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Techn: Research in Philosophy and Technology ISSN: 1091-8264

17:2 (Spring 2014): 274292 DOI: 10.5840/techne201311205

Michel Foucault, Technology,
and Actor-Network Theory
Steve Matthewman
University of Auckland, New Zealand
Abstract: While Michel Foucaults signifcance as a social theorist is undisputed, his
importance as a technological theorist is frequently overlooked. This article considers
the richness and the range of Foucaults technological thinking by surveying his works
and interviews, and by tracking his infuence within Actor-Network Theory (ANT).
The argument is made that we will not fully understand Foucault without understand-
ing the central place of technology in his work, and that we will not understand ANT
without understanding Foucault.
Key words: actor-network theory; Foucault; technology; technique
Michel Foucault is regarded as an important social theorist, yet rarely is he in-
terpreted as an important technological theorist. Discussions of discipline and
docility, for instance, tend to be abstracted from the very technologies that afford
them. As this article demonstrates, these are failures of exegesis, not emphasis, for
the analyses of Foucault are intimately tied to technological artefacts, techniques,
technical knowledges and forms of organization. Similar claims have already
been made within this journals pages (Gerrie 2003). Jim Gerries article offered
a reading of Foucault as a philosopher of technology. It considered connections
between Foucault, Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innis. The present article draws
on works that were then unavailable in English to examine Foucaults infuence on
one of the dominant paradigms in Science and Technology Studies (STS): Actor-
Network Theory (ANT). Here the argument is made that we cannot understand
ANT without understanding Foucault, although the broader argument is that we
cannot fully understand Foucault without understanding the role of technology in
his work. In order to make a case for Foucaults signifcance as a technological
The Relationship between Thought Structures and Media Structures 275
thinker we commence by looking at the deployment of technological terms in his
work, his thoughts on technological innovation and his broadening of the concep-
tual horizons of the technological to include the non-material realm.
Foucaults Technological Terminology
Surveys of Foucaults work show that most of his major concepts are couched in
technological terms. In The Birth of the Clinic (2003a: 89) the medical gazethe
eye that knows and decides, the eye that governsis discussed as the confation
of political ideology and medical technology, and knowledge and perception are
positioned as technological structures (2003a: 38, 48). Similarly, the hospital is
interpreted as a therapeutic instrument in his lecture entitled The Incorporation
of the Hospital in Modern Technology (Foucault 2007: 141). In Discipline and
Punish, Foucault (1979: 27, 215, 205, 257, 294) conceives of discipline, panopti-
cism and power as technologies, imprisonment and the transformation of man
as a technical project, and the judges of normality as technicians of behaviour.
What is Enlightenment? discusses the rationalities that inform human action,
what people do and how they do it, as the technological aspect of their exis-
tence (Foucault 1984: 46). In Society Must Be Defended Foucault suggests that
discipline is a micropolitical technology of the body based on drill and aimed at
the individual, and biopower is a macropolitical technology of security whose
target is the entire population. Biopower, then, is a regulatory technology of life
(Foucault 2003b: 249). Volume one of The History of Sexuality (1990: 44, 90, 105)
positions health and pathology, the regulation of sex and sexuality and processes
of normalisation and correction as technologies. Governmentality is defned as
contact between the technologies of domination of others and those of the self
(Foucault 1988: 18). Security, Territory, Population sees government, police
and security similarly interpreted as technologies (Foucault 2009: 8, 370, 382).
The modern states art of governmentthe technology of state forcesfnds
legitimacy through two great technological assemblages, the diplomatic-military
system and the police (Foucault 2009: 296). In Technologies of the Self, Foucault
(1988: 154) tells us that technologies like government manifest in three major
forms: as utopian impulse, institutional practice and academic discipline. Indeed,
even when he is not employing the t word, Jim Gerrie (2003) tells us that Fou-
caults works are crammed with technological terms and metaphors, The Order of
Things being a case in point.
