The Critical Philosophy of Michel Foucault
by Zachary Fouchard

An honours thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Bachelor in Ethics

Saint Paul University April 2008


Table of Contents.............................................................................................2 Introduction......................................................................................................3 Truth.................................................................................................................7 Archaeology and the Order of Things..........................................................7 Historical Systems of Thought and Regimes of Truth...............................13 Man and the Human Sciences....................................................................18 Power.............................................................................................................26 Genealogy and the Subjugation of Knowledge.........................................26 Power, Knowledge, and the Sciences of the Individual.............................32 The Question of the Human Subject..........................................................38 Bibliography..................................................................................................45


INTRODUCTION It was during the 1970s that the influence of

philosopher/historian Michel Foucault, accomplished French intellectual, was felt, in a large way, outside of Europe. In 1970, the same year he was awarded a professorship at the Collège de France under the infamous title “history of systems of thought,” Foucault took a step into the English speaking world with key lectures and interviews conducted at various American institutions, including the University of Buffalo and the University of California, Berkley. By the 1980s, Foucault’s reputation as a major academic figure had broken out in the United States – with English translations of Discipline and Punish and the first volume of The History of Sexuality, as well as reissues of the famous Order of Things – and by this time, a particularly interesting interview was held during a seminar at the University of Vermont,1 where Foucault introduced himself anew to a North American audience with a clear statement of his intentions as an intellectual: I came to try to explain more precisely…what kind of work I am doing… I am not a writer, a philosopher, a great figure of intellectual life… I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in my life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning (Foucault 1988, 9).

Michel Foucault, “Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault, October 25, 1982,” in Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, ed. L.H. Martin, H. Gutman and P.H. Hutton (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988).


The main interest of this essay is to present the life and work of Michel or Foucault – – whether from or its not literary, in philosophical, intellectual beginnings

psychiatry, medicine, and a critical analysis of the human sciences, through its development in the history and critique of juridical and penal institutions, to arrive at Foucault’s “turn towards subjectivity” (Cook 1993, 121) and the impulse his thought takes towards ethics. It shall therefore be posited that three incremental breaks map the development of Foucault’s thought; of his oeuvre. First, from Foucault’s work in the 1960s leading up to the publication of Madness and Civilization (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963) and The Order of Things (1966), there is the project of an “archaeology of knowledge” within which the idea of truth is analysed in terms of historical systems of knowledge. This first chapter retraces in the oeuvre of Foucault the human experience of “the order of things” and posits a set of historical conditions for the possibilities of objective human knowledge and scientific discourse. Here, the development of history as a discontinuous and fragmentary archaeology of knowledge represents an investigation into the objectivity and truth value of systematically ordered discourse, society and as is therefore and concerned with the rules of formation for the production of statements understood within “valid” “scientific,” which Foucault uses to map the radically

anthropological limits of human knowledge grounding our modern understanding of ourselves in the notion of “man.”


Then, Foucault’s work shifts away from its archaeological tendencies towards a genealogical methodology akin to the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, with the publication of Discipline and Punish (1975) and the appearance of the first volume to The History of Sexuality (1976). This second chapter engages within the oeuvre of Foucault the critical vulnerability of things, institutions, practices and discourses, which most intimately characterize our individual selves, our bodies, and on everyday behaviour. A “genealogy of power” is therefore developed out of these studies, where Foucault reproduces a body of subjugated knowledge, of historical struggles, and of the force of power relations. And in returning to themes treated previously within the archaeological chapter – namely that of man as the object of the human sciences –, Foucault outlines the modern “technologies of the self”, where the production of truth is governed by a coercion of power and the question of the human subject emerges in the production of a certain kind of moral agency. In the end, then, it is upon this governmentality of the individual self as a moral agent that this essay endeavours to build its account of the critical philosophy of Michel Foucault. Detailing Foucault’s concern with truth and scientific thought in The Order of Things and his concern with power, social principles, and institutions in Discipline and Punish, the objective is to arrive at an understanding of ethics – the final chapter to Foucault’s work – as a critical philosophy engaged with the development of a model for the understanding of 5

ourselves that has become normative, self-evident, and has been supposed as universal (Foucault 1988, 15). Thus, beginning with an account of Foucault’s archaeological method for the history of truth, on through an account of his genealogical method for the historical coercion of the human subject, this essay will ultimately lead up to a description of Foucault’s ethics as an deep understanding of the various ways in which the human self is defined as a historical product of ethical “problematizations.” And in those areas where developments and technologies of the self have determined the morality of the human subject, three question emerge, pertinent to the basic framework of Foucault’s intellectual legacy: (1) What are the relations we have to truth through scientific knowledge, to those ‘games of truth’ which are so important in civilization and in which we are both subject and object? (2) What are the relationships we have to others through those strange strategies and power relationships? And (3) what are the relationships between truth, power, and the self (Foucault 1988, 15).


Chapter 1

TRUTH An Analysis of Systems of Historical Knowledge

Archaeology and the Order of Things
The term “archaeology” appears three times within the titles of Michel Foucault’s published works – The Birth of the Clinic: an Archaeology of Medical Perception2, The Order of Things: an Archaeology of the Human Sciences3 and The Archaeology of Knowledge4. Thus, as that historical/philosophical method which characterized Foucault’s work up until the 1970s, “archaeology” was what enabled Foucault to trace the historical contingency of the human experience of knowledge; that is to say, the relationship shared between objective knowledge (most notably, the foundational knowledge of the empirical sciences) and the a priori structures that determine their objectivity (Sabot 2006, 4). Archaeology, however, is neither a philosophical method nor a mode of historical investigation in any traditional sense of the term; its strategy is one of reconstructing the events of

Michel Foucault, Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, trans. A. M. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1973); originally published under the title Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard medical (1963). Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, trans. A. M. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1970); originally published under the title Les mots et les choses: une archéologie des sciences humaines (1966). Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1972); originally published under the title L’archéologie du savoir (1969).




