Michel Foucault

Mark Olssen


"Thin" Communitarian:

Difference, Community, Democracy
University of Surrey
Rather than advocating a variant of ethical dandyism revolving around individualistic withdrawal and the aesthetic intensification of sexual pleasures, this article argues that Foucault’s ethical and political ouvre can best be represented as a form of nonmonistic communitariamsm termed "thin" communitarianism. In this model, difference and unity are paired or balanced. Although difference is given greater scope than in traditional enlightenment philosophical theorizing, the author argues that it must be nevertheless contextualized in relation to a model of community if it is to be coherent. Extending the argument further, he argues that a form of democratic associationism better fits the type of political community he intends. In this sense, Foucault is best represented as a "thin" communitarian, not in the sense of Rawls, Habermas, or the premodern notion of a community as having a substantive common goal or unified bond (communio), but rather as a interactive multiplicity (commercium) not ruled by any organizing or binding law or principle, and as a structure of tacit agreements, understandings, and rules that represent the basis of political reason as a pragmatic code for problem solving rather than a set of universal epistemological principles based on truth.

be seen partly as a dominant form of state reason. Among postmodern analysts, there has been concern that community identification should not be equated with consensual value systems or unified cultural normative arrangements. Writers such as Zygmunt Bauman ( 1991, p. 246), although seeing the revival of a &dquo;globalised community&dquo; as necessary in postmodernity, stressed that such a conception should not be equated with traditional rural communities of the past but retheorized in terms of a &dquo;postmodernization&dquo; of culture, a conception of community that transcends the politics of totality and nationalism. Similarly, Etzioni (1995) argued to recover a sense of community that is relevant to contemporary conditions and not just a return to the nostalgic traditions of some bygone era. For Etzioni (1995, pp. 1-5), the &dquo;responsive community&dquo; is one rooted in &dquo;social virtues&dquo; and &dquo;basic settled values.&dquo; The family and the school are the two basic institutions that can cultivate the kind of citizenship required by such a community. In his conception, Etzioni conceived of criss-crossing, overlapping communican as a

The revival of the idea of community in the 1990s reaction to the individualizing effects of neoliberalism

Cultural Studies H Cntical Methodologies, Volume 2 Number 4, 2002 483-513 DOI: 10.1177/153270802237357 C 2002 Sage Publications

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ties whereby less encompassing communities nest inside more expansive ones.’ In this context, Delanty (2000) argued that such a conception of community refers to a deterritorialized global cultural order, whereas the notion of society refers to the sphere of institutionalized action within a national geopolitical domain. Such conceptions of community, it can be argued, better explain than

liberal models the intersocial context within which individuals are constituted and in terms of which they act, the relational nature of identity, as well as the dimensions of social action embedded in notions such as responsibility, trust, obligation, and duty. One of the central theoretical concerns of this renewed interest concerns the issue as to how claims for community can be rendered consistent with difference, that is, where the multiplicity of group and individual life is recognized and where a stress on cohesion and unicity is avoided. As William Corlett (1993) noted, rather than appeal to a golden age of the shared interests of a lost totality, we need a stress on the idea of community without unity. Similar theses have been argued by Craig Calhoun (1983), Maurice Blanchot (1988), Georgio Agamben (1993), Bill Readings (1996), Michel Maffesoli (1996), Jean-Luc Nancy (1991), and, recently, Gerard Delanty (2000). The revival of conceptions of community has been central to the theoretical elaboration of new models of citizenship. If modernity was constructed in the destruction of community and the rise of the sovereign presocial individual, community has become the key to postmodern theoretical work (Delanty, 2000, p. 116). This renewed interest in the theory of community takes place against the backdrop of the perceived inadequacies represented by both sides of the liberal/communitarian debate, for whereas liberals exaggerated citizenship as free and independent and neglected elements such as trust and mutuality, communitarians, it has been argued, overplayed the organic ties between individuals and social forms and failed to articulate rights, freedom, and individual or group agency as they operate in the context of community normative arrangements.2 What was needed, clearly, was a conception of citizenship that saw it in terms of membership of a community as well as in relation to group and individual rights and freedom. In The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society (1996), Michel Maffesoli suggested that mass society is giving way to the time of the tribes, whereby emotional communities, defined by affectual and aesthetic criteria, are developing, characterized by unstable and open structures as opposed to the fixed and closed totalities of earlier times. People now live, said Maffesoli, in temporary networks or tribes organized around lifestyle or image. Such new and different forms of community amount to the end of modernity and introduce a new era in which communities are more open and unconstrained. In a similar way, Jean-Luc Nancy (1991) saw community as the basis of all human experience and as the source of the self as a social being. Whereas a sense of community is therefore vital to a theorization of contemporary social processes, it is important not to hark back to a traditional conception of a