We might ask ourselves what work technology is doing in Foucaults writ-
ings. Technology is a notoriously elastic category that can be made to stretch to
276 Techn: Research in Philosophy and Technology
the point of meaninglessness. To counter this, the STS literature defnes it in four
ways: as objects, activities, knowledge and modes of organisation (MacKenzie
and Wajcman 1985: 3; Winner 1977: 12). Our discussion of Foucault will cover
technology in all of these senses: as objects (in relation to stethoscopes and rifes),
activities (such as disciplinary techniques and other exercises of power), knowl-
edge (particularly medical and penological) and modes of organisation (hospitals
and prisons). It will place particular emphasis, as Foucault does, on technology as
activities, the techniques and practices through which ends are realised, for an on-
going preoccupation of his was the manner in which subjects are transformed into
objects of knowledge within organisational matrixes. Such is the message of The
Birth of the Clinic, The Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge. Dis-
cipline and Punish and volume one of The History of Sexuality study the technolo-
gies through which human beings are made subjects, while volumes one and two
of The History of Sexuality consider the technologies through which human beings
act upon themselves. Ultimately this is where Foucaults interests lay, not with his-
tories of things, but of the terms, categories, and techniques through which certain
things become at certain times the focus of a whole confguration of discussion
and procedure. One might say he offers an historical answer to the philosophical
question as to how such things are constituted (Rajchman 1984: 8).
Having defned technology we now need to say what it actually does. Fou-
cault (1988: 18) provides an answer. There are four types of technology, each with
their own specifc functions. They are used by people to comprehend and control
themselves and others. All involve the training and manipulation of individuals,
the generation of particular attitudes and competencies. He tells us that the frst
three types were identifed by Jrgen Habermas: technologies of production con-
cerned with the creation, conversion and control of things; technologies of sign
systems devoted to symbolic communication; and technologies of power which
dominate, objectify and ultimately determine individual behaviour. To these Fou-
cault adds a fourth: technologies of the self, which permit individuals to effect by
their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their
own bodies and souls, thought, conduct, and a way of being, so as to transform
themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfec-
tion, or immortality.
Foucault (1988: 19) said that most of his work stressed technologies of
power, but technologies of the self are a necessary complement if one is to com-
prehend the development of the Western subject. For Foucault (1997b: 88), it is
not possible to do a history of subjectivity without reckoning with technology,
The Relationship between Thought Structures and Media Structures 277
since this project involves histories of care and techniques of the self. In his later
career Foucault became interested in those ways in which individuals act upon,
and sometimes even dominate, themselves. This has led to standard interpretations
of his work that reinforce the notion that he had an early archaeological period,
a middle genealogical period and a later period detailing the history of subjec-
tivity, involving a broad shift in focus from control to liberation (for example,
see Han 2002). However, the posthumously published lectures at the Collge de
France show a preoccupation with another controlling technology: that of security
(Foucault 2008). Technologies of security are distinguished from technologies of
power by their focus, which is the population not the individual, by its aims, which
are risk-prevention rather than economic productivity or political compliance, by
its location, which is at the level of the state (for example in demographic data)
rather than within specifc institutions like prisons, and by its techniques, which
are regulation-based rather than disciplinary. Irrespective of the emphasis we can
say that Foucault was always concerned with subjectivity and subjection under-
stood through the optic of technology.
Thus far we have built a weak case for Foucault to be considered a theorist
of technology of any real import. This will be strengthened by considering his
thoughts on technological innovation, technologies of domination, techniques and
his profound infuence upon ANT.
Foucault on Technological Innovaton
The claim for Foucault to be interpreted as a technological theorist has been based
on a reading of his works and the self-assessment of his oeuvre; technology ap-
pears as the conceptual and intellectual framework for his labours. In this section
we concretize Foucaults thoughts on the role of technology by considering his
writing on technological innovation. This gives us the opportunity to see the ways
in which technologies (understood as physical objects) transform interpersonal
relations in the case of the stethoscope, and institutional relations in the case of
the rife. The former technical object can be interpreted as a technology of produc-
tion. As a new diagnostic technology the stethoscope allowed for the creation of
new medical knowledge (helping to transform medicine from a theoretical to a
practical science). It also converted a potentially embarrassing situation into a
professional medical encounter. The latter technical object, the rife, is the driver
for changes in the function and staffng of the technological mode of organisation
that is the hospital. The hospital can be interpreted as a technology of power: here
deviants from the norm of good health are categorized and corrected.