a certain period and analyzing them with regard to their many different dimensions (philosophical, economic, scientific or political, among others), in order to finally arrive at the emergent conditions of discourse particular to the history of objective knowledge and thought (Revel 2007, 13). Such a procedure does not operate at the level of a ‘history of ideas’. A philosophy of knowledge or a history of thought traditionally traces the process of rational discovery in a continuous mode of the formulation and evolution of rational problems; “in short, it describes the processes and products of the scientific consciousness” (Foucault 1970, xi). Conversely, it also endeavours to restore what eludes the scientific consciousness: hidden influences, implicit worldviews, unformulated themes, “unseen obstacles,” – the scientific unconscious. But contrary to this last negative side to the history of scientific knowledge as it is traditionally formulated, Foucault’s archaeology seeks to reveal what could be called a positive unconscious of knowledge; “a level that eludes the consciousness of the scientists and yet is part of scientific discourse, instead of disputing its validity and seeking to diminish its scientific nature” (1970, xi). The fact is that the history of Western thought gives great pride of place to mathematics, cosmology and physics – rigorous sciences of the necessary. Theirs is a history of almost uninterrupted truth and pure reason. Disciplines belonging to that vague science of ‘man’, however – those


concerned with living beings, languages and economic facts – are tinged with empirical thought, wrought with imagery and metaphor. Their history, from the Renaissance to the present, is supposed to be anything but regular (Foucault 1970, ix). Yet, Foucault’s Archaeology of the Human Sciences challenges this traditional hypothesis, in attempting to map the positive unconscious common the natural history, economics and grammar over the periods of the Renaissance, threw the Classical Age, to the Modern Age. Says Foucault, albeit unknown to the naturalists, the economists and the grammarians of these periods, scientific knowledge pertaining to “life, labour and language” operated under very similar rules of restriction within each domain of definition of each study’s objects of knowledge:
It is these rules of formation, which were never formulated in their own right, but are to be found only in widely differing theories, concepts and objects of study, that I have tried to reveal, by isolating, as their locus, a level that I have called…archaeology (Foucault 1970, xi).

In this respect, archaeology represents the analysis of scientific discourse, seen not from the point of view of the individuals who are speaking, nor from that of the formal, logical structures of discourse itself, but from the point of view of the rules that govern the very existence of discourse, in the first place (Foucault 1970, xiv). In its most basic formulation, then, “archaeology” is the study of archē (αρχη): beginnings, first principles, original 9

emergences (Revel 2007, 14). The emergent conditions of discourse particular to the history of knowledge represent the object and archē of Foucault’s archaeological projects – the tabula upon which objective knowledge is authorized to identify, classify and hypothesize (Foucault 1970, xxiii). The epistemological conditions of knowledge represent the coherence of epistemic objectivity. Yet, at the same time, such conditions are “neither determined by an a priori and necessary concatenation, nor imposed on us by immediately perceptible contents”; they are a matter of groupings, isolations and analyses of the contents of knowledge; a matter of order (Foucault 1970, xix-xx). Knowledge, in this respect, is understood as a “system of elements” – or, rather, a systematization of various objects of knowledge. And conversely, the emergent conditions for the very possibility of knowledge are then understood as that which is indispensable for the establishment of even the simplest “system of elements.” In other words, the human capacity for knowledge is dependent, in part, on the necessary connection shared between knowledge and the possibility of a certain order among things. In turn, Foucault’s archaeology endeavours to outline the possibility of order, in its relation to knowledge, by describing the conditions whereby such epistemological ordering becomes manifest in time. However, does this mean that ‘order’ is somehow previous to knowledge and that knowledge is made manifest in its coherent objectivity only in its relation to ‘order’? Such a 10

scenario brings to mind the philosophy of Heidegger and the relation of Dasein to Being. Or is it the case that ‘order’ is simply a construct of human knowledge in its search to articulate reality in terms of the contents of the human mind? This scenario brings to mind the philosophy of Nietzsche, in its nihilistic tendencies. Foucault, of course, bypasses this dilemma and proposes an intermediary solution that more succinctly exemplifies the archaeological propensity towards a certain experience of order:
Order is, at one and the same time, that which is given in things as their inner law, the hidden network that determines the way they confront one another, and also that which has no existence except in the grid created by a glance, an examination, a language (Foucault 1970, xx).

‘Order’ is therefore neither totally “natural,” despite its relation to knowledge of natural things, nor totally arbitrary, despite its characterization as a “grid” whereby knowledge is understood as “a glance, an examination, a language” (Sabot 2006, 14). Distanced only slightly from Heidegger and Nietzsche, Foucault’s ‘order’ is at the same time subjective and objective. More specifically, order is what enables human thought to oscillate between the subjective and objective poles of knowledge. For on the one hand, there exist fundamental codes which establish for different cultures at different moments in history what Foucault calls the “empirical order” which color knowledge and discourse – “those governing [that culture’s] language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the 11

hierarchy of practices” (Foucault 1970, xx). On the other hand, there are also scientific theories and philosophical interpretations, which explain “why order exists in general, what universal law it obeys, what principle can account for it, and why this particular order has been established and not some other” (Foucault 1970, xx). Foucault’s archaeology is thus able to articulate the experience of order at two distinct levels; the practical and the theoretical. Its main objective, however, – the archē of order – is that domain which hides imperceptibly between these two regions, the intermediary domain of the empirical and the rational: that by which things are, in themselves, capable of being ordered; that which belongs to a certain unspoken order; the order of order; “the fact, in short, that order exists” (Foucault 1970, xx). It is in this middle region that order appears anterior to words, perceptions and gestures, but at the same time according to a given culture and historical period as more or less exact and more or less “true”:
[I]n every culture, between the use of what one might call the ordering codes and reflections upon order itself, there is the pure experience of order and of its modes of being (Foucault 1970, xxi).

In sum, Foucault’s archaeology is an attempt to retrace that “pure experience of order” as that which makes possible human knowledge codes and scientific discourse. Yet, the archaeological method is neither preoccupied with historically documented governing language, schematizing perception and hierarchizing practices, nor scientific theories 12

of universal laws or meta-philosophical systems for the interpretation the order of things. The archaeological analysis of the “modes of being” of order lay no claim to atemporal or transhistorical essences, but rather situates such modes of being in their contingent, historical manifestations as fundamental experiences of the practical and theoretical poles of knowledge (Sabot 2006, 15). Its attempt is one of bringing to light the “epistemological field” within which knowledge, distanced from its rational value and objective form, is grounded in a “positivity” which is not its history of growing perfection, but rather its conditions of possibility (Foucault 1970, xxii).

