slavery and colonization.5  On the other hand, Mbembe introduces necropolitics to expand on Michel Foucault’s critique of power, as an alternative path for critical theory. Foucault identified a historical change in Western modernity’s technologies of power in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when state power took life, rather than death—the sovereign right to kill—as its main object. Having already distinguished disciplinary from sovereign power, Foucault named this technology “biopolitics” and qualified it as invested in the government/administration of the life of the population.6

Biopolitics, however, has a kind of double origin in Foucault’s work. The same year the first volume of The History of Sexuality (1976) was published, Foucault delivered his yearly Lectures at the Collège de France on the genealogy of the racist state: Society Must be Defended (1975-1976).7   Both texts are complementary, but there are also significant differences. The History of Sexuality focuses on the discursive invention of sexuality in the eighteenth century. Although race is central to the last part of the book, it is only in the Lectures that Foucault presents race as the sole discourse capable of introducing “a break into the domain of life that is under power’s control: the break between what must live and what must die.”8  In Society Must be Defended, Foucault offers a genealogy of race wars and state racism that acknowledges the colonial invention of the racial caesura.9  However, as Alexander G. Weheliye argues, not only Foucault but also Giorgio Agamben failed to analyze the discourses and technologies that invented racial difference through colonization as the foundation of Western modernity/rationality.10  

Although Mbembe does address the colonial history of race, his focus on race comes at the expense of Foucault’s history of sexuality. Not that sexuality is entirely absent from Mbembe’s account of necropolitics, who turns to George Bataille’s way of linking death and eroticism in order to conceptualize sovereign power as an “absolute expenditure” able to blur the lines between reality and fantasy (N 13). His reading, however, does not expound on the colonial intersection of race, class, and sex, already explored by Ann Stoler, and eventually expanded with the reception of biopolitics and necropolitics in queer and feminist theory (more on this below).11  With his specific focus on race, however, Mbembe turns both historically and geographically to the colonies, where European settlers and proto-trans-national corporations first developed technologies of power oriented toward the production of death in mass. As Mbembe argues, modern slavery should be considered “one of the first instances of biopolitical experimentation” (N 21). Likewise, he also considers both plantation slavery and the penal colony as the first properly modern states of exception, this time modifying the reception of biopolitics in Agamben’s work (N 22).12  Genocide, which Foucault understood as the dominant form that death took under a bio-politically dominated world, was not invented by the European totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century but by the agencies and colonial structures of merchant capitalism of the long sixteenth century (1450-1650). The necropolitical theater of these agencies was not Europe but the slave ship travelling through the Atlantic Ocean, and the colonial plantations settled in Africa and in the continent that colonizers renamed the “Americas.” Mbembe rightly argues that it is in the colonies, through the implementation of apartheid policies that prohibited mixed marriages, forced sterilization, and dictated the extermination of indigenous populations, that we can see “the first synthesis between massacre and bureaucracy, that incarnation of Western rationality” (N 23).

Mbembe’s focus on the colonies also allows him to complicate the circumscription of the sovereign right to kill to the figure of the king. The European king was neither the sole entity able to take people’s lives or let them live, nor the most significant one in performing such function in the colonies (N 33). A plurality of semi-autonomous colonial agencies not entirely subordinated to the king legally administered death in the colonies in forms beyond the scope of biopolitics. Because of that, Mbembe finds Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s idea of the “war machine” more useful to understand the plurality of functions these colonial agencies combined (N 32–33).13

Not only the repressive apparatuses of the state but paramilitary and parapolice forces turned the right to kill into a disaggregated and pluralized business of value-extraction, labor disciplining, and form of territorial administration.14 Tracing the colonial genealogy of modern state terror to racial formations engineered by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonization leads Mbembe to the war machines of the present, whereas biopolitics takes Foucault farther into history. Foucault, who wanted to de-essentialize the subject as a historical product of power, goes all the way back to Greek and Roman antiquity in his subsequent investigations into the government of the living and the death.15  By contrast, Mbembe’s investigation drives him to Israel’s colonization of Palestine, which Mbembe rightly qualifies as “the most accomplished form of necropower” in its ability to integrate the biopolitical, the disciplinary, and the necropolitical (N 27). Mbembe defines necropolitics and necropower as concepts useful to account 

for the various ways in which, in our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead. (N 40)