278 Techn: Research in Philosophy and Technology
When technological theorists explain the point of technology they routinely
fall back on the explanation of mediation (Verbeek 2005: 114). Technologies me-
diate between the physical world and culture, between matter and meaning. This
meshes with the notion of technologies as agents. We use technology to act on
and in the world, and technologies reciprocate. In other words, we should not
think of technologies as neutral intermediaries interposed between humans and
the physical world, but as fully-blown mediators affecting what it is to be human
in the world. Such a take on technology is typical of Foucault, as Gerrie (2003)
notes: technology is not simply an ethically neutral set of artefacts by which we
exercise power over nature, but also a set of structured action by which we also
inevitably exercise power over ourselves. Bruno Latour (1999) argues that tech-
nologies permit mediation in several senses. We will discuss three of relevance to
the stethoscope. First, technologies create new programmes of action, new pos-
sibilities. Second, they provide for new distributed practices, new compositions,
and new associations. Third, technologies delegate. They do the work that humans
would otherwise have to do.
In The Birth of the Clinic, Foucault interprets the humble stethoscope as at
once a scientifc, social, and ethical device. Manners and modesty forbade male
doctors placing their ears to the chests of female patients. Moral screening was
necessary. This came about via technical mediation. The stethoscope created per-
sonal distance between doctor and patient. Signifcantly, it simultaneously per-
mitted unprecedented intimacy. The stethoscope solidifed distance, Foucault
[It] transmits profound and invisible events along a semi-tactile, semi-audi-
tory axis. Instrumental mediation outside the body authorizes a withdrawal
that measures the moral distance involved; the prohibition of physical con-
tact makes it possible to fx the virtual image of what is occurring below the
visible area. For the hidden, the distance of shame is a projection screen.
What one cannot see is shown in the distance from what one must not see.
(Foucault 2003a: 164)
Part of the medical gaze, the stethoscope augmented the diagnostic senses as one
of a series of instruments and techniques that made the silent audible, the undetect-
able discernable. The stethoscope tied setting (clinic) to procedure (mediate aus-
cultation). Jonathan Sterne (2001: 116) suggests thinking about it as an artefact
of technique, after all [i]t was designed to operate within the parameters of a set
of social relationships, he writes, and it helped to cement and formalize those
The Relationship between Thought Structures and Media Structures 279
relations: the doctor-patient relationship, the structure of clinical research and
pedagogy, and the industrialization, rationalization and standardization of medi-
cine (along with the improvement of physicians social status). Alan Bleakley and
John Bligh (2009: 371) come to a similar conclusion; such artefacts of technique
were set within a wider architecture that was literal and cognitive: a discrete
physical organization around treating patients that is the clinic (also the teaching
hospital) and a structured way of thinking (in different ways for both doctors and
patients) that is the clinical examination.
Physical technologies could also be the drivers for institutional change. Fou-
cault makes what at frst seems to be a highly unlikely claim: that the modern
hospital owes its existence to the rife. A key institution comes about in the form
that we recognize it because of the technological transformation of European
armies. Widespread uptake of rifes increased the training costs of military force.
State budgeting increased accordingly. Long considered liable to be on the front
line of disease, national governments looked to protect their fghting investments.
Hospitals took on a new role. No longer a terminus for the poor the hospital be-
came a place attempting a cure. Shirking, much less desertion should be denied.
This necessitated new systems of surveillance and management. Experts required
medical knowledge of both how to cure and when a patient was cured. A political
technology of discipline developed in which doctors replaced priests as experts
and administrators (Foucault 2007: 141). As an example of technological theoris-
ing, this piece seems to fall short of Foucaults usual scholarly standard. Indeed,
the idea that a single artefact on its own could transform an entire mode of organ-
isation smacks of technological determinism. Ordinarily Foucault would position
such technologies as part of a dispositif (see the Foucault/ANT section) including
knowledge, institutional discourses, professional practices and architectural struc-
tures. A rather different reading of the development of hospital and modern medi-
cine is to be found in other works by Foucault (2003a, 1994a). Elsewhere Foucault
does write of the connections between technological invention and institutional
change. In Discipline and Punish, he argues that new weaponry precipitated new
disciplinary arrangements, just as industrial inventions led to new regimes of order
in the economic realm (Foucault 1979: 138).
Foucault, then, was attuned to instrumental change in the most literal way.