Historical Systems of Thought and Regimes of Truth
Perhaps the most common assumption about human history is that it progresses in an almost uninterrupted manner – both in knowledge and in human well-being. Yet, as Foucault’s archaeological method endeavours – “against the current, as it were” – to make manifest the modalities of the very existence of order in their emergence as laws, constants, sequences and values, it is understood at once that archaeological analysis does not belong within the tradition of ‘histories of ideas’, since its aim is to rediscover upon what basis knowledge was possible in the first place, within a historical period (Foucault 1970, xxi). Thus, it proceeds against the tendency to reconstruct history as a solid continuity by excavating the “epistemological fields” within 13

which knowledge is grounded; against the description of knowledge as the process of “an objectivity in which today’s science can finally be recognized,” towards an analysis of the epistemological field,
…in which knowledge, envisaged apart from all criteria having reference to its rational value or to its objective forms, grounds its positivity and thereby manifests a history which is not that of its growing perfection, but rather that of its conditions of possibility (Foucault 1970, xxii).

Such epistemological fields Foucault terms ‘episteme’: the ensemble of relations grouping the objective knowledge and scientific discourse of a particular historical period (Revel 2007, 45). The episteme is the archaeological tool whereby Foucault introduces into historical analysis, as against “the conception of history organized on the narrative model as a great sequence of events caught up in a hierarchy of determinations,” in opposition to totalities of knowledge and historical continuities, the very difficult problem of periodization (Foucault 1989, 12-13). The novelty of Foucault’s historical work consists in acceding to a complex methodology of “discontinuity,” where various levels of events in history call for different delimitations of period, and the object of historical analysis changes from the traditional opposition between the human sciences and history (“the first studying the of synchronic relationship and and the non-evolutionary, on linkage the second by analyzing the dimension of ceaseless great changes”) to types modes determined “structure” and “historical discourse,” different from the 14

universal relation of causality (Foucault 1989, 13). And here, Foucault’s periodization of historical events as levels of discontinuity, as episteme, bear upon the analysis of history as historical research into “systems of thought.” As he explains in The Archaeology of Knowledge, the problem now constitutes the proliferation of discontinuities at every and all levels of historical events, so as “to define the elements proper to each series, to fix its boundaries, to reveal its own specific type of relations, to formulate its laws, and, beyond this, to describe the relations between different series” (Foucault 1972, 7-8). The central question for traditional historians had been that of explaining the occurrence of events at the level of the continuous. But for Foucault, discontinuity reverses this perspective in demanding why some events are studied rather than others. The response, then, is an analysis of historical events from a “structural” point of view, where an event takes the shape of a complex occurrence through which “bodies of discourse” – groups of statements and relations produced from objective knowledge – acquire the characteristic of either truth or falsehood (Rajchman 1991, 123-4). Historical analysis takes on the characteristic of research into “systems of thought,” where the study of theoretical discourses concerning various domains of objective knowledge reveals the structural form of the body or regime of discourse, establishing “a priori the possibilities or impossibilities of such knoweldges,” 15 as well as the

“simultaneous functioning of these discourses and the transformations which accounted for their historical changes” (Foucault 1989, 29). The object of historical analysis therefore becomes one of accounting for historical change through the function of a given “system of thought” or episteme as that which is “capable of uniting, within a given period, the discursive practices which give rise to epistemological figures” (Foucault 1972, 250). Such accounts of function and structural form reveal the more “philosophical” concern for truth motivating the historical analysis of systems of thought and theoretical discourses. As Foucault himself purported in a 1978 debate with a group of French social historians, what distinguishes his historical project is a particular concern for “true/false discourse,”
I mean the correlative formation of domains, of objects and of the verifiable and falsifiable discourses that are connected to them; and it is not just this formation that interests me, but the effects of reality that are linked to it.5

Then, what contemporary commentators such as Arnold Davidson6 point out is that “the working hypothesis” of the method of archaeology advances a notion of truth understood

Michel Foucault, L’impossible prison (Paris: Seuil, 1980), 46; quoted and translated J. Rajchman in Truth and Eros: Foucault, Lacan, and the Question of Ethics (London: Routledge, 1991), 122-3. Arnold Davidson, “Archaeology, Genealogy, Ethics,” in Foucault: A Critical Reader (New York: Blackwell, 1986), 221-233. See also Ian Hacking, “The Archaeology of Foucault,” in Foucault: A Critical Reader, 27-40 and Philipe Sabot, Lire “Les mots et les choses” de Michel Foucault (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2006).



by Foucault as “a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation, and operation of statements” (Davidson 1986, 221; Foucault 1984, 74). Thus, as much as a philosophical dimension of inquiry motivates the intensity of Foucault’s historical analysis, that which is understood concerns as properly a historical of remains nonetheless a philosophical problem. By and large, Foucault’s historical undertake history statements, relations and ordered procedures that claim the status of truth. And as a system of ordered discourse, truth is methodologically isolated in discursive practices – practices for the production of statements –, which Foucault characterizes “by the delimitation of a field of objects, the definition of a legitimate perspective for the agent of knowledge, and the fixing of norms for the elaboration of concepts and theories” (Foucault 1977b, 199). History itself becomes analysable in its fundamental relation to truth from the standpoint of an archaeology of discursive practices, for the latter endeavours to map onto the analyses of history “the coming into being of new objects of thought for which new truth and falsehoods are to be uttered” (Hacking 1986, 31-2). The conditions for the possibility of knowledge are arrived at in terms of the circumstances under which the statements of theoretical discourse retain a certain truth value; the conditions for the objectivity of historically contingent knowledge analysed at the level at which statements are capable of being uttered (Hacking 1986, 32). 17

Thus, where the objectivity and truth value of a body of systematically ordered discourse is concerned, the rules of formation and production of statements delimit the function of objective knowledge and the transformations that account for its process throughout history. In sum,
Archaeology…must examine each event in terms of its own evident arrangement; it will recount how the configurations proper to each positivity were modified…; it will analyse the alteration of the empirical entities which inhabit the positivities…; it will study the displacement of the positivities each in relation to the others…; lastly, and above all, it will show that the general area of knowledge is…an area made up of organic structures, that is, of internal relations between elements whose totality performs a function (Foucault 1970, 218).

