Foucault News

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

Mark Kelly

DATE/TIME: Wednesday, 17 September, 3.30pm-5.00pm

PLACE: University of Western Sydney, Bankstown Campus, Building 3, Room 3.G.27  [How to get to Bankstown Campus]

All welcome

ABSTRACT: In this paper, I critically assess Gilles Deleuze’s ‘societies of control’ thesis, in relation to both the work of Michel Foucault which inspired it, and the work of which it inspired in turn, including that of Hardt and Negri, and Lazzaratto. I argue, contra Deleuze and his reading of Foucault, that contemporary society continues to be a form of the disciplinary–biopolitical society identified by Foucault as existing already in the nineteenth century. The argument for this is dual. On the one hand, I point to claims by Deleuze that have not been born out by subsequent development, particularly the claim that disciplinary institutions are breaking down: while some institutions have declined, others (particularly the prison) have massively expanded, leaving no clear pattern of decline. On the other hand, I argue that characteristics specifically assigned to societies of control by Deleuze are already part of disciplinary power as conceived by Foucault, noting indeed that Foucault uses the word ‘control’ as a synonym for discipline.

While acknowledging changes, I thus argue that any transition from Fordism to post-Fordism is at most a modification of disciplinary power, rather than a matter of a new technology of power in a Foucauldian sense. I hence seek to downplay the political importance of this change in favour of a reading of our society as exhibiting continuous tendencies. I conclude by agreeing with commentators who argue that neoliberalism is more accurately characterised as a return to nineteenth century conditions.

Mark Kelly was appointed Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and ARC Future Fellow at the University of Western Sydney in 2014. His ARC project, ‘The invention of norms: how ethics, law, and the life sciences shape our social selves’ aims to show how the concept of the norm has shaped our understanding of the world, changed our society, and become part of our personal lives. He has authored three books on the thought of Michel Foucault – The Political Philosophy of Michel Foucault (Routledge, 2009), Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. I (Edinburgh, 2013), and Foucault and Politics (Edinburgh, 2014) – and published on topics in political philosophy, including a forthcoming book, Biopolitical Imperialism (Zero).

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