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bounded and closed totality-a communio-for the interruption of open processes and the imposition of moral constraints is the source of the inoperative community, in Nancy’s view. In his book, Gerard Delanty (2000) represented community as a &dquo;shared cultural imaginary&dquo; (p. 127) in the attempt to develop a postmodernist discourse &dquo;beyond unity.&dquo; Following writers like Cornelius Castoriadis, Maffesoli, and Benedict Anderson, he stressed the ability of society to imagine itself not as a traditional bonded order but as a deterritorialized and globalized one, in response to the needs of trust, solidarity, and autonomy, which he saw as the core concepts of community. In that much of the postmodern theoretical work on the topic comprised an attempt to reconcile a conception of community with a conception of difference, and to privilege the later in relation to the former, it is left unclear in accounts such as those of Corlett, Maffesoli, Delanty, or indeed writers like Iris Marion Young, who will be considered below, how difference can be reconciled in postmodern theorizing with the political strategies such as resistance and with the conflicting political processes of democracy and law. In addition, there is the related political issue of how differences are to be arbitrated and resolved in situations of conflict, an issue that Habermas can claim to solve but that postmodernists, including those mentioned above, have some difficulty with. In relation to Delanty’s book, for instance, it is not clear how a globalized and deterritorialized cultural imaginary can be reconciled with conflicting community demands in relation to law and democracy. Thus, although postmodernists conceptualize communities as unstable and open, which respect difference, and which abandon any attempt to find a unified point of legitimation, it is not clear how the practical problems of politics are to work themselves out. A further example of such analysis is demonstrated by Bill Readings’s (1996, p. 191 ) account of the postmodern university as a &dquo;community of dissensus&dquo; where &dquo;the university will have become one place, among others, where the attempt is made to think the social bond without resource to a unifying idea, whether culture or the state&dquo; (cited in Delanty, 2000, p. 127). Although this is indeed a noble sentiment, it is unclear in Readings’s account how, at the level of practical day-to-day politics, such a conception is to operate. There is a need, then, to rescue the idea of community from postmodern incoherence, just as there is a need to rescue it from neocommunitarian authoritarianism or from liberal atomistic individualism to build a more viable model of the relations between citizenship and society. Foucault


In this article, I want to revive the debate on difference/community in relation to the work of Michel Foucault to address the specific problems encountered in relation to politics and democracy when one of these concepts is privi-

Rather than prioritize difference as opposed to community, I want to suggest that a particular reading of Foucault’s oeuvre can be rendered consistent


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a form of nonmonistic communitarianism, which I will term &dquo;thin&dquo; communitarianism. Although I will not claim in this article that Foucault actually proposed such a societal conception, I do claim that such a conception is broadly consistent with the overall balance between individual and society that Foucault sought to achieve. In this model, difference and unity are paired or balanced. Although difference is given greater scope than in traditional enlightenment philosophical theorizing, I argue that it must be nevertheless contextualized in relation to a model of community if it is to be coherent. Extending the argument further, I argue that a modified model of civic associationism better fits the form of political community he intended. In this sense, the argument I am making maintains that Foucault can be represented as a &dquo;thin&dquo; communitarian, not in the sense of Rawls, Habermas, or the premodern notion of a community as having a substantive common goal or unified bond (communio) but rather as an interactive multiplicity

not ruled by any organizing or binding law or principle, and as a of tacit agreements, understandings, and rules that represent the basis of political reason as a pragmatic code for problem solving rather than a set of universal epistemological principles based on truth. Such a conception of the political in Foucault also leads to a theory of democracy. Although not directly advocated for by Foucault, such a reading, I will claim, is supported by two factors. First, I will claim that his social-historical ethics of selfhood requires it in that a community context of some sort constitutes the basis of all human experiences and, indeed, the source of all human beings’ development. Second, I will claim that some sort of conception of democracy is politically presupposed to enable difference to get off the ground, that is, to operate at the level of practice within the constraints of any actual community. Considering the issue of difference/community in relation to Foucault is also of interest in that his own theorizing works at the level of the material rather than in relation to language, which has been a feature of much postmodern theoretical elaboration. In Michel Foucault,: Materialism and Education (Olssen, 1999), I represented Foucault as a materialist in relation to a number of arguments. First, I dissociated Foucault from linguistic representations of his work, such as those of Christopher Norris (1993) or Hayden White (1978), which represented him as part of the linguistic turn in French philosophy, where &dquo;there is nothing beyond [the] prison-house of language&dquo;and where &dquo;language (or representation) henceforth defines the limits of thought&dquo; (Norris, 1993, p. 30), toward a conception that represents Foucault’s thought as resting on a duality of &dquo;discursive and pre-discursive&dquo; or, in Poster’s (1984, p. 12) phrase, &dquo;discourse/practice.&dquo;In this conception, discourse is itself a material force. This more materialist approach also separates Foucault from the later poststructuralists such as Derrida, Lyotard, and Lacan. Quite distinct from Derrida’s concept of différance, for instance, which prioritized the processes of signification as a specific linguistic thesis essential to discourse, Foucault’s was