Man and the Human Sciences
In a 1969 interview bearing the title “Archaeology of Knowledge”7 – the same given to that great methodological treatise to follow The Order of Things – Foucault attempts to explain the irony behind the chosen title “Les mots et les choses.” Like many modern philosophers, Foucault regarded philosophical thought from Descartes, onwards, to be centered on the problem of knowledge; and consistent with his Nietzschean and Heideggerian influences, Foucault saw the problem of representation as at the heart of the question of knowledge. The French title, “Words and Things,” therefore sought to display certain philosophical problem:


Michel Foucault, “The Archeology of Knowledge,” in Foucault Live: Interviews 1966-84, trans. J. Johnston, ed. S. Lotringer (New York: Semiotext, 1989), 45-56.


H]ow can it happen that real things, things that are perceived, can come to be articulated by words within a discourse. Is it that words impose on us the outline of things, or it that things, through some operation of the subject, come to be transcribed on the surface of words (Foucault 1989, 51).

The irony of the matter, however, resides in the fact that Foucault’s text in no way sought to treat this philosophical problem. In fact, the text sidesteps the problem, displaces it, so as “to analyse the discourses themselves” in terms of the discursive practices that – ironically – are located at the intermediary point between words and things. This move attempts to show that, within discourse, there are rules of formation for objects distinct from the rules conducting the use of words, rules of formation for concepts distinct from the laws of linguistic syntax, and finally, rules of formation for theories distinct from the rules of deduction and rhetoric (Foucault 1989, 52). These are the rules – or, rather, the orders – that govern discourse at the level of discursive practices for which a certain thing is seen, or omitted, and a certain word is employed with a certain meaning and in a certain sentence. As Gary Gutting explains in his analysis of Foucault’s connection to the notion of representation in modern philosophy8, Foucault maintains that an important claim is made within the history of modern philosophy, when Kant

Gary Gutting, “Michel Foucault,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. (accessed March 1st, 2008).


raises the explicit question of whether or not ideas of the mind do, in fact, “represent” objects in the world. Taken as somewhat of the crux of Foucault’s archaeological period, the order of knowledge belonging to the Classical age – that early modern period beginning with Descartes and ending with Kant – was abruptly shifted at the end of the eighteenth century with Kant’s critique of Classical representation. For during the Classical age, the complex question of human knowledge was grounded in a philosophy of representation; to think was to employ ideas in their representation of object of thought (Gutting 2003). The representation of objects in seventeenth and eighteenth century science in no way concerned itself with the scientist’s own role in the process of representation – it was simply assumed that objects could be represented in human language (Cook 1993, 54). The basis for this assumption, Foucault argues, is that knowledge was referentially equated with representation. Classical thinkers could disagree about the ontological form of the mind’s representation of an object, but Foucault points out that they were all bound to the idea that representation were “non-physical” and “non-historical,” in the sense that the mental representation itself could not be conceived as playing a role in the cause networks shared between words and objects (Gutting 2003). When it came, then, to the paradoxical equation – exemplified in Kant – of the very idea of an objective representation, Classical thought was bound to its understanding of knowledge as representation and unable to 20

understanding epistemological



of of

representation representation

outside itself.

the For


Foucault, Kant’s critical philosophy clearly outlined this selfreferential characteristic of Classical representation, which led to important and distinctively modern philosophical systems of knowledge. Kant himself developed the notion that representations were a product of the mind and the transcendental dimension of human subjectivity, thus maintaining the Classical insistence that knowledge was neither a physical or historical reality, but nonetheless locating the grounds of knowledge in a novel domain – the transcendental – more fundamental than the ideas it enclosed (Gutting 2003). Others posited a radical historicity to the grounds of knowledge and representation, developing, as for instance in Herder, the historical reality of ideas in terms of their essential tie to language. For Foucault, this linguistic approach to the reality of ideas, in conjunction with Kant’s transcendental approach, inaugurated a break within late Western culture, in which representation loses “the power to provide a foundation…for the links that can join its various elements together”: the epistemological condition for these links resided henceforth “outside representation, beyond its immediate visibility, in a sort of behind-the-scenes world even deeper and more dense than representation itself” (Foucault 1970, 238-9). And at the archaeological level, an epistemic “system of positivity” – a particular condition of the possibility of objective knowledge – reveals a certain “mode of being” of human knowledge in which the order of things was divided up 21

and presented to the understanding (Foucault 1970, xxii). For Foucault, it was specifically the coherence that existed between Classical theories of representation and theories of language that were completely reoriented at this epistemic break occurring at the beginning of the nineteenth century:
…the theory of representation disappears as the universal foundation of all possible orders; language as the spontaneous tabula, the primary grid of all things, as an indispensable link between representation and things, is eclipsed in its turn; a profound historicity penetrates into the heart of things, …imposes upon them the forms of order implied by the continuity of time; …and, above all, language loses its privileged position and becomes, in its turn, a historical form coherent with the density of its own past (Foucault 1970, xxiii).

