Rob Ford’s Political Body

Toronto’s Rob Ford lives a political life. Both his bare existence and his public personae have taken on a politicization since he entered municipal governance. Plainly said, his weight and other biological issues have become just as political as his public life as “mayor” of the City of Toronto.

The Ancient Greeks, such as Aristotle, had two words for life: zoe (to live) and bios (life as an action).[1] This zoe-bios distinction is taken up and developed by Giorgio Agamben, who explains that zoe was seen as excluded from action in the city, or polis, (bios).[2] Agamben argues that via modern biopolitics, a concept he borrows from Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt, bios has contaminated zoe.  It is from this foundation that I begin.

  •  In this post, I explore the politicizing of Rob Ford’s body and his own use of biopolitics as an undercurrent of governance at city hall.

Ford has steadfastly maintained that he believes there are things in his life that are private: in other words, outside bios and firmly planted in zoe.

The issue with this, of course, is that Ford has sometimes created a zone of indistinction between bios and zoe himself, such as when he has been filmed while ostensibly intoxicated and talking about his politics.

But also consider the politicization by external actors of Ford’s zoe:

The four examples above, I argue, are the clear contamination of zoe with bios; the politicization of Rob Ford’s bare life.

This is not to say that Rob Ford has not engaged in the same sort of biopolitics. He has been caught using racist slurs, refusing to participate and even working against joyous city events such as the raising of the Pride flag and making disgraceful sexual comments about a female colleague.

These examples show that Ford politicizes others’ zoe, be it based on their ethnicity, their sexuality or sex, in an attempt to politically disarm them.

What is apparent here is that Toronto politics is merely a microcosm of the larger paradigm that sees a blurring of distinction between zoe and bios. We see it in every “political” interaction at all levels of human society but it simply becomes more obvious with our elected representatives, who live public lives. Rob Ford’s nature arguably locates him as a high-profile example.

Toronto politics  is not simply about building transit and making sure the roads don’t have potholes. It, like life generally, is a highly biopolitical existence in which life (to live) is politicized. And from this point, there is no return to the classical zoe/bios dichotomy, Agamben tells us.[3] “And we are not only, in Foucault’s words, animals whose life as living beings is at issue in their politics, but also ─ inversely ─ citizens whose very politics is at issue in their natural body.”[4]


[1] Aristotle, Politics. Translated by C.D.C Reeve, (Indianapolis:Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), 285.

[2] Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, eds. Werner Hamacher and David E. Wellbery, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 2.

[3] Ibid., 188.

[4] Ibid.

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