Death worlds are worlds in which lethal violence, otherwise exclusive of war, becomes normalized and entire racialized populations are forced to live their lives in great proximity to death and to the public insignificance of their loss. Death worlds are also worlds in which that looming threat comes not only from a structural system of dispossession but also from a plurality of agents that can take lives with total impunity. Death worlds are, in short, worlds in which death takes two mutually reinforcing forms. On the one hand, necropolitical technologies of power pluralize the “taking of life”; in this form, death is as the effect of extrajudicial killings, massacres, and enforced disappearances, among other forms of state-sanctioned terror performed by a variety of agents. Moreover, this conception of death applies to all colonial and post-colonial contexts that never achieved that infamous Weberian qualification of the modern state: monopoly over the legitimate use of violence (e.g., the case of Angola in “Necropolitics” [N 35]). On the other hand, necropolitical technologies of power also pluralize the forms of “letting die”; this is death resulting from the coercion of racialized populations to live under environmentally unlivable conditions, infrastructural warfare, or life-threatening austerity. And yet, death worlds are also worlds in which those subjected to such conditions organize and publicly refuse to be thus governed. Moreover, these are worlds in which those conditions are contested through a different engagement with death itself. Hence, unlike Foucault’s investigation, which says little about the modalities of resistance to biopower, Mbembe concludes his account by turning to the case of the suicide bomber (N 35–39). This line of research will be significantly expanded by Banu Bargu (I will say more on this below). 

Like any new concept, the concept of necropolitics has faced important criticism. Shatema Threadcraft, for instance, claims that not only Mbembe but also the development of his theory in Melissa Wright’s effort to understand feminicides in Ciudad Juárez as necropolitical pays “insufficient attention to the state’s role in producing properly embodied forms of something less than death and something greater than what is necessary to produce death, overkill.”16 On the subject of overkill, Jared Sexton considers the necropolitical conceptualization of slavery inadequate to theorize slavery’s aftermath and explain the forms of terror that are unique to anti-black violence.17  Instead of responding to those critiques, in what follows I would like to expand on necropolitics’ conceptual plane of immanence by exploring four relationships: (1) the relationship of necropolitics to capitalism; (2) the relationship of necropolitics to the political; (3) the relationship of necropolitics to intersectionality; (4) and the relationship of necropolitics to the properly necro: the corpse.18

Necropolitics and Capitalism

If race fades away from biopolitics when Foucault moves from the Lectures to the book, the first volume of The History of Sexuality does offer a better understanding of biopolitics’ relationship to capitalism. There, Foucault claims that biopower “was without question an indispensable element in the development of capitalism; the latter would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes.”19   The relationship of biopolitics to capitalism becomes even clearer in the next two Lectures courses, when Foucault turns to a critique of (neo)liberal political economy.20 Race and capitalism, however, rarely meet in Foucault’s theory and are thus relatively absent from the more critical accounts that he inspired, as in the case of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Marxist re-reading of biopolitics.21