Consequently, though, it is with these new problems of knowledge and representation that “man” arises as a discursive event. For as the objectivity of knowledge in the nineteenth century becomes “increasingly reflexive,” seeking the intelligibility of objects by the principle of their own development and abandoning “the space of representation,” man emerges – and that, for the first time within the field of Western knowledge (Foucault 1970, xxiii). But as outrageous a claim as this might at first appear, it must be understood that Foucault meant by the notion of “man” the emergence of a concept, a theme, and an object of scientific inquiry that emerged within a particular episteme (Cook 1993, 53). “Man,” say Foucault, “– the study of whom is


supposed by the naïve to be the oldest investigation since Socrates – is probably no more than a kind of rift in the order of things” (Foucault 1970 xxiii); as a product of certain conditions that govern the objectivity of knowledge, “he is a quite recent creature, which the demiurge of knowledge fabricated with its own hands less than two hundred years ago” (Foucault 1970, 308). The discursive event inaugurating the Modern age, characterized primarily by the emergence of a radical historicity within the objectivity of knowledge, sees the abandonment of the space of representation within which words take up their place in the specific depths of language (Foucault 1970, 345). And at that, the sciences exemplifying nineteenth century knowledge – biology, economics, and philology – begin to study the internal laws of life, labour, and language which make objective knowledge of these objects possible. It was therefore necessary, argues Foucault, that, given these conditions, the object of man emerges as the living, working, and speaking foundation for the representation of all the positivities studied by the sciences of biology, economics, and philology (Cook 1993, 55). For, at a time when the Classical theory of representation was deteriorating, “the necessity of interrogating man’s being as the foundation of all positivities was imposing itself in its place” (Foucault 1970, 345). Thus, man was born of this need to replace the basis upon which knowledge is constituted as immediate and evidential. At a same time, man problematically became both 23

“the condition for the possibility of all knowledge about man and the object of that knowledge” (Cook 1993, 55); “he became, a fortiori, that which justified the calling into question of all knowledge of man” (Foucault 1970, 345). In turn, this conditioning of man as both ground and object of knowledge brought about a set of anthropological and historical concerns that remain today, late in the Modern age. For when knowledge acquired the general character of being a knowledge of man, there arose the modern controversy between the natural sciences and the sciences of man, as well as the controversy between philosophy and the human sciences. In a first instance, the conditioning of the ground of knowledge as anthropological – as based in man – forces the natural sciences of mathematics and physics to question, reformulate and justify the ground of their methods in a similarly anthropological fashion – “in the teeth of ‘psychologism’, ‘sociologism’ and ‘historicism’,” as Foucault describes it (1970, 345-6). And in a second instance, the hostility on behalf of philosophy towards what Foucault describes as “the naïveté with which the human sciences try to provide their own foundation” protests the use – and more to the point, the misuse – of man as that object formerly constituted within the domain of philosophy (1970, 346). At any rate, of this Foucault is certain: “man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed by human knowledge” (1970, 386). As the work of Foucault’s archaeological period outlines certain transformations within 24

sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century European culture affecting the knowledge of things and their order – the discursive practices emphatically located between language and objective knowledge –, the emergence of a radically historicised, anthropologically driven foundation for the possibility of knowledge takes its place at the heart of the Modern era, governing the epistemological conditions of the human sciences. It is in this sense that man and his science, the grounding representation of objective knowledge today, is a no more than the product of certain epistemological conditions, certain historical systems of thought and regimes of truth. His appearance is no “transition into luminous consciousness of an age-old concern” as much as his historical entry into objectivity as a discursive event is “something that had long remained trapped within beliefs and philosophies” (Foucault 1970, 387). Man did not exist between before the transparency of Classical representation was called into question at the end of the eighteenth century. And as Foucault famously concludes his piece The Order of Things:
If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared, …then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea (1970, 387).


Chapter 2

POWER An Analysis of Modalities of Power and Knowledge

Genealogy and the Subjugation of Knowledge
Shortly after the 1966 publication of The Order of Things, Foucault responded to the general public’s labelling of his work as “structuralist” by describing it, rather, as a “Nietzschean genealogy” (Revel 2007, 63). It is therefore no surprise that, as the philosophical/historical method most notably applied in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish9 and History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction10, genealogy has no recourse to traditional metaphysics. It is not teleological, is neither understood as a search for origins, and in no way does it seek to establish singular meanings and essential truths from within history (Barker 1993, 65).
Genealogy does not oppose itself to history as the lofty and profound gaze of the philosopher might compare to the mole-like perspective of the scholar; on the contrary, it rejects the meta-historical deployment of ideal significations and indefinite teleologies. It opposes itself to the search for ‘origins’ (Foucault 1977b, 140).


Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, translated by A. M. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1977); originally published under the title Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison (1975). Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, translated by A. M. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1978); originally published under the title La volonté de savoir, Vol. 1 of Histoire de la sexualité (1976).



Foucault’s genealogy refuses to engage in the pursuit of origins for, as explained above, such a pursuit presupposes some idyllic initiation in the past which the present attempts to recapture. In opposition to a “metaphysics of the return,” the genealogical method makes a return to the past by revealing strategic historical connections that have become invisible with the passing of time instead of describing what would amount to a kind of hermeneutics (Barker 1993, 65). And in conjunction with Foucault’s archaeological method, genealogy takes hold of discontinuity and dispersion, improbable beginnings and accidental developments, in order to “record the singularity of events outside of any monotonous finality” (Foucault 1977b, 139). It therefore less a movement away from an archaeology of the discursive as it is an illumination of the non-discursive in its various arrays of visibility, of novel connections and relations, and of revealed and renewed objects placed in relation to each other throughout the entire field (discursive and non-discursive) of human thought. “Gray, meticulous, and patently documentary” (1977b, 139), Foucault’s genealogy is a method for the analysis of a history with no essential continuity or unity; a history, in fact, which produced and induces certain effects on the things it encompasses – developments, accidents, coincidences, historical events placed in relation to each other in particular ways (Barker 1993, 66). For it is using the method of genealogy that Foucault argues for a function of history hitherto concealed: history as a struggle for domination. 27

Arguing institutions,



critical and

vulnerability discourses,





archaeological method discovered the fragility which grounds “the very bedrock of existence” – in particular, “those aspects of it that are most familiar, most solid and most intimately related to our bodies and to our everyday behaviour” (1980, 80). This sense of instability within history – archaeologically described as discontinuous, genealogically analyzed as without teleological origin – had the effect of further inhibiting recourse to global totalitarian theories within Foucault’s thought. As Foucault himself outlined in two key lectures given at the Collège de France in 197611, the reactionary effect that the archaeological method and other similarly critical tools have had on the local character of theoretical research translates into “an autonomous, non centralised kind of theoretical production” – a condition for both theoretical and practical research which curtails, overthrows and caricaturizes the singular truths and absolute unities determining those historical developments posited as the traditional objects of theoretical and practical analysis (1980, 80-1). What is meant by local in this context is that differential mode of human knowledge incapable of unanimity and absolute coherence, a knowledge “which owes its force only to the harshness with which it is opposed by everything surrounding it” (Foucault 1980, 82). Thus, the non-centralized and discontinuous theorizing Foucault sees as the novel character of local

