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Foucault's Society Must Be Defended « Previous | |Next »
September 24, 2006

I'm continuing to read Foucault's Society Must Be Defended, the lectures he gave in the mid 1970's at the College de France. The College enrolls no students and confers no degrees. Professors are required to deliver lectures to the general public on topics from their ongoing original research. These lectures are reconstructed from tape recordings and Foucault's own notes. In this lecture series Foucault explores the notion that "politics is war by other means" in its relation to race, class struggle, and power and provides us with a new model of political rationality.

In the second lecture Foucault sums up what he has been trying to say in previous years. He talks in terms of abandoning the Leviathan model of power and to study power outside this model of juridical sovereignty and the institution of the state. That means beginning with the techniques and tactics of domination.

A passage from the lecture courtesy of Craig at Theoria:

The juridico-political theory of sovereignty - the theory we have to get away from if we want to analyze power - dates from the Middle Ages. It dates from the reactivation of Roman law and is constituted around the problem of the monarch and the monarchy. And I believe that, in historica terms, this theory of sovereignty - which is the great trap we are in danger of falling into when we try to analyze power - played four roles.

First, it referred to an actual power mechanism: that of the feudal monarchy. Second, it was used as an instrument to constitute and justify the great monarchical administrations. From the sixteenth and especially the seventeenth century onward, or at the time of the Wars of Religion, the theory of sovereignty then became a weapon that was in circulation on both sides, and it was used both to restrict and to strengthen royal power. You find it in the hands of Catholic monarchists and Protestant antimonarchists; you also find it in the hands of more or less liberal Protestant monarchists; you also find it in the hands of Catholics who advocate regicide or a change of dynasty. You find this theory of sovereignty being brought into play by aristocrats and parliamentaires, by the representatives of royal power and by the last feudalists. It was, in a word, the great instrument of the political and theoretical struggles that took place around systems of power in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the eighteenth century, finally, you find the same theory of sovereignty, the same reactivation of Roman law, in the work of Rousseau and his contemporaries, but it now played a fourth and different role; at this point in time, its role was to construct an alternative model to authoritarian or absolute monarchical administration: that of the parliamentary democracies. And it went on playing that role until the time of the Revolution.

It seems to me that if we look at these four roles, we find that, so long as feudal-type societies survived, the problems dealt with by the theory of sovereignty, or to which it referred, were actually coextensive with the general mechanisms of power, or the way power was exercised from the highest to the lowest levels. In other words, the relationship of sovereignty, understood in both the broad and the narrow sense, was, in short, coextensive with the entire social body. And the way in which power was exercised could indeed be transcribed, at least in its essentials, in terms of the sovereign/subject relationship.

Now, an important phenomenon occurred in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: the appearance - one should say the invention - of a new mechanism of power which had very specific procedures, completely new instruments, and very different equipment. It was, I believe, absolutely incompatible with relations of sovereignty. This new mechanism of power applies primarily to bodies and what they do rather than to the land and what it produces. It was a mechanism of power that made it possible to extract time and labour, rather than commodities and wealth, from bodies. It was a type of power that was exercised through constant surveillance and not in discontinuous fashion through chronologically defined systems of taxation and obligation. It was a type of power that presupposed a closely meshed grid of material coercions rather than the physical existence of a sovereign, and it therefore defined a new economy of power based upon the principle that there had to be an increase both in the subjugated forces and in the forces and efficaacy of that which subjugated them.

It seems to me that this type of power is the exact, point-for-point opposite of the mechanics of power that the theory of sovereignty described or tried to transcribe. The theory of sovereignty is bound up with a form of power that is exercised over the land and the produce of the land, much more so than over bodies and what they do. [This theory] concerns power's displacement and appropriation not of time and labor, but of goods and wealth. This makes it possible to transcribe, into juridical terms, discontinuous obligations and tax records, but not to code continuous surveillance; it is a theory that makes it possible to found absolute power around and on the basis of the physical existence of the sovereign, but not on continuous and permanent systems of surveillance. The theory of sovereignty is, if you like, a theory which can found absolute power on the absolute expenditure of power, but which cannot calculate power with minimum expenditure and maximum efficiency. This new type of power, which can therefore no longer be transcribed in terms of sovereignty, is, I believe, one of bourgeois society's great inventions. It was one of the basic tools for the establishment of industrial capitalism and the corresponding type of society. This nonsovereign power, which is foreign to the form of sovereignty, is 'disciplinary' power. This power cannot be described or justified in terms of the theory of sovereignty. It is radically heterogeneous and should logically have led to the complete disappearance of the great juridical edifice of the theory of sovereignty. In fact, the theory of sovereignty not only continued to exist as, if you like, an ideology of right; it also continued to organize the juridical codes that nineteenth-century Europe adopted after the Napoleonic codes. Why did the theory of sovereignty live on in this way as an ideology and the organizing principle behind the great juridical codes?