New devices could contribute to new practices, new observations, new organisa-
tions and new knowledge, so too could new architectural forms. As with stetho-
scopes, buildings could similarly act as scientifc, social and even ethical devices.
While palaces were built to be seen, and fortresses were built to see out, the
280 Techn: Research in Philosophy and Technology
panopticon prison was built to see in. Prisoners were arranged so as to be under
constant surveillance, and they behaved accordingly. He who is subjected to a
feld of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of
power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself
the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the
principle of his own subjection (Foucault 1979: 20203). Control was embedded
in design. The material structure acted on the prisoners prompting Foucault (1979:
172) to state: Stones can make people docile and knowable. The fundamental
point stressed by Foucault is the intimate connection of technology, understood
in its broad sense as objects, activities, knowledge and modes of organisation, to
Panoptcism: A Technical Soluton to a Technical Problem
In Discipline and Punish, Foucault offers an extended analysis of a new technol-
ogy of power made famous through the principle of panopticism. He identifes
this as a technical mutation in power relations commencing at the onset of the
nineteenth century (Foucault 1979: 257). The mutation concerns transformations
in social control from public punishment of the body to private punishment of the
mind and soul. Prisons became the new penalty for transgression. Direct physi-
cal force diminished. Training replaced torture. Instead, a regimen of rules and
regulations covering every facet of existence, the development of detailed records,
individual dossiers, new classifcatory systems and timetables dictating activities
to be undertaken. All conduct was to be underpinned by constant supervision.
In the executioners place a whole army of technicians (Foucault 1979: 11):
bureaucrats, chaplains, doctors, psychiatrists and warders. This new form of social
control was defned by the twin processes of carceralization and medicalization.
In his lecture on The Punitive Society, Foucault accounts for these trans-
formations thus:
What brought the great renewal of the epoch into play was a problem of
bodies and materiality, a question of physics: a new form of materiality
taken by the productive apparatus, a new type of contact between that appa-
ratus and the individual who makes it function; new requirements imposed
on individuals as productive forces. (Foucault 1997a: 34)
This new physics of power developed simultaneously with modern state
structures. It involved a new optics, mechanics and physiology. Foucault (1997a:
35) tells us that the new optics refers to continual surveillance. Everything is seen,
The Relationship between Thought Structures and Media Structures 281
recorded and fled. He calls this panopticism. The mechanics concerns confne-
ment. Closed systems can be interpreted as warehouses for surplus humanity, con-
taining those considered useless or threatening to the social order. Individuals are
isolated and regrouped to maximize bodily utility, in short, the putting into place
of a whole discipline of life, time, and energies (Foucault 1997a: 35). Physiol-
ogy refers to standards, their clinical enforcement, and measures of correction
whether curative or punitive. In appearance, it is merely the technical solution of
a technical problem; but, through it, a whole type of society emerges (Foucault
1979: 216).
Mark Kelly (2009: 4344) writes that [t]he key thing about technologies of
power is that they are technologies, not merely structures or discourses of power,
although structures and discourses play their part. That they are technologies
means that they are, like other technologies, a body of technical knowledge and
practices, a raft of techniques, which are transferable. Discipline and Punish is
therefore about more than prisons. Foucault (1979: 205) made it clear that panop-
ticism was a generalizable principle. Such is the architecture that would operate
to transform individuals: to act on those it shelters, to provide a hold on their con-
duct, to carry the effects of power right to them, to make it possible to know them,
to alter them (Foucault 1979: 172). These disciplinary structures and practices
occupy central positions in modern life.
For Foucault the industrial take-off of the West required the accumulation of
people as well as capital. The development of industrial capitalism could not be
realised without the proper control of people within the political apparatus. The
Industrial Revolution was therefore also a political revolution, resting on a cal-
culated technology of subjection (Foucault 1979: 221). This Foucault ascribed
to a commingling of technological innovations, an enhanced division of labour
and new techniques of discipline, with discipline being those techniques by which
bodies are transformed into productive entities. His discussion makes it plain that
power is neither property nor capacity. Power is a relation, an accomplishment
actualized by techniques.
