Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Fraser, G. Foucault, governmentality theory and ‘Neoliberal Community Development’ (2020) Community Development Journal, 55 (3), pp. 437-451.

DOI: 10.1093/cdj/bsy049

It is widely accepted that Michel Foucault’s ‘governmentality lectures’ constituted a seminal moment in the history of neoliberal studies. In an analysis which was original and prescient, Foucault framed neoliberalism, not only in terms of a set of economic policies based on monetarism, de-regulation and privatisation, but also as a productive power, which arguably, marked the beginnings of a new paradigm in the governance of human beings. Drawing upon my own empirical research, which was based on a case study of community development in the context of local government in the UK, I apply ideas associated with Foucault and governmentality theory to the field of contemporary practice. I argue that community development has been fundamentally transformed by practices associated with neoliberalism and new managerialism, and that a model of practice which can broadly be characterised as ‘neoliberal community development’ has emerged along with a changing sense of professional identity. In an analysis indebted to governmentality theory, community development emerges not so much as a social profession rooted in the needs and aspirations of communities as a technology of government which is deployed by local states to facilitate neoliberalisation, austerity and the marketisation of public services.

Index Keywords
governance approach, local government, management practice, marketing, neoliberalism, public service, social theory, theoretical study; United Kingdom

Isaev, I., Kornev, A., Lipen, S., Zenin, S.
The “machine of power” and aspects of political balance
(2020) Quaestio Rossica, 8 (3), pp. 979-992.

DOI: 10.15826/qr.2020.3.507

This article explores the historical pattern of the evolution of power technologies. The methodological basis relies on the philosophical movements of the twentieth century (phenomenology, structuralism, etc.) and works by P. Bourdieu, C. Lefort, N. Luhmann, D. Naisbitt, P. Sloterdijk, M. Foucault, O. Spann, F. G. Jünger, N. Elias, and a number of other authors. The creation of technologies for managing society and complex power mechanisms (“power machines”) are a general pattern of social development. The notion of dynamic power balance acts as a mandatory attribute of the management of society and focuses political activity on the constant consideration of numerous phenomena, circumstances, and interests. The state, as the main instrument of political management, seeks to constantly strengthen its power both within and without, and to spread it ever more to new spheres of social relations and territories. But over time, first in the sphere of international law, universal principles are recognised that establish the limits of power and assume the impossibility of strengthening the power of any one state (the idea of political balance of sovereign national states). In domestic politics, the increasing degree of agreement and gradually developing mechanisms of consensus contribute to the reduction of the role played by direct violence and the emergence of a system of institutions that were perceived as legitimate. Previous spontaneous processes and collisions of opposing forces are translated into technical, organisational, normative language – and political dynamics – into static social structures. Chaos and uncertainty are replaced by ideas about the desired ideal and order. The new “power machine” also receives a new justification that is no longer transcendent, but rather rational and technological. Constantly improving and becoming more complex, the “power machine” becomes ever more effective. The “technical” regularities of the organisation and functioning of political power, which determine the new social role of the “power machine”, come to the fore. The state, which is organised into a mechanism with supreme political power and absolute authority, has a decisive influence on the development of society. The transition from a dynastic to a bureaucratic state depersonalises the “power machine”. The figure of a monarch with absolute power dissolves in the hierarchy of numerous officials vested with power. The organisation of power to a large extent separates carriers or subjects of power from their decisions. There is no visible mechanism of power and subordination and the opposite interests of the ruling and the governed. Further, in the twentieth-century industrial revolutions, the “power machine” is forced to adapt to new social realities, i. e. to “network” relations where communication and connections between people and their groups become fundamental. This leads to the creation of new management structures with a plurality of centres. © 2020 Ural Federal University. All rights reserved.

Author Keywords
Apparatus of power; Machine of power; Power; Sovereignty; State; Technology of power

Progressive Geographies

Foucault and Christianity – a really interesting online resource from Niki Kasumi Clements, as part of the research for her book Foucault the Confessor.