Foucault, “Two Lectures,” in Power/Knowledge, transcribed by A. Fontana and P. Pasquino, translated by K. Soper (New York: Pantheon, 1980), 78-108.


research is truly autonomous in the sense that its validity is wholly free of the approval of pre-established systems of thought and regimes of truth (1980, 81). And arising out of this thematic is one of the grounding features constituting Foucault’s later method of historical/philosophical analysis: genealogy as witness to the insurrection of subjugated knowledge. By subjugated knowledge is meant two things. On the one hand, knowledge is subjugated and dominated when buried and disguised in the functionalist coherence or formal systemisation of history as teleologically continuous and essentially unitary (Foucault 1980, 80-1). Here, a genealogy of subjugated knowledge reveals “the immediate emergence of historical contents”; that is to say, a rediscovery of “ruptural effects of conflict and struggle” imposed upon the historical contents of knowledge as functionalist or systematized order (Foucault 1980, 81-2). On the other hand, by subjugated knowledge is also meant the historical contents of knowledge disqualified as inadequate or leading nowhere: “naïve knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity” (Foucault 1980, 82). Here, then, a genealogy of subjugated knowledge moves beyond the archaeological analysis of knowledge in its contingency and historically constructed dimensions, to the production of a reconstructed historical dimension of knowledge that shatters the unity of the former (Barker 1993, 66). And as such, genealogy is characterized as the furthest 29

thing from an empiricism or positivism in the ordinary sense of these terms: it has nothing at all to do with the “opposition between the abstract unity of theory and the concrete multiplicity of facts”:
What it really does is to entertain the claims to attention of local, discontinuous, disqualified, illegitimate knowledge against the claims of a unitary body of theory which would filter, hierarchies and order them in the name of some true knowledge and some arbitrary idea of what constitutes and science and its objects (Foucault 1980, 83).

Genealogy is described by Foucault as an anti-science (1980, 83). It is a counter-attack to historical systems of thought and regimes of truth, in the sense that its goal is to utilize such systems and regimes against and in opposition to the order of scientific discourse as such (Revel 2007, 63). It attempts to reinscribe subjugated knowledge – “the buried knowledges of erudition and those disqualified from the hierarchy of knowledges and sciences” (Foucault 1980, 82) – into the historical contents of human knowledge by making tactical use of the subjugation, domination and struggle of historical knowledge. Releasing historical knowledges of struggle, Foucault’s genealogy produces a knowledge that falls back on its historical place of emergence, and by this recoils away from the power of scientific discourse and the hierarchizing that orders governs the order of things (Scott 1990, 58). For as Foucault instructs, “what is at stake in all these genealogies is


the nature of this power” (1980, 87) – the nature of historical mutations and disruptions that are ignored by the functionalist tradition of the history of knowledge and disqualified by the systematizations and hierarchizations of human thought. An investigation into the power of ordered discourse therefore creates a “genealogical recoil,” in the sense of a falling back onto the discontinuous structure of history and knowledge, that forms a springing, self-overcoming movement whereby the truth of historical knowledge is consigned to a discursive order that can be critically interrogated (Scott 1990, 58-9). Foucault’s genealogical project is, at this point, preoccupied with a dramatic reversal of traditional discursive, epistemic analysis. For the springing, self-overcoming movement of genealogy produces within historical knowledge an inversion of the docile nature of knowledge, bringing forth and exposing “its latent nature and its brutality” (Foucault 1980, 95). It is motivated by a need to show how, and in what ways, truth is an instrument of domination in its relation to knowledge; how truth is a power put into motion through relations of domination. Therefore, contrary to the tendency to inscribe knowledge into “the hierarchical order of power associated with science,” genealogy endeavours to emancipate knowledge from this subjugation, rendering it capable of emancipation from “the coercion of theoretical, unitary, formal and scientific discourse” (Foucault 1980, 85). Based on a reactivation dominate of local knowledge For 31 against the scientific is a hierarchisation of knowledge and its intrinsic power to and subjugate. where knowledge









domination, a fundamental struggle emerges around terms of meaning, unity, interpretation, and truth:
The history which bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of a language: relations of power, not relations of meaning. History has no ‘meaning’, though this is not to say that it is absurd or incoherent. On the contrary, it is intelligible and should be susceptible of analysis down to the smallest detail – but this is in accordance with the intelligibility of struggles of strategies and tactics (Foucault_______).

Foucault’s genealogy therefore asserts that fundamental principles of strategy and tactic proceed through knowledge in participation with struggles that produce coherence, unity, continuity and meaning out of the accidental and coincidental within history (Barker 1993, 66). And as such, it exposes and specifies the issues of power at stake in knowledge, as well as the oppositions, struggles and insurrections produced through the institution of hierarchical, scientific knowledge and the relation of knowledge to power that invests such discourse (Foucault 1980, 87).