Foucault and the Mechanisms of Power: The Mediatng Role of Techniques
Latour (1988: 199) registers his objection to dominant conceptions of technol-
ogy thus: The word technology is unsatisfactory because it has been limited
for too long to the study of those lines of force that take the form of nuts and
bolts. This aligns with Foucault (2000: 364): A very narrow meaning is given to
technology: one thinks of hard technology, the technology of wood, of fre, of
282 Techn: Research in Philosophy and Technology
electricity. Even within the feld of Latours labours, STS, there is an obsession
with physical things from Michel Callons (1986a) electric car, to Latours (1996)
automated commuter system, to John Laws (2000) aircraft, Donald MacKenzies
(1990) missile guidance system, Wiebe Bijkers (1995) bikes and Bakelite, and
Trevor Pinch and Frank Troccos (2002) synthesiser. With the growing salience of
material culture across increasing disciplinary domains this trend has intensifed.
Once we wrote of the linguistic turn. Jonathan Sterne (2003: 367) believes that
we may now be undergoing an even larger technological turn in the human
sciences, while Steven Connor (2008) has identifed a thingly turn in philoso-
phy and cultural studies and Judy Wajcman (2002: 361) has noted the increasing
salience of material culture in social anthropology. This gives nuts and bolts
technology more importance, but leaves techniques untouched.
Things enjoy prestige value, but techniques have pariah status. They have
received especially poor treatment at the hands of scholars (Lemonnier 1993: 2).
Yet for Pierre Lemonnier it is precisely these techniques which beg our analysis
for they are unambiguously social productions. Other theorists are wont to go
much further; these are the social productions that produce us (Serres 1982: 91).
Foucault would doubtless assent. It is to techniques that he is routinely drawn;
alerting us to this vitally important yet customarily overlooked subject (Discipline
and Punish mentions techniques on ninety-six separate occasions, and Security,
Territory, Population eighty). Indeed, Latour (2005: 76) accords Foucault now
classical status for his work in materialising non-material technologies, intellec-
tual technologies included. In a scholarly universe now fxated on things, Foucault
returns us to one of technologys forgotten domains; the scholarly blind spot of
technique (see also Gerrie 2003).
Can techniques be as signifcant as things? Can we compare disciplinary
techniques with technological marvels like the steam train and the microscope?
On this issue Foucault (1979: 225) wavers: They are much less, and yet, in a way,
they are much more. The disciplinary techniques of panopticism have garnered
far less attention than physical objects like blast furnaces and steam engines (Fou-
cault 1979: 224). This is regrettable as they represent a veritable technological
take-off in the productivity of power (Foucault 1980: 119):
We frequently speak of the technical inventions of the seventeenth cen-
turychemical, metallurgical technologyyet we do not mention the
technical invention of this new form of governing man, controlling his mul-
tiplicity, utilizing him to the maximum, and improving the products of his
The Relationship between Thought Structures and Media Structures 283
labour, of his activities thanks to a system of power which permits control-
ling them. (Foucault 2007: 146)
Herein lays the crucial point. In Foucaults telling, prior academic accounts of
power fxated on those who were said to hold it, an endless procession of mon-
archs and generals. Scholars either studied great individuals or great institutions;
the exercise of power was seldom discussed, much less the mutual imbrications
of knowledge and power (Foucault 1980: 51). It is to these very mechanisms and
techniques that Foucault (2003b; 2009: 150) routinely turned. As he put it: The
case of the penal system convinced me that the question of power needed to be
formulated not so much in terms of justice as in those of technology (Foucault
1980: 184).
Discipline and Punish identifes the methods through which subjects are ren-
dered docile by the exercise of disciplinary power (Foucault 1979: 138). Enmeshed
in a mechanism of domination people could be known, controlled, transformed
and used. As we saw, this rested on a new technology of design in which bodies
were placed (the panopticon), these bodies were then regulated through new tech-
nologies of coding (timetables, routines) and body-object training (rife drills),
supplemented by various techniques (surveillance, documentation, examination).
Through these technologies and techniques bodies are made visible, politically
compliant and economically productive. Techniques come to the fore. Through
them power is operationalized (Foucault 1990: 11). Accordingly, Foucault made
the question of techniques an ongoing concern of his work, by which he meant
the specifc practices which concretize political rationalities and tie individuals to
social collectives in particular ways.
