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Michel Foucault’s theory of power. Giovanni Navarria 13/03/2007 The Human Sciences Perspectives and Methods. Michel Foucault: Philosopher and Historian. Birth : Oct. 15, 1926 – Death : June 25, 1984

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Michel Foucault’s theory of power

Giovanni Navarria

13/03/2007

The Human Sciences

Perspectives and Methods


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Michel Foucault: Philosopher and Historian

Birth: Oct. 15, 1926 – Death: June 25, 1984

From 1970 to his death: Professor of the History of Systems of Thought in Paris at the Collège de France, giving it the title "The History of Systems

Life-long aim: Writing the history of the present. 1) the identification of the ‘historical conditions’ of the rise of reason in the West; 2) the ‘analysis of the present moment’ seeking to check how we now stand, vis-à-vis the historical foundation of rationality as the spirit of modern culture.

Author of detailed histories of: Madness, Psychology, Medicine, the human sciences, the penal system, and Greek and Roman ethics.

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Some of his many publications:

  • Mental Illness and Psychology

  • Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason

  • The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception

  • Death and the Labyrinth: the World of Raymond Roussel

  • The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences

  • Archaeology of Knowledge (first three chapters available on the blackboard)

  • Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

  • The History of Sexuality (Vol I: The Will to Knowledge (1976) - Vol II: The Use of Pleasure (1984) - Vol III: The Care of the Self (1984))

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Key themes:

  • Strong opposition against the humanist concepts of self and objectivity. He opposed:

  • 1) The idea of an autonomous individual. The subject for Foucault is not a rational agent thinking and acting under its own self-imposed and self-created commands. Rather the subject is a product of social structures, epistemes, discourses.

  • 2) An objectivist epistemology (theory of knowledge). Our meaning, experiences, reason, and truths are not simply given to us as stable and fixed objects. Rather they are constructed for us by the same social structures, the epistemes, and discourse that give us our identity.

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Archaeology 1

  • Archaeology: that is not studying the history of ideas per se but focusing on the condition in which a subject (e.g: the mad, the sick, or ill, the delinquent ect.) is constituted as a possible object of knowledge.

  • “I was using this word to suggest that the kind of analysis I was doing was out-of-phase, not in terms of time but by virtue of the level at which it was situated. Studying the history of ideas, as they evolve, is not my problem so much as trying to discern beneath them how one or another object could take shape as a possible object of knowledge. Why for instance did madness become, at a given moment, an object of knoweldge corresponding to a certain type of knowledge? By using the word “archaeology” rather than “history”, I tied to designate this desynchronization between ideas about madness and the constitution of madness as an object.”

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Power – Archaeology

  • Power is no longer the conventional power of institutions and leaders, but instead the capillary modes of power that controls individuals and their knowledge, the mechanism by which power “reaches into to the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives.” (Power/Knowledge, p. 30) It is in discourse that power is both manifest and hardest to identify. Discourse is where everything that relates to power and knowledge, including his own work, is buried.

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Archaeology & Discontinuities 1

  • Foucault’s work is archaeological because sets out to find out the discontinuities in the history of thought. In fact “beneath the great continuities of thought … one is now trying to detect the incidence of interruptions … [these] show that the history of a concept is not wholly and entirely that of is progressive refinement, its continuously increasing rationality, its abstraction gradient, but that of its various fields of constitution and validity that of its successive rules of use, that of the many theoretical contexts in which it developed and matured.”

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Archaeology & Discontinuity 2

  • Such an analysis of discontinuous discourse does not belong to the traditional history of ideas or of science:

  • ... it is rather an enquiry whose aim is to rediscover on what basis knowledge and theory became possible; within what space of order knowledge is constituted... Such an enterprise is not so much a history, in the traditional meaning of the word, as an "archaeology" (Order, xxi-xxii).

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Madness and psychiatry

  • Madness, for example, he examines the emergence at the beginning of the nineteenth century of the discourse called psychiatry. He discovers that what made this discipline possible at the time it appeared was a whole set of relations between hospitalization, internment, the conditions and procedures of social exclusion, the rules of jurisprudence, the norms of industrial labour and bourgeois morality, in short, a whole group of exterior relations that characterized for this discursive practice the formation of its statements. The discursive formation whose existence is mapped by the psychiatric discipline went well beyond the bounds of psychiatry. The subject of madness in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, what he calls the Classical period, in no way constituted autonomous disciplines.

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From Archaeology to Genealogy

  • The problem with the archaeological method is that if on one hand allows the comparison of different discursive formations of different periods, that is to say it helps suggesting the contingency intrinsic in a given way of thinking by simply showing that different ages had thought differently, on the other hand this method cannot satisfy the will of the historian to know more about the causes that produce the transition from one way of thinking to an other. Hence Foucault opted to study not the archaeology of knowledge but the Genealogy of it.