As part of my research on Michel Foucault’s engagement with early Christian texts, I have been tracing his citational practices from 1974-1984 through his published works; gradually I will include citations from Foucault’s meticulous notes in his archives at theBibliothèque nationale de France. The 2018 posthumous publication,L’Histoire de la sexualité IV: Les aveux de la chair, edited by Frédéric Gros, is included; the 2021 translation by Robert Hurley,Confessions of the Flesh, contributes to the need to understand Foucault’s complex navigation of Christian texts and practices.

Currently processing the textual references Foucault makes to mainly early Christian texts in his monographs and Collège de France lectures between 1974 and 1984, the following dynamic data visualizations were built in Python by…

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Ogáyar, S.R. De cuerpos subjetivados e imágenes artistizadas: La lógica biopolítica de la historia del arte (2020) Boletin de Arte, (41), pp. 219-226.

DOI: 10.24310/BoLArte.2020.v41i.8007

En su escrito Sobre las ruinas del museo, Douglas Crimp planteó la necesidad de abrir un capítulo olvidado por parte de la crítica hacia las entrañas de la modernidad. Foucault había diseccionado buena parte de los saberes e instituciones del nuevo teatro epistemológico, pero una disciplina evitó su operación quirúrgica: la historia del arte. Concebida como una histórica secuencia de paradigmas interrelacionados o como un saber científico y puramente taxonómico, la historia del arte funciona como el artefacto discursivo que produce y legitima una nueva verdad para las imágenes. Por ello, el texto aboga por la necesidad de repensar la disciplina como hermana contemporánea de dispositivos disciplinarios como la criminalidad, la enfermedad o la sexualidad, con el fin de integrarla en el nuevo régimen somatopolítico de las imágenes y en el epicentro de las nuevas técnicas de poder.

Palabras clave:
Historia del arte, disciplina, epistemología, biopolítica, imagen

Subjetive bodies and artistic images: The biopolitical logic of art history

In his essay On the ruins of the museum, Douglas Crimp proposed the need for critics to open a forgotten chapter about the entrails of modernity. Foucault had dissected much of the knowledge and institutions of the new epistemological theatre, but one discipline had avoided his surgical procedure: art history. Conceived as a historical sequence of interrelated paradigms or as a scientific and purely taxonomic knowledge, art history functions as the discursive artifact that produces and legitimizes a new truth for images. Therefore, the text presents the synthesis of a series of hypotheses that encourage us to rethink the discipline as a modern kinswoman of disciplinary devices such as crime, mental disease or sexuality in order to integrate it into the new somatic-political regime of images and the epicenter of the new power techniques. © 2020 Universidad de Malaga, Departamento de Historia del Arte. All rights reserved.

Author Keywords
Art History; Biopolitics; Discipline; Epistemology; Image

Claire Colebrook What Is This Thing Called Education? Qualitative Inquiry. 2017;23(9):649-655. doi:10.1177/1077800417725357

Education exposes a conundrum that extends well beyond government policy and beyond those working in education as a designated discipline. If education is nothing more than a human science or the achievement of satisfactory outcomes by way of testing, then education has no future. Education is the manufacture of docile subjects and (as Bernard Stiegler has argued) it will do little more than short-circuit attention. Stiegler does, however, point out that education’s power to orient bodies beyond themselves toward a complex future relies necessarily on the same technologies that contract and disorient individuals, becoming nothing more than captivation by already actualized forms. Education is at once necessary to bring forth a future distinct from what we already are, and yet that orientation toward a world of relations that is not oneself comes with the essential risk of stupidity

Deleuze, Stiegler, Foucault, education, concepts

Progressive Geographies

BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking – ‘Foucault: The History of Sexuality, Volume 4‘ – Shahidha Bari with Lisa Downing, Stuart Elden, and Stephen Shapiro, 25 February 2021, 10pm (and new available online)

On the day the final volume of The History of Sexuality is published in English, over 36 years after Foucault’s death in 1984, Shahidha Bari and her panel assess its influence.