Latour (2005: 86) has suggested that this aspect of Foucaults scholarship, the
analysis of the very stuff of power, has been forgotten in the Anglophone world,
but his message has not been lost on actor-network theorists. The only way to
understand how power is locally exerted is thus to take into account everything
that has been put to one side, that is, essentially, techniques (Latour 1986: 277).
Power is simply their effect (Latour 1986; Foucault 1979: 27). We should, how-
ever, note differences of emphasis. Foucault was interested in the ways in which
techniques resocialize human subjects; ANT is more interested in the ways in
which techniques socialize non-human objects (Latour 1999: 197). Still, the infu-
ence of Foucault is clear. Laws article on the long-distance control of Portuguese
colonies (Law 1986b) is a case in point. This required ship construction that could
protect sailors from enemies and from the elements. Ships needed to be capable of
284 Techn: Research in Philosophy and Technology
covering vast distances with commercially viable amounts of cargo. This neces-
sitated navigational instrumentation that was durable, portable and reliable. Law
(1986a: 17) extends Foucaults comments about drilled people to technologies,
discussing the development of docile devices like astrolabes (see also Callon
(1991: 151) on docile agents.)
Foucaults Infuence on ANT
While Foucault enjoys canonical status in Surveillance Studies, his profle in STS
is considerably lower. This is particularly strange given his profound infuence on
ANT, which has been in ascendency within STS for two decades. We will consider
ANTs intellectual debt to Foucault with reference to its leading fgures: Latour,
Law, and Callon. We will do so by examining the topics of power, materiality, the
nature of the social, non-human agency and technological neutrality. These topics
have been selected as they form the core of what leading protagonists take ANTs
concerns to be. Law (1992), for example, sums up the core principles of ANT
thus: it is centrally interested in the operations of power, and it conceives of the
social as a heterogeneous network. Knowledge, action and power are explained as
materially embodied network effects (Law 1992: 381). As we shall see, these ideas
all resonate with Foucault.
ANT shares Foucaults (1982) defnition of power as the ability to affect the
actions of others (Latour 1986: 265). Success is therefore measured in the same
way. Disciplinary power results in the docility of opponents. Like Foucault (1979:
27) ANT treats power as effect rather than cause, and as strategy not property (Law
1986a). The notion of power operating through a network is also already present
in Foucaults (1980: 98) thought: Power must be analysed as something which
circulates, or rather as something which only functions in the form of a chain. It
is never localized here or there, never in anybodys hands, never appropriated as a
commodity or piece of wealth. Power is employed and exercised through a net-like
organisation. Compare Latour (1991: 110): Power is not a property of any one
of those elements but of a chain of human and non-human actors. For Foucault
(1994b: 345) as for ANT this network is heterogeneously composed: [p]ower
relations are rooted in the whole network of the social, a multiple network of
diverse elements (Foucault 1979: 307). People and things do not populate a void;
rather they occupy heterogeneous space, with various sites defned by their re-
lations (Foucault 1986: 23). The network is invoked by Foucault (1990: 46) to
describe social formations such as the family, as well as to describe our social
situation more broadly, [t]he present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch
The Relationship between Thought Structures and Media Structures 285
of space. ... We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is
less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects
points and intersects with its own skein (Foucault 1986: 22).
In Discipline and Punish (1979), Power/Knowledge (1980) and The Pu-
nitive Society (1997a), Foucault discusses the materiality of power, and in the
opening volume of The History of Sexuality (1990: 140), he reminds us that power
is made possible only through agencement concrets (concrete arrangements). That
is to say, power is not a network of forces, but a multiple network of diverse
elementswalls, space, institution, rules, discourse ... a strategic distribution of
elements of different natures and levels (Foucault 1979: 307). This is precisely
what ANT theorists take the social to be, nothing other than patterned networks
of heterogeneous materials (Law 1992: 381, emphasis in original). ANT also
fully subscribes to Foucaults notion of the materiality of power. Writes Latour:
Left to its own devices, a social tie made only of social ties would be limited
to very short-lived, local, face-to-face, unequipped interactions. ... When
power is exerted, it is because it is not made of social ties. ... It is when
power is exercised through things that dont sleep and associations that
dont break down that it can last longer and expand furtherand for this,
of course, links made of another stuff than social contracts are required.