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materialistic thesis about practices, structures, and discursive series and their historical emergence. In this sense, there is something further to be learned from a consideration of Foucault over and above the interesting arguments made by William Corlett in his Derridean approach to the issue of community 3 and politics.3 With relation to Marxism, I present Foucault’s theoretical orientation as a particular formulation of the base/superstructure model of social relations and argue that although he clearly rejects a great deal of Marxism and moves beyond its formulations, similar to Althusser, he retains a concept of practice and utilizes a model of complex causation and determination within the social structure. Unlike Poster (1984), I do not see a radical break or alteration in Foucault’s thought as occurring around 1968,4 but rather, with Rabinow (1984), I maintain that

Foucault has been consistently materialist. In asking, &dquo;How does discourse function,&dquo; his aim has been to isolate techniques of power exactly in those places where this kind of analysis is rarely done. But to achieve this, he at first overemphasized the inner articulations and seemingly self-enclosed nature of social scientific discourses. Although Foucault has preserved the majority of his &dquo;archaeological&dquo; systematizations of the formation of concepts, objects, subjects, and strategies of discourse in the human sciences, he has now explicitly widened his analysis to show how these disciplines have played an effective part in a historical field that includes other types of nondiscursive practice. (p. 10)

Foucault’s materialism can be distinguished not simply from Marxism but also from the approaches of Nietzsche and Freud in that it rejects what Paul Ricoeur has
called the &dquo;hermeneutics of suspicion&dquo; in the particular sense employed by these writers. The best reading by which to distinguish Foucault’s approach from these thinkers is his article &dquo;Nietzsche, Freud, Marx&dquo; ( 1986b), where Foucault identified Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx as characterizing the &dquo;suspicious stance&dquo; by introducing new techniques of interpretation. Here Foucault questioned whether Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx had not in some way multiplied the signs in the Western

world. Rather than giving new meaning to things that had no meaning, &dquo;They have in reality changed the nature of the sign and modified the fashion in which the sign can in general be interpreted [modifying the] space of distribution in which signs can be signs&dquo; (p. 2). Hence, with these three thinkers, &dquo;Interpretation has become an infinite task.&dquo; This is because with Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx, interpretation is preoccupied with

already present interpretation.... One sees this already in Marx, who interprets not the history of relations of production, but a relation already offering itself as an interpretation, since it appears as nature. Likewise, Freud interprets not signs but interpretations.... In the same manner Nietzsche seizes interpretations that have already seized each other. For Nietzsche there is no original signified. Words themselves are nothing but interpretations and ultimately they signify only because they are essentially nothing but interpretations. (p. 4)

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All three thinkers then employed a suspicious mode of interpretation that questioned already accepted interpretations trading under the title of truth. Hence, in all three thinkers, signs are revealed as masks. In Foucault’s ( 1986b) words,
Thus money functions in the way that one sees it defined in The Critique of Po Ittical Economy and above all in the first volume of Capital. Thus symptoms function in Freud. And in Nietzsche, words, justice, binary classifications of Good and Evil, and consequently signs, are masks. (p. 4)

his debt to Nietzsche, in his own form of materialism the particular form of suspicion, as it characterizes these three thinkers’ work, by which the present is understood to be a &dquo;cover-up of truth&dquo; (class struggle, libido, anxiety) which, when unmasked, will result in liberation (Dreyfus, 1987, p. xxviii). Rather, influenced by the later Heidegger, he rejected the supposition of seeing a phenomenon like madness as a constant underlying state waiting to be revealed or liberated, or that there was any ahistorical structure to experience that could be liberated by simply changing social circumstances, in preference for a more nuanced materialism that saw the structures of experiences, and human beings as well, as constituted through historical and social practices.’ Such a clear-cut and grounded materialism in Foucault’s work constitutes, I will argue, an adequate foundation for a theory of the political with respect to community and difference.

