The Performance of Biopower and Liveliness: The Life and Death of Terri Schiavo

Document Type

Journal Article


Royal Holloway University of London


Faculty of Education and Arts


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications




Newman-Storen, R. E. (2013). The Performance of Biopower and Liveliness: The Life and Death of Terri Schiavo. Platform: postgraduate e-journal of theatre and performing arts, 7(1), 42-54. Available here


Between 1990 and 2005, American woman Terri Schiavo was in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS), kept alive by a surgically inserted feeding tube. A perceived liveliness, or lack thereof, was used as evidence on divergent ideologies and value systems and, in addition to the existing social and political landscape of the US at the time, assisted in igniting a ferocious debate on the value of life. The tragic case of a woman caught between life and death, existing in neither state entirely, was supplanted by a performative spectacle, the activated spectator and the ensuing moral panic over the nature of what being ‘alive’ itself might mean. In this article I utilise Foucault’s understanding of biopower; the concept that life, populations and the body are regulated according to systems of power and that biopower is a dominant discursive function of modernity. I examine the specifics of the tragedy of the Schiavo case in relation to the prevailing ideological (religious and political) conditions in the US that formed the conditions for the regulatory operations of the biopolitical/biopower, concluding that the battle for life at any cost becomes greater than the object or the subject of this debate and that this fight is ultimately an ideological interplay and a struggle for power.