(Latour 2004: 225)
Foucaults work is sensitive to the ways in which subjects become objects and the
ways in which objects act upon subjects. Colin Gordon (1980: 23839) draws at-
tention to the signifcance of this. Foucault does not affrm the radical autonomy
of human from physical technologies; moreover, he jettisons the ethical
polarisation of the subject-object relationship. Domination, after all, is simul-
taneously subjectifcation and objectifcation. Gordon directs us to Foucaults
discussion of Man-the-Machine, although his later observations on body-object
articulation are more apposite. Foucault argues that the early modern idea of
man as machine had two sources of infuence, an anatomico-metaphysical register
inaugurated by Descartes and elaborated by subsequent philosophers and phy-
sicians, and a technico-political register beginning in the military but spreading
to schools and hospitals. The former aimed at making the body intelligible, the
latter useful. One was aimed at comprehension, the other control. Man could be
treated as a machine, with bodily movements made to operate as if clockwork:
The human body was entering a machinery of power that explores it, breaks it
down and rearranges it (Foucault 1979: 138). Foucault continues in this vein
286 Techn: Research in Philosophy and Technology
citing Ordonnance du 1er janvier 1766, pour rgler lexercise de linfanterie, a
weapons drill for the correct holding, aiming, fring, and reloading of rifes. Here
the body relates to manipulated object in a precisely codifed manner. Another
example concerns the Prussian military regulations of 1743 which stipulated six
stages for bringing the weapon to foot, four to extend it and thirteen to raise it to
the shoulder. In the process soldier and rife are fused, the two become one, bonded
by a power that operates over all surfaces. Together they become a body-weapon,
body-tool, body-machine complex (Foucault 1979: 153). Latour (1994: 32) also
wrote of person and frearm in combination as more than the sum of their parts,
describing the result as a gun-citizen. Like Foucault, Latours analysis eschews
moralist accounts which focus exclusively on users of technology (people kill
people) and materialist accounts focusing only upon the technology being used
(guns kill people). Neither of their analyses proceeds with essences, subjects or
objects, but with a hybrid composite. What is fore-grounded is the mediating role
of techniques. They argue for what we might call a distributed agency (people
with guns kill people).
Nonetheless, as Latour (2002) would do much later, Foucault identifed a
moral dimension to technology. Tellingly, Foucault (1979: 223) refers to moral-
ity as a set of physico-political techniques. Here he adds his voice to all of the
others that have opposed the nave view of technological neutrality: technology
as mere tool, as mere means to an end. Instead, technologies are positioned as
political actors. Means and ends are enmeshed. Technologies like stethoscopes are
designed to do specifc things, to allow certain actions. That is, there is a morality
to artefacts that affect decisive transformations. As noted, institutional formations
are included in this. Foucault (2007: 149) writes that [t]he architecture of the
hospital must be the agent and the instrument of cure. Prison is discussed as
an instrument and vector of power (Foucault 1979: 30). The cell acts as moral
agent, disciplines fundamental structure, necessary for isolation, refection and
transformation. It is the instrument by which one may reconstitute both homo
oeconomicus and the religious conscience, the means by which the body and
soul are worked upon to reconstitute deviant subject as model citizen (Foucault
1979: 123). Warders do not need to exert force, this is assured by the materiality
of things (Foucault 1979: 239). Walls do the punishing. Stones can make people
docile and knowable.
ANT scholars have noted their affnities with Foucault. Callon (1986a: 196)
introduced the sociology translation as a new sociology of power. It would later be
known as ANT. His programmatic article hinted at ANTs progenitor. In his con-
The Relationship between Thought Structures and Media Structures 287
cluding comments about translationhow power is realized and how the conduct
of others is controlledhe directed his readers to a fnal footnote: this point links
with the notion of the political economy of power proposed by Michel Foucault
(Callon 1986b: 230). Latours (1986: 279) discussion of power draws the same
conclusion, the result of ANT analysis is in effect the same result as that obtained
by Michel Foucault ... when he dissolves the notion of a power held by the power-
ful in favor of micro-powers diffused through the many technologies to discipline
and keep in line. ANT, then, is simply an expansion of Foucaults notion to the
many techniques employed in machines and the hard sciences. Law (1992: 388)
offers a further point of connection when he notes that processes of translation
like Foucauldian discourses, ramify through and reproduce themselves in a range
of network instances or locations.