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Genealogy

  • "Let us give the term 'genealogy' to the union of erudite knowledge and local memories which allows us to establish a historical knowledge of struggles and to make use of this knowledge tactically today (Genealogy and social Criticism, p.42)."

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Archaeology and Genealogy

  • Whereas archaeology Studies the practices of language (in a strict sense), genealogy uncovers the creation of objects through institutional practices (Dreyfus & Rabinow, p.104). Whereas the archeological historian claims to write from a neutral, disinterested perspective, the Nietzschean or Foucaultian genealogist admits the political and polemical interests motivating the writing of the history (Hoy, 1986, p.6-7).

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Discipline & Punish

  • 1st Genealogical work

  • History of disciplinary power: it analyses changes in the external control associated with the negative aspect of power, whereas his later history of sexuality analyses changes in the internal controls associated with the positive aspects of power.

  • D&P traces changes in the nature of power as repression. From the widespread of public torture in the middle of 18th century to the allegedly rational and gentler reforms of the enlightenment of imprisoning criminals, thus creating a more effective vehicle of social control. Ultimately a model for the control on an entire society.

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Foucault – Power (1)

  • F. identifies the strategies of power with “the networks, the mechanism, [and] all those techniques by which [a] decision could not but be taken in the way it was”. Within the context of disciplinary power, disciplinary technologies are meant to help disciplining individuals. In fact, disciplinary power aims at producing an army of docile people whose role is tostrengthen the social system and to help it running as smooth as possible. (Foucault, 1980)

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Foucault – Discipline

  • Indicates: “a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, targets; it is a 'physics' or an 'anatomy' of power, a technology.”

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Panopticon: The prison is the instrument through which modern discipline has replaced pre-modern sovereignty (i.e. kings, judges) as the fundamental power relation

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Example - Examination

  • The practice of examination - for example of students in school or of patients in hospitals – it combines hierarchical observation with normative judgment. It is a prime example of what Foucault refers to as Power/knowledge, since it combines into a unified whole “the deployment of force and the establishment of truth.” It both elicits the truth of the subjects under examination (in fact it tells what a students know or what is the status of health of a patient), and at the same time controls their behavior (by forcing the student to study what is prescribed, or the patient to follow a certain treatment to be cured.)

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Episteme

  • Foucault's archaeology seeks to uncover - the episteme of the past:

  • By episteme, we mean... the total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly formalized systems; the way in which, in each of these discursive formations, the transitions to epistemologization, scientificity, and formalization are situated and operate; the distribution of these thresholds, which may coincide, be subordinated to one another, or be separated by shifts in time; the lateral relations that may exist between epistemological figures or sciences in so far as they belong to neighbouring, but distinct, discursive practices. The episteme is not a form of knowledge (connaissance) or type of rationality which, crossing the boundaries of the most varied sciences, manifests the sovereign unity of a subject, a spirit, or a period; it is the totality of relations that can be discovered, for a given period, between the sciences when one analyses them at the level of discursive regularities (Archaeology 191)

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Foucault - Governmentality

  • Foucault uses the term governmentality to indicate the complex tactics, procedures and apparatuses that attempt to control and influence the conduct of individuals by using truth, knowledge, and political economy, rather than violence: in other words, the art of governing by fostering willing compliance in subjects, rather than achieving legitimacy through the help of brute force.

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Mitchell Dean - Governmentality

  • Government as the conduct of conduct:  "Government is any more or less calculated and rational activity, undertaken by a multiplicity of authorities and agencies, employing a variety of techniques and forms of knowledge, that seeks to shape conduct by working through our desires, aspirations, interests and beliefs, for definite but shifting ends and with a diverse set of relatively unpredictable consequences, effects and outcomes." (Dean, 1999, p.11)

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The End

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Discontinuity

  • the fact that within the space of a few years a culture sometimes ceases to think as it had been thinking up till then and begins to think other things in a new way (Order of Things, p.50).  Establishing discontinuities is not an easy task even for history in general. And it is certainly even less so for the history of thought. We may wish to draw a dividing-line; but any limit we set may perhaps be no more than an arbitrary division made in a constantly mobile whole. We may wish to mark off a period; but have we the right to establish symmetrical breaks at two points in time in order to give an appearance of continuity and unity to the system we place between them? (Order of things, p.50)

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Dispositif

  • The concept of an episteme is insuficient and dispositif fills in the gap.  An episteme is researched through the analysis of discourse (text), but there are practices (institutions, architectural arrangments, regulations, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosphic propositions, morality, philanthropy) in addition to discourse which we may use to do a genealogical analysis of some particular situation (Dreyfus and Rabinow, p.121).  These practices form an intensified surveillance and control mechanism (Darier, 589), creating policy which polices and disciplines and which leads to resistance among certain groups.  

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