Notwithstanding Foucault rejected



&dquo;Thin&dquo; Communitarian

Indeed, it is this particular form of materialism that forms the necessary basis for community that becomes the prerequisite to all subjective actions and judgments as such phenomena require the invocation of a collective context, that is, a context of being-in-common as the necessary basis in terms of which group and individual self-creation takes place. And at a political level, ensuring an equal possibility of self-creation requires in turn a democratic polity. Although I accept responsibility for the argument advanced, and in this sense do not claim the argument is Foucault’s, it is consistent with a particular reading of Foucault and has arisen from my efforts to theorize meaningfully about community in a way consistent with Foucault’s approach.’ Beyond these general statements, in what specific senses can Foucault be called a communitarian thinker? And what place does difference have in the context of such a communitarian view? The case for Foucault being consistent with the argument for communitarianism, I will argue, depends on several subarguments that concern
a a


conception of the histoncal constitution of the subject; relational or dialogical conception of ethics with implications for agency, autonomy, and social


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3. 4. 5. 6.

conception of liberty as nondomination or as involving an equalization of power; analysis of the emergence of liberal individualism as a form of state reason; a critique of monistic communitananism and conceptions of totality; and a pragmatic political principle that would oppose governmental policies that conflict with or mhibit self-creation. Government is important, as Dean (1999) stated, &dquo;According to whether it allows rather than inhibits the ’self directed use and development of capacities’ (p. 184).
a an

at the onset of modernity bifurcation of individual from community, the care of the self from knowledge of the self, or ethics from reason (Descartes, Kant). Its social effects were to undermine community and promote individualizing forms of power. Rabinow (1997) noted how Foucault lamented this development:


Foucault, the emergence of liberal individualism


From Descartes to Husserl, the imperative to &dquo;know thyself’ increasingly predominated over that to &dquo;take care of thyself.&dquo; As the care of the self had traditionally passed through or entailed relationships with others, this disproportionate weighting of knowledge has contributed to the &dquo;universal unbrotherliness&dquo; that caused Weber so much pain and which he lacked the tools to do more than to decry. For Foucault the creation of philosophical askesis with renunciation of family, solidarity, and care for oneself and for others-as the price for knowledgewas one of our biggest wrong turnings. (p. xxv)

analysis of the Greco Romans and Greeks, Foucault reinstated, I argue, a form of communitarianism whereby there is a conception of community necessitated by the social conditions of selfhood, and articulated, ideally, according to the principle of difference, which operates to safeguard democratic norms and maximize diversity in the context of a historicist and antitranscendental conception of knowledge. Such a communitarianism is &dquo;thin&dquo; in the sense that, contra Spinoza, Hegel, and Marx, it has no substantive common goal or bond but comprises a minimal structure of agreements, rules, practices, and understandings necessitated to permit a social ontology of difference to take effect and function. Central to representing Foucault in this way are a number of themes that he stressed in his later works on ethics and self-creation, as well as the broad philosophical orientation of his work. Such constitutes the basic evidence for considering Foucault as a communitarian thinker in the first place. The following sections will seek to expand briefly on each major category in
In his

Autonomy and Freedom
A materialist notion of the self is central to Foucault’s conception of politics and community. As he stated in his essay &dquo;On the Genealogy of Ethics&dquo; (1997),
So it is not enough to say that the subject is constituted in a symbolic system. It is not just in the play of the symbolic that the subject is constituted. It is consti-

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tuted in real practices-historically analyzable practices. There is a technology of the constitution of the self, which cuts across symbolic systems while using them. (p. 227)

Yet this materialism of the self is also, for Foucault, the basis of &dquo;ethical work&dquo; and of liberty. Notwithstanding one’s social and historical construction, he argued in his later works that it is always possible for the self to make something out of what it has been made into, once it learns how to pull the strings. Hence, Foucault theorized agency within the context of history and a certain, albeit in his hands, untheorized notion of community. Liberty, or freedom, is not the ahistorical or essential character of man in the &dquo;State of Nature&dquo; but develops historically as a consequence of engagement in history. Agency or freedom emerge with the development of thought from interaction in history. To quote Foucault (1984a),
For a domain of action, a behaviour, to enter the field of thought, it is necessary to have made it lose its familiarity, or to have provoked a certain number of difficulties around it. These elements result from social, economic, or political processes. But here their only role is that of castigation. They can exist and perform their action for a very long time, before there is effective problematization by thought. And when thought intervenes, it doesn’t assume a unique form that is the direct result or the necessary expression of these difficulties, it is an original or specific response-often taking many forms, sometimes even contradictory in its different aspects. (pp. 388-389)

Hence, self-creation, which is collective and individual, is a historically learned activity, as are problem solving and intelligence. This is the implication of the rejection of essentialism. Furthermore, Foucault (1984a) conceptualized autonomy or freedom as an &dquo;original and specific response&dquo; (pp. 388-389) within a context of rules. The model of causation here is one of holism/particularism, where
of difficulties, several responses can be made.... But what has to be understood is what makes them simultaneously possible: it is the point in which their simultaneity is rooted; it is the soil that can flourish them all in their diversity and sometimes in spite of their contradictions. (p. 389)
to a set

Foucault made his position vis-h-vis the freedom of the subject clear in his interview with Noam Chomsky (Foucault & Chomsky, 1997, p. 114), where he clarified the relation between individual conduct and social and cultural production. As Foucault stated (1997),
One can only, in terms of language or of knowledge, produce something new by putting into play a certain number of rules.... Thus we can roughly say that linguists before Mr. Chomsky mainly insisted on the rules of construction of state-

and less on the innovation represented by every new statement.... And in the history of science or in the history of thought, we place more emphasis on individual creation, and we had kept aside and left in the shadows these commuments