What about necropolitics? The literature on this subject identifies various areas of convergence. Mbembe himself, one could argue, uses necropolitics to differentiate what Marx under-theorized as history’s midwifery, when he claimed force to be an economic power capable of historically transforming a non-capitalist world into a capitalist one.22 Necropolitics shows how the expropriation of workers from their means of production, on a global scale, was inseparable from the production of death worlds in the colonies, beginning with the genocides that engineered the “original accumulation of capital.”23 This is necropolitics as the technology that conditions the possibility of “racial capitalism” as a world-system.24 But necropolitics also relates to capitalism by offering a set of instruments to accelerate the extraction of value (a new weaponry). Structural adjustment programs, “free” trade agreements, and economic sanctions, to name only a few, can more effectively produce other kinds of death worlds for the accumulation of capital. This is what decolonial theorists Marina Gržinić and Šefik Tatlić try to capture with the term necro-capitalism, as they seek to understand how the neoliberal financialization of life links war and mass death in the Third World to the accumulation of capital in the First World.25  Equally significant in this regard is Warren Montag’s stretching of Mbembe’s framework to qualify Adam Smith’s defense of market liberalism as “necro-economics.” Montag shows how the harmony of Smith’s self-regulated market actually depends on “the demand that some must allow themselves to die,” or be compelled by the state if wiling to refuse.26

Necropolitics also relates to capitalism when death itself is commodified. Such commodification takes two different forms. First, the form that John Troyer conceptualizes as necrovalue, which refers to “postmortem biological materials produced by the necro-technical repurposing of the human corpse.”27  But death also enters the commodity form in the ways in which the taking of life itself is commodified. “Necropolitics,” Sayak Valencia argues in her excellent understanding of neoliberal capitalism in the Global South as gore, “desacralizes biopolitics and commodifies the processes of dying” in more radical ways.28  Excluded from the possibility of participating in other commodity-circuits, while refusing to be the victims of neoliberal disposability, some opt for engaging in parallel necro-economies that make of death a market and a source of living. Valencia names these subjects the endriagos, “businessman who apply and synthesize the most aberrant neoliberal demands and logics” in relation to the commodification of death.29 Endriagos are, to put it simply, the necropolitical version of the biopolitical homo economicus, who subsumes all areas of existence and, above all, death itself, according to an image of the economic.

Necropolitics, finally, also relates to capitalism in other two senses. First, in the sense that capital can be understood as the accumulation of dead labor. Socially alive or dead, all labor exhausts its existence in the production of commodities and, thus, accumulates as alienated labor in the material objects that have gone through the metamorphosis of the commodity-form. Capitalism converts different forms of living labor (some socially alive others socially dead, others confined to the unpaid labor involved in social reproduction) into dead capital. This is different from fixed capital, as Marx would have call it when referring exclusively to the machine, which is only one form that it can take. Capital, to put it differently, is a profane gravesite of sorts, one in which labor once living (even if considered as socially dead) is hold captive post-mortem and for as long as private property rules. This idea, albeit related to the ways in which Marx thinks about the real subsumption of labor by capital, goes beyond his understanding of that process.30

Lastly, there is the relation between accumulation and the imminent death of the Earth itself. The Earth can no longer renew itself at the speed at which capitalism extracts from it and then proceeds to pollute it. There is an urgent conversation between necropolitics and the racial Capitalocene, which is the proper way of politicizing what the concept of the Anthropocene otherwise depoliticizes.31  Here, posthumanist theory offers great analyses. Donna Haraway, for instance, speaks of a form of “making killable” that goes beyond biopolitics. “Making killable” captures the coerced reproduction of nonhuman animal life for death—whether in the form of pharmacological experimentation or for profit in the food industry, among others—that already renders the killing of other species automatically permissible.”32 Plant life (i.e., deforestation) and mineral resources (oil, coal, diamonds, etc.) are subjected to similar necro-economic calculations. As Rosi Braidotti argues, expanding on the work of Vandana Shiva, the biopolitical caesura separating what must live and what must die is not only the byproduct of techniques of discipline and control, but also of “‘bio-genetic farming of data,’ and ‘bio-piracy.’”33

Necropolitics and the Political

The ancient Greeks used two words to refer to death: nekros and thanatos. As with zoe and bios, Troyer clarifies, “thanatos is death that affects all being and nekros is a form-of-death, as in the human corpse. Nekros defines a kind of body while thanatos surrounds the body as the immanent possibility of death.”34 This explains why Agamben used thanatos, rather than nekros, in his own a-historical and quasi-ontological development of Foucault’s framework.35 Per contrast, Mbembe adopts uses the more historical-political language of necropolitics.

