Foucault News

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

foucault-jagMichael C. Behrent, Foucault and Technology, History and Technology, Vol. 29, Iss. 1, 2013, 54-104

Further info

This article offers the first comprehensive analysis of the ways in which the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984) employed the terms ‘technology’ and the ‘technique’ over the course of his intellectual career. His use of these words in his mature writings, it is argued, reflects a profound ambivalence: Foucault sought to denounce the pernicious effects of what he called modern ‘technologies of power,’ but also deliberately evoked the more positive values associated with ‘technology’ to develop a philosophical standpoint shorn of the ‘humanist’ values he associated with existentialism and phenomenology. The article situates Foucault’s condemnation of power technologies within the broader skepticism towards ‘technological society’ that pervaded French intellectual circles following World War II. In the first phase of his career (1954-1960), Foucault built on these attitudes to articulate a conventional critique of technology’s alienating effects. Between 1961 and 1972, the theme of ‘technology’ fell into abeyance in his work, though he often suggested a connection between the rise of technology and the advent of the ‘human sciences.’ Between 1973 and 1979, ‘technology’ became a keyword in Foucault’s lexicon, notably when he coined the phrase ‘technologies of power’. He continued to use the term in the final stage of his career (1980-1984), when his emphasis shifted from power to ‘technologies of the self.’ The essay concludes by addressing Paul Forman’s thesis on the primacy of science in modernity and of technology in modernity, suggesting that in many respects Foucault is more of a modernist than a postmodernist.

DOI: 10.1080/07341512.2013.780351

With thanks to Philippe Theophanidis for this item

One thought on “Foucault and Technology (2013)

  1. anthony says:

    Reblogged this on The Rolling Blackout and commented:
    Foucault is often abused, but I think this is an interesting take. “Technology” is not just a material artifact, and this article makes that explicitly clear. For Foucault, technology explained the way power relations operate. “Yet while Foucault never dwelt directly on these issues, ‘technology’ is a word that appears frequently in his writing and is, moreover, integral to his thought. Foucault primarily typically employs the term – as well as the related and in French often synonymous one
    of ‘technique’ – to refer not to tools, machines, or the application of science to industrial production, but rather to methods and procedures for governing human beings. Yet even within this horizon of meaning, the word ‘technology’ is, in Foucault’s lexicon, marked by a deep ambivalence. He oscillates between at least two main ways of using the term. In the first place, ‘technology’ belongs to Foucault’s distinctive vocabulary of social and political critique. It refers to the ways in which modern social and political systems control, supervise, and manipulate populations as well as individuals. As such, ‘technology,’ for Foucault, both overlaps with and extends considerably beyond what historians of
    technology have called ‘complex sociotechnical systems’ – for example, factories organized according to the principle of scientific management or electrical grids – that have come to characterize modern societies.”

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