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general rules, which obscurely manifest themselves through every scientific discovery, every scientific invention, and even every philosophical innovation. (pp. 119-120)

Chomsky, Foucault agreed that &dquo;rules and freedom are not each other&dquo; (pp. 121-122). In fact, the point he was at pains to stress in opposed the interview with Chomsky was that within any system of rules, in the long run &dquo;what is striking is the proliferation of possibilities by divergences&dquo; (pp. 121-122). As he said,

In the interview with

system of rules; it is not a mixture of order and freedom ... where I don’t completely agree with Mr. Chomsky is when he places the principle of these regularities, in a way, in which the interior of the mind or of human nature. (p. 123)

Creativity is possible in putting into play a

Although Chomsky

was interested in the &dquo;intrinsic capabilities of mind,&dquo; Foucault was interested in explaining how infinite possibilities of application arise from a limited number of rules that constitute the social conditions of existence. In that Foucault sought to safeguard freedom and creativity within a community context, his conception of freedom involved a post-Humean conception of complex causality.’ Because autonomy and freedom are relational, they involve nondomination and a certain equalization of power. This in turn involves the organization of a complex political space, that is, one that must be politically constructed in relation to rights, capacities, and opportunities. Against contemporary liberal political theorists, like Kymlicka, Foucault’s notion of autonomy is not a liberal notion, neither is it explainable as counterfactual to the liberal notion as it depends on a completely different order at the level of ontology. Freedom, in this sense, is a historically and politically constructed space that is structured as nonexclusive, democratic, decentralized, or multiple, and allowing for maximum


Ethics and

Support for Foucault as consistent with my conception of &dquo;thin&dquo; communiprovided in his conception of ethics as self-creation, which also presupposes a collective form of analysis and a communitarian context. The question of how to conceptualize ethics and write its history led Foucault to a
tarian is also

ancient cultures in the tradition of historians of ancient thought, such Paul Veyne, Georges Dum6zil, Pierre Hadot, and Jean-Pierre Vernant. Influenced centrally by Hadot, Foucault utilized the concept of philosophia as a form of life, which required exercises aimed at realizing one’s vision of the world and one’s conduct within it. As Arnold Davidson (1994) noted, &dquo;The idea of philosophy as a way of life is one of the most forceful and provocative directions of Foucault’s later thought&dquo; (pp. 70-71). To emphasize philosophy

study of


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&dquo;way of life&dquo; must be seen as distinct, said Davidson, from everyday life, for, Hadot wrote in respect to the ancients, the idea of a way of life &dquo;implies a rupture with what the sceptics called bios, that is daily life.&dquo; For Foucault, &dquo;philosophy was a spiritual exercise ... in order to learn to think differently.&dquo; By ethics, Foucault referred not to morality in the narrow individualist sense of the term, but rather customs and practices-what Kant meant by Sitten (Hacking, 1986, p. 239). Hence, ethics is not intended in the Kantian sense, said Hacking (1986), as pertaining to something &dquo;utterly internal, the private duty of reason&dquo; (p. 239), but more in the sense of Ancient Greece where ethics was concerned with the good life. As Foucault ( 1991 ) stated it,
as a as

The Greeks ... considered this freedom as a problem and the freedom of the individual as an ethical problem. But ethical in the sense that Greeks could understand. Ethos was the deportment and the way to behave. It was the subject’s mode of being and a certain manner of acting visible to others. One’s ethos was seen by his dress, by his bearing, by his gait, by the poise with which he reacts to events, etc. For them that is the complete expression of liberty. (p. 6)

this, Hacking (1986) stated that Foucault reversed Kant. Kant had held that

ethical position by recourse to reason. As Hacking put it, &dquo;But the innovation is not reason but construction&dquo; (p. 239). In other words, Kant taught us that we make the moral law and that is what makes us moral. Foucault incorporated this constructionist dimension into his historicism, meaning that &dquo;morality leads away from the letter of the law of Kant, but curiously preserves Kant’s spirit.&dquo; As Hacking concluded, &dquo;Those who criticize Foucault for not giving us a place to stand might start their critique with Kant.&dquo; Closely related to the Greek view of ethics, for Foucault, ethical action demanded stylization, which is aesthetics of existence. In this sense, ethical self-creation of one’s life as a work of art extended Nietzsche’s conception that life has value as an aesthetic achievement and that one must give style to one’s life by integrating the diffuse nature of oneself into a coherent whole. The question of style was crucial in ancient experience: There is the stylization of one’s relationship to oneself, the style of conduct, and the stylization of one’s relationship to others. In the Greco-Roman Empire of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, style became thought of as a moral code (Foucault, 1989, p. 319). According to Davidson ( 1994, pp. 70-71 ), this theme of aesthetics as involving a style of existence was another of Foucault’s central ideas in his later writings.8 &dquo;Styles of existence&dquo; refers to how one lives a life philosophically. The problem of ethics is in choosing a style of life. As Paul Veyne (cited in Davidson, 1994, p. 67) noted, &dquo;Style does not mean distinction here; the word is to be taken in the sense of the Greeks, for whom artist was first of all an artisan, and a work of art was first of all a work.&dquo; As Davidson noted, one of Foucault’s concerns was in the style of life of the homosexual community by which he sought to &dquo;advance ... a homosexual askesis that would make us work on ourselves and
we construct our