While the terminological choice is significant, it is not sufficient to explain the relationship of this term to the political. This is all the more true, if one considers the political to be not about the domain of one of these terms—bios/necro rather than zoe/thanatos—but about the public dispute over the distribution of populations into one or the other. Mbembe introduces necropolitics to investigate the public forms of political dissidence that resist the disposability under which racialized populations are governed through a certain alternative engagement with death itself. However, it is Banu Bargu who has further developed the political dimension of necropolitics through her own concept of necroresistance.

Bargu opens her chapter on necroresistance contrasting how radically different the death-events of Turkish hunger striker Mehmet was when compared to that of Damiens, the famous French regicide of the opening lines of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.36  Unlike Damiens, who is gruesomely executed by the king in order to dissuade others, Mehmet, a member of Turkey’s Death Fast Resistance insurgent group, performatively stages his dying in order to persuade others to emulate the act and mobilize in its wake toward a collective struggle for communism in Turkey.37  As Bargu argues, Mehmet is not a condemned body like Damiens, but an insurgent one; the violence self-inflicted on Mehmet’s body does not restore the violence of the sovereign order but challenges it. And that is the case, too, with the suicide bomber.

Bargu also laments Foucault’s under-conceptualization of the political, as resistance remains secondary for him and ultimately derivative from the power/knowledge structure and/or technology of power being resisted. Inspired by Mbembe’s turn to politics, Bargu introduces necroresistance in order to expand on the ways in which resistance and death become entangled when insurgent subjects resist what she calls “biosovereignty,” acknowledging the complex interaction between sovereign, disciplinary, and biopolitical technologies of power (SI 51). As she argues, critical of Agamben, necroresistance refers to the public actions of those who “oppose the valorization of survival over political existence,” those who instead of “embracing pure existence and its vulnerability and activating it,” “refuse it by sacrificing their biological existence in the name of their political existence” (SI 81–82). Bargu’s understanding of necroresistance also offers a clearer political understanding of the suicide bomber than Mbembe’s. In Bargu’s articulation, it is survival in the rather dispoliticized (rather than depoliticized) sense of being reduced to mere biological existence under an ongoing colonial occupation or imperial intervention that a political subject like the suicide bomber or the hunger striker decides to sacrifice in the name of the very political existence that they are being denied (SI 70–79). And this is what martyrdom performs as a counter-discourse in which the action can be given a rival textual framework to the hegemonic one under which it is already colonially distorted as either senseless (irrational) or morally neutralized as evil.

Notwithstanding Bargu’s excellent theorization of necroresistance, the problem of race and its structural relation to capitalism does tend to fade away in her own theorization of the political. Hence, necroresistance focuses on counter-public death-events but leaves the uneventful politics of the everyday life relatively undertheorized. Like Bargu, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson also turns to the insurgency of bodies structurally marked for death, but the insurgency that she unpacks is conditioned by the more corporeally aggressive violence of anti-blackness.38  Anti-black violence kills the body not only through the active taking of their life, as in the extrajudicial killing of Black people by police officers in the United States, but through complementary lethal forms of “letting it die.” Anti-black violence, in short, speeds-up the killing when people refuse to comply with the structurally imposed “slow death” (Laurent Berlant) and then also “overkills” (Eric Stanley) the body, when state violence continues to violate the corpse post-mortem.39 Beyond Bargu, then, Jackson shows the theater of necroresistance to be more insidiously corporeal, as it is:

the black(ened) maternal body’s endocrine system, organ systems, neuropsychological pathways, and cellular functioning [that] are essential agencies in antiblack necropower, such that the distinction between the body and war’s weaponry no longer rests on a solid boundary between human subjectivity and external environment, nor that of subject and object.40

