Foucault and the Telos of Power
(2017) Critical Horizons, 18 (3), pp. 191-213.
In this paper, I argue that the unique contributions of Foucault’s late work to critical social theory can be identified in the ways in which power relations are refined as the material condition of “politics” as distinguished from that of law, where “politics”: (a) includes both competitive and goal-oriented strategic actions and interactions, (b) excludes the coercive technologies of law embodied in State institutions, (c) presupposes “incomplete” reciprocity between actors engaged in directing others, (d) always entails modes of revealing truth and acting upon the self. By contextualising the break between pastoral power and direction in the 1979–1980 lectures, I show how for the late Foucault, power relations constitute the material condition of “politics” precisely because, unlike relations of control or coercion, their aims and objectives remain open to the possibility of building new relationships and potentially more “political” forms of social action. I conclude by situating this major distinction within Foucault’s unfulfilled project to study the “military dimension” of society, and the relevance and urgency of this project for contemporary struggles against new forms of militarism and austerity. © 2017, © Critical Horizons Pty Ltd 2017.
action; Foucault; Habermas; law; parresia; politics; power