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invent, I do not say discover, a manner of being that is still improbable&dquo; (p. 72). Hence, as Davidson pointed out, the homosexual style of life involves new forms of friendship and yields &dquo;a culture and an ethics aimed at the creation of a
homo-sexual mode of life&dquo; (p. 72). The reference to ethics as customs and practices such as embodied in the Greek sense of the good life, plus Foucault’s conceptions of philosophia and styles of existence, provides support for the communitarian thesis I am advancing.’ Such a conception can also be seen in relation to the links he posited between ethical actions, liberty, and social structure. Ethical action is not, for Foucault, an individual affair but presupposes a certain political and social structure with respect to liberty. For liberty or civic freedom to exist, there must be a certain level of liberation conceived as the absence of domination. In this, Foucault ( 1991 ) disputed the view &dquo;more or less derived from Hegel&dquo; in terms of which &dquo;the liberty of the individual would have no importance when faced with the noble totality of the city&dquo; (p. 5). The concern for liberty as expressed in ancient societies-in not being a slave, for instance-was an absolutely fundamental theme, a basic and constant issue, during eight centuries of ancient culture. We have there an entire ethics that turned about the care of the self, premised on liberty, and which gave ancient ethics its distinctive form (p. 5). Thus, the subject’s activity is intrinsically mediated through power that coexists with freedom in that relationships of power are changeable relations that can modify themselves. But where states of domination result in relations of power being fixed &dquo;in such a way that they are perpetually asymmetrical [then the] margin of liberty is extremely limited&dquo; (p. 12). Foucault gave the example of the traditional conjugal relation in the 18th and 19th centuries:
cannot say that there was only male power; the woman herself could do a lot of things: be unfaithful to him, extract money from him, refuse him sexually. She was, however, subject to a state of domination, in the measure where all that was finally no more than a certain number of tricks which never brought about a reversal of the situation. (p. 12)




of domination entail relations of power that

instead of being variable and allowing different partners a strategy which alters them, find themselves firmly set and congealed. When an individual or social group manages to block the field of relations of power ... to prevent all reversibility of movement... we are facing what can be called a state of domination. (p. 3)

In such a situation, liberty is &dquo;extremely confined or limited&dquo; (p. 3) and in this certain degree of liberation is a precondition for liberty, which in turn is a precondition for the ethical practices of the self. Such ethical practices of self on self involve choices that are essentially moral choices, said Foucault. The fact that liberty is political also confirms Foucault as consistent with a particular form of communitarianism. Just as ethical work presupposes liberty,
sense a

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it also is

intrinsically political in that it involves relations of power. As Foucault

( 1991 ) explained,
It is political in the measure that non-slavery with respect to others is a political condition: a slave has no ethics. Liberty is itself political. And then it has a political model, in the measure where being free means not being a slave to one’s self and to one’s appetites, which supposes that one establishes over one’s self a certain relation of domination, of mastery, which was called arche-power, author-

ity. (p. 6)
Practices of the self


also in that


constitute relations of

power: They are ways of controlling and limiting. As such, it raises the problem of the abuse of power, when one imposes on others &dquo;one’s whims, one’s appe-

tites, one’s desires&dquo;:
There we see the image of the tyrant or simply of the powerful and wealthy man who takes advantage of his power and his wealth to misuse others, to impose on them undue power. But one sees-at least that is what the Greek philosophers say-that this man is in reality a slave to his appetites. And the good ruler is precisely the one who exercises his power correctly, i.e., by exercising at the same time his power on himself. And it is the power over self which will regulate the power over others ... if you care for yourself correctly, i.e., if you know ontologically what you are ... then you cannot abuse your power over others. (Foucault,