Power, Knowledge, and the Sciences of the Individual
Says Foucault, the traditional question of political philosophy is formulated in the following terms: “How is the discourse of truth, or quite simply, philosophy as that discourse which par excellence is concerned with truth, able to fix limits to the rights of power?” (1980, 93). Yet Foucault’s own question is one, rather, of the right of power in its 32

historical relation to truth – the relation of power to knowledge in the production of epistemic discourse. The studies forming Foucault’s genealogical period concern themselves therefore with power and its formal delineation, on the one hand, but also the production of truth this power transmits in knowledge. Describing the genealogy of power, Foucault elaborates: [I]n a society such as ours, but basically in any society, there are manifold relations of power which permeate, characterise and constitute the social body, and these relations of power cannot themselves be established, consolidated nor implemented without the production, accumulation, circulation and functioning of a discourse (Foucault 1980, 93). There is thus an inseparable relation between truth and power in which knowledge is the subject of a production of truth, but is thereby subjected to a power of the production of truth. But as archaeology reveals human knowledge to be fundamentally grounded in historical systems of thought and the production of truth, genealogy reveals knowledge in its inseparability with power – detailing the subjugation of knowledge to power in discourse, and the historical hierarchizations of knowledge. We produce truth as we produce wealth, we are subjected to truth as we produce laws, and we are judged, condemned, classified and determined by truth in all areas of discourse of which none escape the effects of power and domination (Foucault 1980, 93-4). Such effects are studied by Foucault at the historical level within which 33

power invests itself in institutions – where it “becomes embodied in techniques and equips itself with instruments and eventually even violent means of material intervention” (1980, 96). Foucault is thus less concerned with power at the individual level of intention or decision than with the investment of its intention at the level of “effective practices” – where power is advanced immediately and directly in its object and field of application (1980, 97). On the one hand, then, power is studied in its pervasiveness, not as a phenomenon of an individual’s domination over another but of subjugated knowledge employed and exercised in circulation between individuals. Simultaneously positioned to undergo and exercise this power, individuals are conceived as the vehicles of power, not its points of application (Foucault 1980, 98). On the other hand, though, power is studied in its infinitesimal mechanisms, each with their own history of techniques and procedures, invested within more general mechanisms and forms of domination (Foucault 1980, 99). Foucault’s genealogical examination of the nature of power is therefore directed towards “domination and the material operators of power, towards forms of subjection and the inflection and utilisations of their localised systems, and towards strategic apparatuses” (1980, 102). Discipline and Punish represents the initial localization of this genealogical examination of power: Foucault’s influential work within which modern society, from the nineteenth century to today, is characterized by the discourse of public 34

right – “whose principle of articulation is the social body and the delegative status of each citizen” – as well as the discourse of disciplinary power, whose purpose is to “assure the cohesion of this same social body” (1980, 106). Moreover, the genealogy of this social body and the discourses of public right and disciplinary power are held at the same level as the archaeology of the human sciences, within which man emerges as the object of knowledge for a discourse claiming scientific status (Foucault 1977a, 24). Foucault’s study then, within Discipline and Punish, examines at the genealogical level of criticism the insertion of man into the scientific complex of social institutions from which power derives its basis, its justifications, and its rules. More concretely, it is “a genealogy of the present scientifico-legal complex from which…power extends its effects and by which it masks its exorbitant singularity”; and its aim is “to study the metamorphosis of punitive methods…in which might be read a common history of power relations and object relations” (Foucault 1977a, 23-24). In modern society, the social apparatuses of punishment are theoretically situated in what Foucault calls a “political economy” of the body: in all measures of penalty and reprimand, it is the body of the individual self that is at issue. Power relations therefore have a direct and immediate hold upon the individual through a certain knowledge of the body that is not the biology of its functioning, but the calculation, organization and technical investment of its power to be 35

productive, but also to be subjected to production (Foucault 1977a, 25-26). But at the same time, power exercised on the body is not a property of the individual, but a force acted upon it – the analyzable effects of domination are attributable to dispositions, functionings, tactics, and techniques located at a level where “power and knowledge directly imply one another” (Foucault 1977a, 27). For where “power-knowledge relations” are analysed on the basis of the individual as an object of scientific discourse, historical transformation in knowledge are at all times a function and modality of power. The political economy of the body, then, as an analysis of the “body politic” of the self, is elaborated as a set of techniques through which the social body of society is divided into “cells” of individual selves, made objects of power-knowledge. According to Foucault, it was the Classical age which discovered the body as an object and target of powerknowledge: the anatomico-metaphysical doctrines of man, the knowing subject of scientific study, were elaborated in connection with technico-political principles calculating and regulating the various institutions used for controlling and correcting the “operations” of the body (1977a, 136). Of course, it was certainly not the first time the human body had become the object of constraints, prohibitions, or obligations; but as particular techniques of coercion over the movements, gestures and attitudes of the body, the mechanisms of power and domination had themselves developed in new ways. And by the eighteenth century, the political domination of the 36

body had achieved a power so subtle that the “signifying elements of behaviour” and “language of the body” that grounded the human sciences of the seventeenth century were replaced outright by a political economy of the body governing the efficiency of bodily movement and the internal organization of bodily exercise at an infinitesimal level (Foucault 1977a, 137). These meticulous techniques of control over the

operations of the body assured a constant subjection of its forces upon the body of the individual self, imposing on them “a relation of docility-utility” which grew out of the emerging ideology of “discipline” in the social make-up of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Foucault 1977a, 137). In fact, a novel form of discipline emerged at this time as an all-pervasive formula for domination in which a modern “art of the human body” was born, “directed not only at the growth of its skills, or at the intensification of its subjection, but at the formation of a relation that in the mechanisms itself makes it more obedient as it becomes more useful, and conversely” (Foucault 1977a, 138). Thus, the political economy of the body born out of the Classical age led in turn to a “mechanics of power” over the individual self fundamental to the political society of the Modern age. And out of the disciplinary discourse that engenders the various apparatuses of powerknowledge which sanctify the disciplinary practices of a mechanics of power is displayed the global functioning of a society of normalization (Foucault 1980, 107). Here, Foucault’s 37









encountered in the archaeological period, in particular that of the modern discourse of the human sciences and the fixation of the individual self in the subject, man. For the scientific, calculated, technical domination of human behaviour is not the product of an advancement in the rationality of the sciences of man, but a complexification of scientific discourse at the level of the relationship shared between power and knowledge: the mechanics of coercive forces present within the human sciences take on a novel, disciplinary form, situating man, the modern object of scientific knowledge, in a complex web of disciplinary normalisation.

