Foucault News

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

Ashe, Leah M. (2017). “Knowing food, knowing men: Some thoughts on food, knowledge, and violence.” Presentation at L’Institut Européen D’Histoire et des Cultures de L’Alimentation (IEHCA) Université d’Été, Tours, France, 28 August – 2 September 2017.
Video presentation
Text available at

In a return to the world of food studies, I draw from my larger line of research, Knowing Violence, a project whose title reveals its dual focal interests in (the act of) knowing violence and in (the thing-that-is) the knowing-violence, the violence of knowing. In that project, I examine the modern construction and dominance of scientific/scientistic medical knowledge and authority and engage wide critiques of technoscientific modernity. In this paper, I consider how the content and critique carried in Knowing Violence might communicate with food studies in any aspect of its variety.

With my anchor still firmly planted in the selfishly compelling knowing/violence juncture, I’ve called this small paper Knowing Food, Knowing Men, and I propose several ways that food and eating, in their simultaneous carnality and transcendence, stand problematically astride the line that technic contemporaneity – and technic man – draws between the scientific and the sacred.

I hope to broach, by way of so many empirical stories and conjecturing connections, three questions:
1. How might we characterize the relationships between food and knowledge?
2. How might we characterize the relationships between food and violence?
3. How might we situate food as a connective pathway between knowledge and violence?

I draw from a very particular experience: my own medical misadventure in the UK, which pinnacled in my misdiagnosis as anorexic and consequent sequester and maltreatment. Beyond its radical consequences of personal interest, the machinations of the anorexic prison dispositor illuminate and articulate the unintelligible and inarticulate machinations of the modern food-world writ larger. Here I examine three of these bigger characteristics by way of three small stories:
1. “Science says.”
2. “That’s not normal.”
3. “It violates order and discipline.”

More than anything else, I hope that this small exploration of the modern food-world’s discursive and epistemic infrastructures might invite your reflections on what other forms these foundational understructures take; on how they affect real people’s real lives; and whether or not and to what extent they are good ones.

See also
Ashe, Leah M. (2017). “Knowing violence: Psychiatric hegemony and the corruption of care.” Presentation at the European Association of Social Anthropology – Medical Anthropology Network Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, 5-7 July 2017.
Video presentation
Text available at

In this paper, I propose the concept of unpersoning: a violence so total that it transmutes its object permanently from person into thing: a being that, though living, is and has no possibility to be an I or a Thou. The species of unpersoning produced by and within the context of medicine is especially grotesque, the sort of phenomena that Illich captured as exemplars of corruptio optimi pessima: the moral character of medicine is perverted in performing the psychiatric intervention, for example. I argue here that psychiatry is foundationally violational, planting its practices in stances that flagrantly privilege the psychiatrist above the patient in matters of epistemic, social, juridical, carceral, and corporal power. In their ensemble, these privileges can metastasize into the total violence that I attempt to capture as unpersoning.

The paper differs from others in the panel in two important ways. First, it speaks to the intersection between these two domains, care and violence, in a way that challenges our very conceptualizations of their constitutions (and, of course, of the relationships between them). Second, (and in addition to drawing on ideas from anthropological, decolonial, feminist, and critical thinkers), I inform the exploration with a truly emic narrative. In 2014, I was diagnosed as anorexic in a failing British hospital and forcibly interned in a psychiatric hospital for anorexics. Having lived for 10 months trapped within this Rosenhan-ish, Kafkaesque hell where regularized acts of humiliation, corporal injury, and (even) torture completely circumscribed the set of circumstances in which consciousness could occur, that I was wrongly diagnosed is here irrelevant; that I lived the brutal consequences of that diagnosis is germane. This lived experience unveiled to me a privileged view upon psychiatry’s discourse – its words and its practices – and I deliver this paper not only to make its theoretical proposition but also to report its autobiographical truth. The paper draws upon a finite, irreproducible, and individuated experience in a way that critically engages ethnography’s project of, as Geertz characterized it, at least giving insight into larger truths; not saying everything, to be sure, but saying something. I claim that it is something important.

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