1991, p. 8)

posits a politically active subject acting in a commuof the self that include governance as well as the probnity, involving practices lems of practical politics. These in turn involve managerial imperatives, including decision making; the interpretation and application of rules, gambits, and risks; knowing when to act and when to hold back; or being able if necessary to attack or defend. These skills required autarkeia (self-sufficiency), which pertained in the ancient schools to a form of internal freedom &dquo;located in the faculty of judgement, not in some psychologically thick form of introspection&dquo;

of the self thus

(Davidson, 1994,



Hence, the care of the self does not just refer to &dquo;attention to oneself in the
is it concerned solely with the avoidance of mistakes and dandesignate primarily an attitude toward one’s self or a form of gers ; nor of self. Rather, it designates a &dquo;regulated occupation, a work with its awareness methods and objectives&dquo; (Foucault, 1986a, p. 50, 1997, p. 95). This work is by its very nature political, as it contains integral to it notions concerning the management of self and others. This is evident, said Foucault, in the meaning of the word epimeleia and its various uses. Xenophon employed the use of the word to designate the work of a master of the household who supervises its farming, and it is a word also used to pay ritual homage to the dead and to the gods. In addition, Dio of Prusa used it to refer to the activity of the sovereign who looks after his people and leads the city-state. Also, in the comparison of
sense; nor

does it

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Plato’s Alcibiades with texts from the 1 st and 2nd centuries, Foucault pointed out that the care of the self is related to politics, pedagogy, and self-knowledge

(1986a, p. 50, 1997, p. 95). Foucault’s emphasis on the interdependence between self and others also marks him as a communitarian thinker. This interdependence between self and others was evident among the Greeks in relationship to the responsibilities of governance in the home, of the city, or in interindividual relationships, whether formal or based on friendship. Thus, as Foucault ( 1991 ) put it, &dquo;The problem of relationships with others is present all along in this development of care for sell (p. 7). In one of his last interviews, moreover, Foucault stated his central interest in The Care of the Self ( 1986a) as being to show &dquo;how an experience is formed where the relationship to self and others is linked.&dquo; This is to say that &dquo;care of the sell is always, at the same time, concerned with &dquo;care for others.&dquo; Ethical practice is in this sense social and, as Foucault (1991) put it, &dquo;Ethos implies a relation with others to the extent that care for self renders one competent to occupy a place in the city, in the community ... whether it be to exercise a magistracy or to have friendly relationships&dquo; (p. 7). Foucault ( 1991 ) noted how this quality of interdependence of individual and social relationships was the ethical imperative of Socrates. In Greek society,
he stated,
One who cared for himself correctly found himself by that very fact, in a measure to behave correctly in relationships to others and for others. A city in which everyone would be correctly concerned for self would be a city that would be doing well and it would find therein the ethical principle of its stability. (p. 7)

There is a temporal and logical order in relation to self and others, however. As Foucault (1991) stated, &dquo;One must not have the care for others precede the care for self. The care for self takes moral precedence in the measure that the

relationship to self takes ontological precedence&dquo; (p. 7).
Against Unity and Totality
some sort of Such a community does not, clearly, depend on utopian or imagicommunity. nary models. His conception of community is not the same as the liberal communitarians, nor is it the same as the conceptions advanced by Hegel, Marx, or, in contemporary debates, Habermas. In that Foucault is a communitarian, it is not the sense of community that speaks to an integrated, consensual, state-centered conception of political life, but rather one that is decentered, open, and dynamic. Essentially, it is in relation to the historical and social constitution of the self, the imperatives of ethical self-creation, and a historicist and antitranscendental conception of truth and morality that Foucault articulates a conception of difference whereby a community repre-


Foucault, then, ethical self-creation takes place within

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the contexualized and embedded grounds in terms of which the problems of politics must be worked out. In this sense, the implications for politics is, I will argue, a form of democracy, in terms of which communities must seek to equalize power relations and work with what they have rather than pursue utopian proposals. It is on this basis that Foucault gave us a criterion of critical reflection on limits that has practical consequences for the political organization of community. Foucault’s (1991) opposition to Marxism, Hegelianism, the Frankfurt School, and Habermas is at one level directed at the utopian character of these theories. As he expressed the point in relation to Habermas,