I think there are two reasons. On the one hand, the theory of sovereignty was, in the seventeenth century and even the nineteenth century, a permanent critical instrument to be used against the monarchy and all the obstacles that stood in the way of the development of the disciplinary society. On the other hand, this theory, and the organization of a juridical code centered on it, made it possible to superimpose on the mechanism of discipline a system of right that concealed its mechanisms and erased the element of domination and the techniques of domination invovled in discipline, and which, finally, guaranteed that everyone could exercise his or her own sovereign rights thanks to the sovereignty of the State. In other words, juridical systems, no matter whether they were theories or codes, allowed the democratization of sovereignty, and the establishment of a public right articulated with collective sovereignty, at the very time when, to the extent that, and because the democratization of sovereignty was heavily ballasted by the mechanisms of disciplinary coercion. To put it more condensed terms, one might say that once disciplinary constraints had to both function as mechanisms of domination and be concealed to the extent that they were the mode in which power was actually exercised, the theory of sovereignty had to find expression in the juridical apparatus and had to be reactivated or complemented by juridical codes.

From the nineteenth century until the present day, we have then in modern societies, on the one hand, a legislation, a discourse, and an organization of public right articulated around the principle of the sovereignty of the social body and the delegation of individual sovereignty to the State; and we also have a tight grid of disciplinary coercions that actually guarantees the cohesion of that social body. Now that grid cannot in any way be transcribed in right, even though the two necessarily go together. A right of sovereignty and a mechanics of discipline. It is, I think, between these two limits that power is exercised. The two limits are, however, of such a kind and so heterogeneous that we can never reduce one to the other. In modern societies, power is exercised through, on the basis of, and in the very play of the heterogeneity between a public right of sovereignty and a polymorphous mechanics of discipline. This is not to say that you have, on the one hand, a garrulous and explicit system of right, and on the other hand, obscure silent disciplines that operate down below, in the shadows, and which constitute the silent basement of the great mechanics of power. Disciplines in fact have their own discourse. They do, for the reasons I was telling you about a moment ago, create apparatuses of knowledge, knowledges and multiple fields of expertise. They are extraordinarily inventive when it comes to creating apparatuses to shape knowledge and expertise, and they do support a discourse, but it is a discourse that cannot be the discourse of right or a juridical discourse. The discourse of discipline is alien to that of the law; it is alien to the discourse that makes rules a product of the will of the sovereign. The discourse of disciplines is about a rule: not a juridical rule derived from sovereignty, but a discourse about a natural rule, or in other words a norm. Disciplines will define not a code of law, but a code of normalization, and they will necessarily refer to a theoretical horizon that is not the edifice of law, but the field of the human sciences. And the jurisprudence of these disciplines will be taht of a clinical knowledge.

In short, what I have been trying to show over the last few years is certainly not how, as the front of the exact sciences advances, the uncertain, difficult, and confused domain of human behavior is gradually annexed by science: the gradual constitution of the human sciences is not the result of an increased rationality on the part of the exact sciences. I think that the process that has made possible the discourse of the human sciences is the juxtaposition of, the confrontation between, two mechanisms and two types of discourse that are absolutely heterogeneous: on the one hand, the organization of right around sovereignty, and on the other, the mechanics of the coercions exercised by disciplines. In our day, it is the fact that power is exercised through both right and disciplines, tha the techniques of discipline and discourses born of disciplines are invading right, and that normalizing procedures are increasingly colonizing the procedures of the law, that might explain the overall workings of what I would call a 'normalizing society.'

To be more specific, what I mean is this: I think that normalization, that disciplinary normalizations, are increasingly in conflict with the juridical system of sovereignty; the incompatibility of the two is increasingly apparent; there is a greater and greater need for a sort of arbitrating discourse, for a sort of power and knowledge that has been rendered neutral because of its scientificity has become sacred. And it is precisely in the expansion of medicine that we are seeing - I wouldn't call it a combination of, a reduction of - but a perpetual exchange or confrontation between the mechanics of discipline and the principle of right. The development of medicine, the general medicalization of behavior, modes of conduct, discourses, desires, and so on, is taking place on the front where the heterogeneous layers of discipline and sovereignty meet. (pp. 34-38)


| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:58 PM | | Comments (0)