see also: Life politics: more than politics and life (style)?


        Life politics: more than politics and life?




        The objective of the research is to develop the concept of life politics in modern
     society, its areas of application and problem points. The objective is to make a
     general presentation of life politics as well as discussions of specific concrete
     problems, for instance life control or depression in connection with general cultural
     aspects. The empirical data is mainly a broad collection of life stories and a recent
     survey on generations, in addition to the theoretical literature on life politics. The
     goal is to develop a theory of the life situation of modern man, with its central
     building blocks life control, life changes, life strategies and second chances.

            Life politics

            Life politics has become an interesting topic in recent years, related to
     discussions about individualisation, reflexivity, choice, ethics, mind and conscious
     ness, mind-altering drugs, politics of recognition and identity etc. (Anthony
     Giddens, Ulrich Beck, Nikolas Rose, Charles Taylor).
         On the other hand, it can be said to be closely related or alternative to such
     concepts as sub-politics (Beck), anthroponomics (Bertaux), life control, life
     experience (vécù, Ricoeur), Erlebnisgesellschaft (Schulze), new moral order
     (Bauman), habitus (Bourdieu). Of course this is by no means "new": similar
     discussions exist since Aristotle or perhaps Augustine, but there are some aspects
     which can be considered very recent and which alter the situation.
        Some of them are related to the increased abilities of all of us to make educated
     choices about our own lives, to reflect upon our situation and to understand more
     of the long-term consequences (environmental, health etc) of our actions. Some of
     them are related to the increasingly intrusive and pervasive medical and genetic
     technologies which affect many of us directly (choices connected with pregnancy,
     genetically treated foods, increasingly effective medicine related to personality traits
     etc.). Together they greate a new field of life politics which is concerned precisely
     how people make decisions that affect their own lives and also decisions that
     fundamentally affect these decisions (ethical principles etc.).  But it is also a question
     of power struggle: many of these decisions are presently taken or based on
     considerations that are in open conflict with the possibility of life politics in the
     above sense. In addition to this, the world of consumption is changing in ways
     which makes it impossible to speak about individual choices or decisions to buy:
     more and more of consumtion is grounded on habits, habituses, constructed entities.
        But there is also the pressure from the side of welfare state: increasingly there is
     emphasis on individual responsibility, on reciprocity, on turning back areas of
     public responsibility to private individuals. The taking care of old and sick people
     is the most significant of these developments but in all personal services it is obvious
     that there is strong pressure for pulling them back from the salary sphere to the
     "third sector".
         The development of life politics is thus the product of very conflicting develop
     ments which in the final analysis have all served to weaken the role of intermediate
     social forces, networks, communities and thrust the individuals into direct contact
     with "the society": anonymous market forces, public bureaucracies, the system in
     Habermasian sense.But simultaneously they create a possibility of new "sociability",
     new intermediate institutions; and it is this sociability that life politics will be a
     cover term for. In fact, the traditional bonds - family, relatives, local communities -
     are reemerging in new forms, proving that the saying "what you leave behind you,
     you will find in waiting for you behind the corner" is universally true. Giddensian
     "post-traditional" society is permeated with tradition, but in new, partly
     unrecognizable forms. One example: Giddnes has spoken about the disappearance
     of generational continuity (Beyond left and right). Yet, new research shows that on
     the contrary, intergenerational transfers have become more important and may
     change the whole picture of the so called pension explosion (see Attias-Donfut,
         The term life politics is problematic in the sense that it is actually policy that is
     envisaged: policies about life, self, identity, reflexivity, life style. But "life policy"
     refers interestingly only to protection against risks. On the other hand, politics
     means perhaps more a mixture of very different things so in this sense both politics
     and policy should be included. To make some problematic boundary rulings: life
     politics should not be used to refer to individual life control or day to day-decisions
     about consumption for instance. On the other "politics" at it most general level,
     making collective decisions and negotiations about public affairs is not life politics.
     But all kinds of more general polciy decisions about one's life and in connection with
     different social entities would be life politics. Life politics would thus be individual
     and social decisions and negotiations about life course, life chances, relationships,
     self-realization, happiness and misery, well-being. Life is not life politics but
     changing one's life is.
        The Giddensian concept of second chances combines in an elegant way the worlds
     of life control and risks. As a policy principle, the idea of "second chances", leaving
     a person's options always open, has much to recommend to itself. Typically in a
     welfare state the regulations that cover all kinds of "second chance" situations
     (unemployment, retirement, change of profession) are much too restrictive. But
     there are some problems which do no appear from Giddens extremely individual-
     centred perspective. A second chance does not exist in vacuum. If an individual
     decides to change his or her life completely, several other people are often involved,
     who may not have anything to say. So second chances may involve loss of chances
     for somebody else; which brings about an interesting problem related to life politics.
     Increasingly as life decisions are understood as life political they bring about new
     kinds of responsibilities and involvements. Life politics creates new interdependence
     in connection with new sociability. But even individually the downside of "second
     chances" is obvious: taking of a second chance means loss of other possiblities (and
     the "first chance"). This is also a problem of life politics which should be consid
     Another problem is the question of increasing/unchanging dissatisfaction with
     increasing welfare. It seems clear that being really poor and excluded makes people
     unhappy, but after a certain level there is very little connection. Why do not
     increased possibilities for life politics increase one's senbse of satisfaction and well-
     being? It is also an open question, whether it increases reflexivity or self-realization.
     Instead we hear increasingly about feelings of emptiness, hidden depression, all
     kinds of addictions. On the other hand, this is precisely the field of active life politics
     in practice!
         The above considerations are meant to demarcate an area of study where my goal
     is to explore different aspects and  using mainly life stories but also surveys related
     to the Finnish baby boomers, write chapters about the effects of life politics in our
        I will use as material the collections of life stories, mainly from Finland, Estonia
     and Russia (St Petersburg) but also in France and in Italy (Pieve di Santo Stefano!)
     as well as two large surveys conducted recently: one on men and consumption and
     the second on the so-called baby-boomers in Finland. I have already published one
     book in Finnish and a second book (Life in the third millennium) is under way; the
     objective now is to publish articles in English with a view of publishing a book on
     the topic.
                                                     October 1998