What might be original to ANT? Law (1992: 387) suggests that because it
makes no sharp ontological distinction between subject and object it is analyti-
cally radical. As demonstrated, Discipline and Punish had already taken this posi-
tion. Law (1992: 389) further suggests that ANTs relational materialism might be
novel, by which he means its insistence on viewing both people and things as part
of the social scientists story. But recalling Foucaults writings on heterogeneity,
materiality and networks this claim is also contestable. Indeed, Law (1994: 11)
would later write that relational materialism is not unique to ANT, rather it is a
sensibility it shares with Foucault and various stars of STS like Donna Haraway
and Madeleine Akrich. In more recent writings still ANT is offered as a scaled
down version of Foucaults discussions of discourse and epistemes (Law 2007: 6).
The real point of departure is methodological not conceptual. Foucault excavates
points in the past, ANT tells empirical stories about processes of translation in
the present (Law 1992: 387). For the most partand this only seems to hold if
we ignore Foucaults interviews and shorter works and Latour (1988) and Laws
(1986b) historic piecesFoucault was in the archive whereas ANT theorists are
in the feld. In an interview Latour (2003: 16) brought some clarifcation to his
lifes work. He described his enduring project as an analysis of contemporary civi-
lizations truth-generation sites: science, religion, law, technology and techniques.
Again, this is rather close to Foucaults core concerns. Perhaps the methodological
differences, such as they are, are less signifcant than the political reasons that
seem to drive them. Foucaults excavations show us that our social arrangements
can be different because they have been different, while ANT shows us how power
is achieved and how worlds are built. Both, in their own ways, offer the possibility
of alternatives.
288 Techn: Research in Philosophy and Technology
Before STS and ANT came into being Foucault had already made the point
that neither agency nor morality are the exclusive preserve of humanity. Similarly,
prior to Latour (1991) writing Technology Is Society Made Durable, Foucault
had already shown us the the decisive role of technological procedures and ap-
paratuses in the organization of a society (De Certau 2000: 187, emphasis in
original). Humans can not be abstracted from the very technologies that help
constitute them. Matter matters. Hence the proliferation of words like apparatus,
instrumentations, machineries, mechanisms, techniques, technologies and techno-
politics throughout Discipline and Punish to capture the silent agents of his
story (De Certau 2000: 185). By showing, in a single case, the heterogeneous
and equivocal relations between apparatuses and ideologies, Michel De Certau
(2000: 189) writes, Foucault has constituted a new object of historical study:
that zone in which technological procedures have specifc effects of power, obey
logical dynamisms which are specifc to them, and produce fundamental turnings
aside in the juridical and scientifc institutions. Foucaults notion of apparatus
(dispositif) assumes central signifcance here. His fullest defnition of the term is
to be found in The Confession of the Flesh:
What Im trying to pick out with this term is, frstly, a thoroughly heteroge-
neous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms,
regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientifc statements,
philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositionsin short, the said as
much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus
itself is the system of relations that can be established between these ele-
ments. (Foucault 1980: 194)
Compare, once more, ANT theorists on the nature of the social: Agents, texts,
devices, architectures are all generated in, form part of, and are essential to, the
networks of the social (Law 1992: 379).
This article has advanced a case for taking Foucault seriously as a theorist of tech-
nology. Only rarely is he acknowledged as such. The oversight is strange given
the fact that Foucault anchored much of his conceptual terminology in technol-
ogy. This vocabulary was necessary as technology was the lens through which he
made sense of the world. Technologies channel action. Through them and their
allied techniques we understand, and transform, ourselves and others. They play
a crucial role in the constitution of the subject and in the construction of soci-
The Relationship between Thought Structures and Media Structures 289
ety. Recognising this, Foucault (1997a) located his intellectual output within a
technological framework. We therefore need to understand technology if we are
to understand his work. This point is particularly pertinent to his core concern:
power. For Foucault power is not a capacity residing within particular individuals
but an interactive effect, disseminated through heterogeneous networks of people
and things in combination. Technologies and techniques come to the fore as the
creators, carriers, and conveyors of power relations (Foucault 1979: 201; Foucault
1984). They are the means by which power is exercised and its very substance.
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