Under those conditions, Jackson understands post-humanist aesthetics as able to offer us another insurgent theater for the forms that Black necroresistance can take. This is the necroresistant role that Jackson discerns in the experimental artwork of Wangechi Mutu and in the poetry of Audre Lorde, among others.41

Necropolitics and Intersectionality

Necropolitics has been further developed in queer and feminist theory, with their focus on the materially entangled and historically co-constituted nature of race, class, sex, disability, ethnicity, and nationality. Crucial here is the work of Jasbir Puar, who prefers the more poststructuralist, fluid language of assemblage theory to that of intersectionality, to analyze the neoliberal folding of subjects previously excluded on the basis of one social difference (i.e., the “homosexual”), into the biopolitical management of life on the condition that they align themselves with U.S. imperialism.42 Central to this neoliberal strategy of selective inclusion, is what Puar calls the fractioning and fractalizing of identity: “whereby subjects (the ethnic, the homonormative) orient themselves as subjects though their disassociation or disidentification from others disenfranchised in similar ways in favor of consolidating with axes of privilege.”43

“Homonationalism” is the concept that Puar introduces to capture a significant change in U.S. (sexual) exceptionalism, given the contingent integration of the homonational subject into the broader project of U.S. imperialism on the condition of helping to produce the queer terrorist of elsewhere, and of pathologizing Muslim male sexuality in particular.44   Puar’s concept of “homonationalism” was then influential in the development of David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder’s concept of “ablenationalism.”45  As Mitchell, Snyder, and Susan Antebi argue, rather than understanding disability as “already a part of the process of materiality’s active, unfolding participation in the world,” ableism forces disability to “embody the devalued state of existence upon which its own capacitated desirability depends.”46 From the most immediate effects of industrial capitalism to eugenic projects such as the Nazi Operation T4, disability classifications actively qualified non-normative bodies for destruction, for failing to embody the ableist productive/consumerist standard of homo-economicus.47 Like homonationalism, then, ablenationalism restrictively suspended this carceral form of disability on the condition that those selectively integrated helped to disavow the force of the system’s new modalities of normativity. These included but were not restricted to the individual responsibilization for disability accommodation or entrepreneurial capacitation of the discapacitated, according to the biopolitical norms of neoliberalism.”48 Homonationalism and ablenationalism both demonstrate, as Puar argues, why it is so important to keep the “tension” between biopolitics and necropolitics and yet “hold the two concepts together.”49  This intersectional form of analysis has been further advanced by others, like Adi Kuntsman, Silvia Posocco, Jin Haritaworn, C. Riley Snorton, and Puar herself. The latter expands on Foucault’s framework through the prisms of trans and crip theory to speak not of a right to kill but of a “right to maim.”50 I, however, would like to conclude this section by briefly referencing two approaches that emphasize resistance, not in opposition to Puar’s move in queer theory to address “the convivial relations” between queerness and contemporary war machines, but precisely to resituate resistance against those relations.51

On the one hand, there is the effort of Mitchell and Snyder to embrace the nonproductive labor power of the disabled as a way of rethinking the concept of the multitude.52 The queer failure (Jack Halberstam) to produce, consume, and exist according to the normative demands of ablenationalism are here mobilized as a revolutionary anti-capitalist counter-conduct with ecological implications in the fight against racial Capitalocene.53  On the other hand, consider Heike Schotten’s call to destroy, rather than defend, the “civilizationalist moralism of life and death that underpins, motivates, and defines the US imperial project.”54 Schotten expands on Puar’s analysis of the queerness of the terrorist by means of Lee Edelman’s understanding of the terror that the queer represents, as the agency that personifies death to the future reproduction of the social order. Schotten, however, politicizes Edelman by decolonially qualifying the future that the queer terrorist refuses, not as any future but as the future of the settler colonial and imperial order.55 Whether as multitude or in the form of queer terror, the very negativity (nonproductive labor/death-drive) already cathecting these populations to death is here politically embraced and re-signified as the material source of their liberation (necroresistance).