Shahidha Bari is joined by Lisa Downing, Stuart Elden, and Stephen Shapiro to look volume 4 of Foucault’s History of Sexuality at, translated into English for the first time, which examines beliefs and practices among the early Christians in Medieval Europe. Although he had specified in his will that his works shouldn’t be published after he died (in 1984), the rights holders of Foucault decided that these ideas could now be made public. So what do they tell us and how influential has his…

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Lee, H. The Empiricist Origin of Biopolitics: Freedom and Potentiality in John Locke
(2021) Philosophia (United States).

DOI: 10.1007/s11406-020-00306-2

This article examines John Locke’s theory of subjectivity to challenge the recent critical tendency to associate biopolitics and empiricism. Michel Foucault, most notably among modern theorists of biopolitics, proposes that the Lockean man, or an interest-seeking animal, constitutes the paradigm of a person that remains subject to biopower. Such understanding of empiricism by biopolitical theorists is, however, reductive because Locke’s view of human subjectivity is fundamentally equivocal. As I demonstrate by analyzing his discussion of freedom, action, and desire in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and other writings, Locke admits the possibility for a human being to think and to act freely, although in the process of restricting the capacity for free action. Hence, the theorists’ simplistic view of Locke rather reflects the limits of their own conception of subjectivity, especially their behavioristic premises. As they consider a person as a mere machine of survival without agency and initiative, they preclude the possibility of overcoming biopower at the fundamental level. In demonstrating contradictions and tensions within Locke’s empiricism, this article then proposes the ways in which Locke can show a way beyond the critical impasse in political theory in elucidating (albeit inconsistently) the power of acting against the chain of causality. © 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. part of Springer Nature.

Author Keywords
Aristotle; Biopolitics; Freedom; Homo economicus; John Locke; Potentiality

Baker, B., & O’Farrell, C. (2021, February 23). Curriculum influences: William James and Michel Foucault. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Oxford University Press.
DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.1093

Editor: I’m really pleased to see this out after a long wait! Email me if you would like a copy and can’t get through the paywall

William James (1841–1910), working primarily out of the United States, and Michel Foucault (1926–1984), working primarily out of France, are two very different figures who both made an impact on current theories of education. Even if the primary focus of their work is not education, their ideas challenge what it is that makes education recognizable as education and takes issue with its very identity as a discipline.

William James, who began publishing in the 1870s, is generally described as a philosopher and psychologist. He remains well-known for his work on pragmatism in the wake of Charles Sanders Peirce’s pragmaticism and for his work on religion, ethics, and mind theory, but he also devoted considerable time to the study of parapsychology and gave some attention to teacher education.

Foucault has been variously described as a philosopher, historian, historian of ideas, and a social and political theorist. His work addressed an impressive array of fields across the sciences, literature, art, ethics, and institutional, political, and social history, and spanned a wide range of historical periods mainly in European and French history from the 13th century to the 20th century with later excursions into the Ancient Greek and early Christian eras.

Foucault’s work has been widely, but selectively, deployed within education studies across the globe, with a strong focus on his notions of power, governmentality, surveillance, subjectivity, discourse, and ethics in their various iterations. James’s work has been relatively less deployed, with emphasis on the application of his version of pragmatism, theories of mind, and talks to teachers.

The work of the two thinkers may be considered to overlap in two important ways: first, in their respective approaches to the notion of practice, namely the idea of philosophy as strategic and located in day-to-day concrete experience rather than occupying the rarefied realms of abstraction; and second, their interest in the margins of knowledge – knowledge that has been excluded by mainstream science and accepted ways of thinking. In the case of James, this interest manifests in his long-term studies in the field of parapsychology and in the case of Foucault in his interest in the meandering byways and monstrosities of the history of ideas, of long-forgotten knowledge rejected by the scientific mainstream or formulated on the margins of society.