The Question of the Human Subject
In summary fashion, it may be said that the foundation of Foucault’s archaeological and genealogical work culminates in the question of the human subject: both the archaeological analysis of history and historical systems of knowledge, and the genealogical analysis of power-knowledge and mechanics of domination over the individual self, share a common ground as an analysis and history of the different modes in which human beings are made subjects (Foucault 1983, 208). The first mode of inquiry took on the question of the objectification of the individual self through which the human subject gains the status of a science:


The objectivizing of the speaking subject in… philology and linguistics…; the objectivizing of the productive subject…in the analysis of wealth and of economics…; the objectivizing of the sheer fact of being alive in natural history or biology (Foucault 1983, 208). The second mode of inquiry took on the question of the objectification of the individual self through the pervasive disciplinary power of social institutions: the objectivizing of the socio-political subject in a political economy of the body representing the modern lineage of constraint, control and punishment within which scientific knowledge of the human subject is objectivized in a first place. Thus, it is not historical truth or power which constitutes the general theme of Foucault’s critical philosophy, but that of the human subject (1983, 209). The main objective of Foucault’s genealogical analysis of power-knowledge individual is the and the scientific of disciplines of the description historically subjugated

knowledge and its reintegration into the local and critical dimensions of political philosophy, with a focus not on particular institutions, groups or classes of power, but on techniques and forms of power. The form of power which applies itself to the immediate everyday life of the individual self – that which “characterizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality, attaches him to his identity, imposes a law of truth on which he must recognize and which others have to recognize in him” – is a form of power which 39

determines individuals as concrete subjects (Foucault 1983, 212). Says Foucault, “There are two meanings of the word subject: subject to someone else by control and dependence, and tied his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge” (1983, 212), and both take the form of subjugating power. Foucault’s work therefore takes on many descriptions of those struggles which illuminate the effects of power as such, those “immediate” struggles of the individual against the instances of power closest to them (1983, 211). And genealogy responds in opposition to the effects of power liked with knowledge, the “struggles against the privileges of knowledge” (Foucault 1983, 212), through critical analysis of history as a production of truth governed by modalities of power relations. Putting into question the validity of the rules of law and techniques for the management and production of human subjects, Foucault is led to question the very basis upon which the self-knowing, self-realizing character of the human subject is valued (Scott 1990, 87). The genealogical analyses of power-knowledge therefore culminate in a freedom from certain exposed modalities of domination, where the production of truth is governed by the coercion of power. His later work, found within the second and third volumes to The History of Sexuality12, consequently develops an analysis of governmentality and explores the limits “beyond the scope of

Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, volume II of The History of Sexuality (New York: Random House, 1985); The Care of the Self, volume III of The History of Sexuality (New York: Random House, 1986).


individual rights and self-relation” (Scott 1990, 87). In Foucault’s own words, governmentality is defined as, …the totality of practices by which one can constitute, define, organize, instrumentalize the strategies which individuals in their liberty can have with regard to each other (Foucault 1987, 130). The question of the subject is therefore a problem residing within the interplay of the production of truth and the coercion of power, where the human subject emerges as a product “of liberty, of strategy, and of governmentality,” and Foucault’s understanding of ethics begins to take shape (Foucault 1987, 131). Despite belonging to The History of Sexuality, Foucault himself characterized his final work as more about techniques of the self than about sex, since the idea of sexual ethics presupposed a certain technology of the self (1983, 229-31). But in keeping with his previous analyses, the question of ethics elaborated out of the techniques of the self took the form, not a history of solutions, but of “a genealogy of problems, of problématiques” (Foucault 1983, 231). The Use of Pleasure, for example, examined Ancient Greek sexual ethics as grounded in a techne tou biou – an “art of life” – within which the economy of pleasure played a large role (Foucault 1983, 240). Thus, out of this Greek techne of the art of life grew the Christian hermeneutics of the self, which


Foucault describes as a new elaboration of the same ethical problematization: Sexual austerity in Greek society was a trend or movement, a philosophical movement coming from the very cultivated people in order to give to their life much more intensity, much more beauty. In a way it’s the same in the twentieth century when people, in order to get a more beautiful life, tried to get rid of all the sexual repression of their society, of their childhood (Foucault 1983, 241). In other words, the ethical theme of sexual austerity is governed by a historical movement of problematizations of the self, present within the thought of the Ancient Greeks, on through early and medieval Christianity, up until the present day. The question of the human subject, in turn, emerges within “the treasury of devices, techniques, ideas, [and] procedures” that constitute the individual self as a subject of historical problematizations (Foucault 1983, 241-2). Foucault’s archaeological period sought to describe the individual self in his and her relation to truth, as a subject of knowledge. The first half of his genealogical period described the individual self in relation to fields of power, whereby the self is constituted as a subject governing itself and others. Finally, then, the latter half of the genealogical period arrives at a description of the individual self in relation to Foucault’s understanding of ethics as those problematizations through which the subject situates him and herself as a moral agent (1983, 246).


In conclusion, it may be said that Foucault’s ethics is genealogical in design and archaeological in method. Its critical mode of analysis centers on “a historical investigation into the events that have led us to constitute ourselves and to recognize ourselves as subjects” (Foucault 1984, 46). It does no endeavour to outline universal structures of moral knowledge, but rather the instances of discourse, belonging to a given historical period, which articulate that manner within which the individual self is problematized as an object of scientific studies governed by modalities of power. This historical/critical attitude puts the individual self to the test of a historically situated experiential reality, and reorients the ways in which that self is determined as a product of moral problematizations. Foucault’s ethics are, in this sense, grounded in a study of “practical systems” for the production of truth and the coercion or power, centered on the human self (1984, 48-9). His ethics answer to a series of open questions and make an indefinite numbers of inquiries which address the ethical problematization of the self in connection with the previous archaeological and genealogical studies. Thus, Foucault asks: How are we constituted as subjects of our own knowledge? How are we constituted as subjects who exercise or submit to power relations? How are constituted as moral subjects of our own actions? (Foucault 1984, 49).


And through a historical/critical investigation of the materials, epochs, and bodies of determined practices and discourses grounding the ethical problematization of the human subject, the very heart of human subjectivity is grasped “to the extent to which what we know of it, the forms of power that are exercised in it, and the experience that we have in it of ourselves” as human beings. Here, the philosophical domain of ethics is determined by historical figures that define certain objects, certain actions, and certain modes of relation to one’s self (Foucault 1984, 49).



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