Necropolitics and the Necro

There is, finally, the relationship of necropolitics to the human corpse, as in the public conflict over the burial of insurgent bodies in Turkey that led Bargu to publish “Another Necropolitics.”56 The title echoes Mbembe’s work and yet, “another,” highlights something missing in Mbembe’s work: the political conflict over the re-membering of some dead rather than others. Notwithstanding the dominant reference to the human corpse in the Greek necro, this is not what Mbembe has in mind when he refers to the living dead. Hence, in his own definition of necropolitics as “the social ontology of being with the dead,”57  Hans Ruin feels the need to distinguish his own concept from that of Mbembe’s. For Ruin, who is thinking of the Greek necropolis (the “cemetery” as a kind of polis for the dead to which the living polis remains connected), necropolitics “involves the dead through the ways in which the living community situates, responds to, and cares for its dead.”58 This form of care is polemical to the extent that the honoring of certain deaths comes to rest on the dishonoring of others and thus defines and shapes whose lives count as living. In other words, in the relationship that the living establish (or fail to establish) with the dead, a particular view of life and thus of history and of the polis’ past and future consolidates. Hence, the ethical-political significance of Judith Butler’s universal claim to regard all life as equally grievable.59

This idea of necropolitics brings us closer to Walter Benjamin’s claim, that “even the dead will not be safe from the enemy” if the enemy wins.60 There are, of course, various way of erasing the dead, and necropolitical technologies can be understood as perfecting the weaponry. On the one hand, there is the constant violation of indigenous peoples’ burial sites by the settler colonizers who occupy their territories.61 The building of Israel’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem over the largest Muslim cemetery in Palestine is only one of the most shocking examples. On the other hand, dishonoring can also take the more extraordinary forms of overkill, in which the spectacular violence inflicted to the corpse is used to achieve other policing functions of discipline and control. As Rita Segato argues in her own analysis of feminicides in Mexico, rival organizations can use the tortured body of dead working-class women as textual surfaces through which one rival army can write a public message to another.62  Such practice Cristina Rivera Garza justifiably characterizes as a form of necrowriting.63 The message, however, is never only intended for the rival army. Theatricalized forms of overkill are also community-bounding events, as has been well documented in the United States since Ida B. Wells analyzed the political functions of public lynching for the consolidation of white identity.64 Bodies, finally, can also be disappeared in what Bargu characterizes as the paradigmatic form of sovereign power, the power to erase.65 But even in this extreme case, the families of the disappeared and their communities do not endure the violence of sovereign erasure in docility. Rather, as Ege Selin Islekel shows, people organize and continue to articulate insurgent counter-discourses that trouble the necro-epistemology of the state. Expanding on Foucault’s framework, Islekel names these counter-discourses “nightmare-knowledges” in order to capture the multiple registers in which they defy the power of the state to produce “truth,” inclusive of its evidentiary protocols.66 Necropolitics, lastly, challenges the two concepts that critical theory predominantly uses to understand the living’s engagement with loss: mourning and melancholia. Mourning defines a loss that is conscious and, thus, can be symbolically mediated. Melancholia refers to a loss that cannot be mediated because it goes unconscious.67  Both concepts, however, prove limiting when one confronts life-forms subjected to necropolitics, where the loss of the loved one is not an exceptional event but rather a structural condition of continuous public insignificance. Here I find Fred Moten’s concept of “black mo’nin” and Christina Sharpe’s concept of “wake-work” useful when confronting losses that never register as such for the social order because it is precisely their forced insignificance that is tasked with producing what counts and does not count as social.68 Perhaps we can begin to understand wake-work and black mo’nin as insurgent ways of constructing a symbolic necropolis for the psychic life of the undercommons.

Published on June 21, 2023


Andrés Fabián Henao Castro is is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts (Boston) 


1. Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics, trans. Libby Meintjes, Public Culture 15:1 (2003): 11–40; henceforth N, followed by page number. See also Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics, trans. Laurent Dubois (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019).