Michel Foucault, William James, discourse, education, self, war. power, domination. philosophy

David Fryer, Charles Marley, Rose Stambe, The Reproduction of Compliant Labour Power Through (Re)Constitution of the Child and Adult Subject: Critical Knowledge-Work, Awry: Journal of Critical Psychology, Vol 1 No 1 (2020)
Open access

As Althusser made clear: “the reproduction of labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order” (Althusser, 1971. pp. 127-128). In this paper, we describe and discuss critical knowledge-work intended to illuminate governmentality which is accomplished through (re)constitution of the subject. In particular we point to societal interconnections responsible for the (re)constitution of the compliant productive neoliberal subject in the context of the needs of neoliberal capitalist employers and the State to reproduce the means of production. We focus, in particular, on reproduction of labour power in the form of children who have been subjectively reconstituted to be compliant with the ‘rules’ of ‘good behaviour’ which discipline ‘educational’ settings but which is preparation for compliant neoliberal labour market ‘participation’ and on unemployed adults who are subjectively reconstituted as compliant subjects required by the neoliberal labour market through ‘labour market activation’, the contemporary preoccupation of neoliberal governments around the world.

compliance, critical knowledge work, neoliberal labour market. problematisation, reconstitution of the subject

Annie Jacobsen, First Platoon: A Story of Modern War in the Age of Identity Dominance, Penguin Random House, 2021

Editor: The first chapter titled ‘The Panopticon’ includes a reflection on Foucault’s discussion of the plague in the Abnormal lectures and in Discipline and Punish.

A powerful story of war in our time, of love of country, the experience of tragedy, and a Platoon at the center of it all

This is a story that starts off close and goes very big. The initial part of the story might sound familiar at first: It is about a platoon of mostly nineteen-year-old boys sent to Afghanistan, and an experience that ends abruptly in catastrophe. Their part of the story folds into the next: inexorably linked to those soldiers and never comprehensively reported before is the U.S. Department of Defense’s quest to build the world’s most powerful biometrics database, with the power to identify, monitor, catalogue, and police people all over the world.

First Platoon is an American saga that illuminates a transformation of society made possible by this new technology. Part war story, part legal drama, it is about identity in the age of identification. About humanity—physical bravery, trauma, PTSD, a yearning to do right and good—in the age of biometrics, which reduce people to iris scans, fingerprint scans, voice patterning, detection by odor, gait, and more. And about the power of point-of-view in a burgeoning surveillance state.

Based on hundreds of formerly classified documents, FOIA requests, and exclusive interviews, First Platoon is an investigative exposé by a master chronicler of government secrets. First Platoon reveals a post–9/11 Pentagon whose identification machines have grown more capable than the humans who must make sense of them. A Pentagon so powerful it can cover up its own internal mistakes in pursuit of endless wars. And a people at its mercy, in its last moments before a fundamental change so complete it might be impossible to take back.

“Jacobsen brings empathy, compassion, compelling writing and some truly dogged reporting”—The Washington Post

“First Platoon tells two parallel stories that will keep those of us concerned about civil liberties up at night. Jacobsen dives into the troubling tale of 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, the disgraced former military leader who ordered the murder of Afghan civilians in one of the ugliest events for the U.S. military in the continuous wars since 9/11. She takes the story far beyond Lorance’s controversial pardon by President Donald Trump, though, detailing a largely unreported secretive program to catalog the personal and physical information of 80% of the Afghan population in a quest for ‘identity dominance.’”—The Seattle Times

“A thought-provoking tale…Bombshell finding.”—Military History Magazine

Annie Jacobsen is the author of the Pulitzer Prize–finalist in history The Pentagon’s Brain, the New York Times bestsellers Area 51 and Operation Paperclip, and other books. She was a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine. A graduate of Princeton University, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.

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