2. Plato, Phaedo, in Plato: Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper and D.S. Hutchinson, trans. G.M.A. Grube (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997), 67E, 59.

3. Johannes Fabian, “How Others Die: Reflections on the Anthropology of Death,” in Death, Mourning, and Burial: A Cross-Cultural Reader, ed. Antonius C.G.M. Robben (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 55.

4. Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982).

5. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 57; cited in Mbembe, “Necropolitics” (N 21). Mbembe continues this line of analysis in his Critique of Black Reason (trans. Laurent Dubois [Durham: Duke University Press, 2017]).

6. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction (New York: Vintage, 1990), 141. On biopolitics see Timothy C. Campbell and Adam Sitze, eds., Biopolitics: A Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013); and Brooke Holmes, “Bios,” Political Concepts 5 (May 24, 2019),

7. Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003), 239–64; Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, 135–59. 

8. Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 254.

9. Ibid.

10. Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 53–73. 

11. Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995); Adi Kuntsman and Silvia Posocco, Queer Necropolitics, ed. Jin Haritaworn (New York: Routledge, 2014).

12. Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

13. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York: Continuum, 2004); cited in Mbembe, “Necropolitics” (N 32).

14. See also Mbembe’s critique of colonial “commandment, ” in On the Postcolony (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 24–65.

15. Michel Foucault, On the Government of the Living: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1979-1980, trans. Graham Burchell, ed. Michel Senellart (New York: Picador, 2016).

16. Shatema Threadcraft, “Embodiment,” in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory, ed. Lisa Disch and Mary Hawkesworth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 223; see also Melissa W. Wright, “Necropolitics, Narcopolitics, and Femicide: Gendered Violence on the Mexico-U.S. Border” Signs 36:3 (2021), 707–731.

17. Jared Sexton, “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-Pessimism and Black Optimism,” InTensions 5 (2011), 1–47.

18. On the difference between the concept and the plane of immanence, see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Graham Burchell and Hugh Tomlinson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 15–60.

19. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, 140–141.

20. Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-1978, trans. Graham Burchell, ed. Michel Senellart (New York: Picador, 2009); Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979, trans. Graham Burchell, ed. Michel Senellart (New York: Picador, 2008).

21. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

22. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1976), 915–916.

23. See Anna More, “Necroeconomics, Originary Accumulation, and Racial Capitalism in the Early Iberian Slave Trade,” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 19:2 (2019): 75–100.

24. On this point, see Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).

25. Marina Gržinić and Šefik Tatlić, Necropolitics, Racialization, and Global Capitalism: Historicization of Biopolitics and Forensics of Politics, Art, and Life (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

26. Warren Montag, “Necro-Economics: Adam Smith and Death in the Life of the Universal,” Radical Philosophy 134:7 (2005): 16.

27. John Troyer, Technologies of the Human Corpse (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2020), 97.

28. Sayak Valencia, Gore Capitalism, trans. John Pluecker (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018), 210.

29. Sayak Valencia, Gore Capitalism, 215.

30. Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Martin Nicolaus (New York: Penguin, 1993), 694. See also Jacques Lezra, On the Nature of Marx’s Things: Translation as Necrophilology (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018).

31. Françoise Vergès, “Racial Capitalocene,” in Futures of Black Radicalism, ed. Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin (London: Verso, 2017), 72–82. On the promising horizon of this conversation, see Achille Mbembe, “The Universal Right to Breathe,” trans. Carolyn Shread, Critical Inquiry 47:2 (2020): 58–62.

32. Donna J. Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 80. 

33. Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), 118.

34. John Troyer, Technologies of the Human Corpse, 125.

35. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

36. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995).

37. Banu Bargu, Starve and Immolate: The Politics of Human Weapons (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 41; henceforth SI, followed by page number.

38. Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (New York: NYU Press, 2020), 205.

39. Lauren Berlant, “Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency),” Critical Inquiry 33:4 (2007), 754–80; Eric A. Stanley, “Near Life, Queer Death: Overkill and Ontological Capture,” Social Text 29:2 (2011), 1–19.

40. Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human, 205.

41.  Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human, 214. On the aesthetics of necropolitics, see Natasha Lushetich, ed., The Aesthetics of Necropolitics (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

42. Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).

43. Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, 28. Shannon Winnubst characterizes the complimentary process to this neoliberal fractioning as “the fungibility of social differences,” whereby social differences are “unhinged from their material histories in order to neutralize them as sources of conflict” and incorporate them into formal market units of measurement (Shannon Winnubst, Way Too Cool: Selling Out Race and Ethics [New York: Columbia University Press, 2015], 4).

44. Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, 38.

45. David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder, The Biopolitics of Disability: Neoliberalism, Ablenationalism, and Peripheral Embodiment (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2015), 12–13.

46. David T. Mitchell, Susan Antebi, and Sharon L. Snyder, eds., The Matter of Disability: Materiality, Biopolitics, Crip Affect (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2019), 3, 9.

47. David T. Mitchell, Susan Antebi, and Sharon L. Snyder, eds., The Matter of Disability, 249–272. 

48. David T. Mitchell, Susan Antebi, and Sharon L. Snyder, eds., The Matter of Disability, 15–16. 

49. Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, 35. 

50. Jasbir K. Puar, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017); Adi Kuntsman, Silvia Posocco, and Jin Haritaworn, eds., Queer Necropolitics; and C. Riley Snorton and Jin Haritaworn, “Trans Necropolitics: A Transnational Reflection on Violence, Death, and the Trans of Color Afterlife,” in The Transgender Studies Reader, ed. Susan Stryker and Aren Aizura (New York: Routledge, 2013), vol. 2, 65–76. 

51. Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, xiv. 

52. David T. Mitchell, Susan Antebi, and Sharon L. Snyder, eds., The Biopolitics of Disability, 204–22. 

53. Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011). 

54. C. Heike Schotten, Queer Terror: Life, Death, and Desire in the Settler Colony (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), xii. 

55. C. Heike Schotten, Queer Terror: Life, Death, and Desire in the Settler Colony, 94–145. 

56. Banu Bargu, “Another Necropolitics,” Theory & Event 19:1 (2016), 

57. Hans Ruin, Being with the Dead: Burial, Ancestral Politics, and the Roots of Historical Consciousness (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018), 98. 

58. Hans Ruin, Being with the Dead, 111. 

59. Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2006); Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London: Verso, 2009). 

60. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken, 1969), 253. See also James R. Martel, Unburied Bodies: Subversive Corpses and the Authority of the Dead (Amherst, Massachusetts: Amherst College Press, 2018). 

61. See “necro-indigeneity,” in Kevin Bruyneel, Settler Memory: The Disavowal of Indigeneity and the Politics of Race in the United States (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021), 22. 

62. Rita Segato, La guerra contra las mujeres (Madrid: Traficantes de sueños, 2016).

63. Cristina Rivera Garza, The Restless Dead: Necrowriting and Disappropriation, trans. Myers Robin (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2020).

64. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, On Lynching (New York: Dover, 2014).

65. Banu Bargu, “Sovereignty as Erasure: Rethinking Enforced Disappearances,” Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences 23:1 (2014): 35–75.

66. Ege Selin Islekel, “Nightmare-Knowledges: Epistemologies of Disappearance,” in Turkey’s Necropolitical Laboratory: Democracy, Violence, and Resistance, ed. Banu Bargu (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), 253–72.

67. Sigmund Freud, On Murder, Mourning and Melancholia, trans. Shaun Whiteside (London: Penguin Classics, 2005). On the reception of these notions in critical theory see David Eng and David Kazanjian, eds., Loss: The Politics of Mourning (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

68. See Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of The Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003) and Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2016).