[In Habermas’ work] there is always something which causes me a problem. It is when he assigns a very important place to relations of communication and also to functions that I would call &dquo;utopian.&dquo; The thought that there could be a state of communication which would be such that the games of truth could circulate freely, without obstacles, without constraint, and without coercive effects, seems to me to be Utopia. It is being blind to the fact that relations of power are not something bad in themselves, from which one must free oneself. I don’t believe there can be a society without relations of power.... The problem is not of trying to dissolve them in the utopia of a perfectly transparent communication, but to give oneself the rules of law, the techniques of management, and also the ethics, the ethos, the practice of self, which would allow these games of power to be played with a minimum of domination. (p. 18)
For Foucault, the political is not equated with the rational as a unified consensual form, for such form ignores diversity. Rather, difference implies conflict in practices and perspectives, which does not maintain that one way of living is superior to another. Essentially, then, Habermas’s view ignores the reality of diversity and conflict in preference for what is a new rationalist conception of utopia. As with Plato or Hegel, Habermas, in asserting the intersubjective nature of rationality, failed to respect difference. For Habermas, rather, differences are filtered through the internalized procedures of government whereby the parts of the polis are represented as different parts of a unity. For Foucault, the state played only a pragmatic role, not of imposing the rational on the irrational but of arbitrating conflicts between different groups. In this sense, unlike Habermas, politics is not a means of integration based on procedural considerations. The consensus reached is not rational but functionally expedient and provisional, and continuing conflict is not a failure of communicative rationality but an indication of diversity. Although this entails an important theoretical point in reference to Foucault’s rejection of theories of totality, as long as the qualifications posited above are kept in mind, Foucault accepted that a consensus model can operate in politics as a form of critical principle. The issue was put to him in 1983 by a group of interviewers, including Paul Rabinow, Charles Taylor, Martin Jay, Richard Rorty, and Leo Lowenthal:

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Q If one can assume that the consensus model is a fictional possibility, people might nonetheless act according to that fiction in such a way that the results might be superior to the action that would ensue from the bleaker view of politics as essentially dommauon and repression, so that although
m an

empirical way you

may be




the utopian

possibility may never


achievable, nonetheless, pragmatically, it might m some sense be better, healthier, freer, whatever positive value one uses, if we assume that the consensus is a goal still to be sought rather than one
that we simply throw away and say it’s impossible to achieve. M.F Yes, I thmk that is, let us say, a critical principle ... Q. As a regulatory pnnciple? M. F I perhaps wouldn’t say regulatory pnnciple, that’s gomg too far, because starung from the pomt where you say regulatory pnnciple, you grant that it is indeed under its governance that the phenomenon has to be organised, within limits that may be defined by expenence or the context. I would say, rather, that it is perhaps a cntical idea to mamtam at all times: to ask oneself what proporuon of nonconsensuality is implied m such a power relation, and whether that degree of nonconsensuahry is necessary or not, and then one may question every power relation to that extent. The farthest I would go is to say that perhaps one must not be for consensuality, but one must be agamst nonconsensuahry. (Foucault, 1984b, p. 379)

For Foucault, the opposition to Marxism and Hegelianism is in terms of the unitary notion of totality that seeks to explain the individual instances of a culture as

decodable parts of the whole

totality or system. In Thompson’s (1986)

words, such a conception seeks to explain &dquo;the principle that binds the whole, the code that unlocks the system [so that] the elements can be explained by deduction&dquo; (p. 106). This was the approach of Hegel, as well as Marx, which seeks to analyze history and society as totalities, where the parts are an expression of the whole-hence, the notion of an expressive totality. It is also the

approach of Spinoza and Rousseau, where the ideal of community expresses a longing for harmony among persons. For Foucault (1980), such an approach represented &dquo;the Rousseauist dream&dquo; of
transparent society, visible and legible in each of its parts, the dream of there no longer existing any zones of darkness, zones established by the privileges of royal power or the prerogative of some corporation, zones of disorder. It was the dream that each individual, whatever position he occupied, might be able to see the whole of society, that men’s hearts should communicate, their vision be unobstructed by obstacles, and that the opinion of all reign over each. (p. 152)

In his

opposition to totalizing approaches, Foucault (1972) drew a distinction between total and general history, giving his allegiance to the latter. The central differences between the approaches are as follows:

civilization, the principle-material
common to

project of total history is one that seeks to reconstitute the overall form of a or spiritual-of a society, the significance

all the phenomenon of a period, the law that accounts for their cohesion.... General history on the contrary, would deploy the space of dispersion ... it speaks of series, divisions, limits, differences of level, shifts, chronological specificities, particular forms of rehandling, possible types of relation.... The problem ... which defines the task of general history is to deter-

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mine what form of relation may be ent series. (pp. 9-10) In

legitimately described between these differ-

The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972, p. 114), Foucault explained this critique of

unitarism, which he saw as having implications for totalitarianism, as being a &dquo;central theme.&dquo; His concern was to uncouple the linkage that existed within systems of thought such as Hegelianism, as has preoccupied writers in the liberal and continental traditions of thought, between metaphysical holism and terror. By so doing, Foucault attempted to salvage a pluralist political ontology premised on a holist epistemology and a conception of the historical and social constitution of subjects, both as individuals and as collectivities. Rather than seek to explain all phenomena in relation to a single center, Foucault was interested rather to advance a polymorphous conception of determination to reveal the play of dependencies in the social and historical procesS.l0 Hence, in opposition to the themes of totalizing history, Foucault (1978) substituted what he called a differentiated analysis:

Nothing, you see, is more foreign to me than the quest for a sovereign, unique and constraining form. I do not seek to detect, starting from diverse signs, the unitary spirit of an epoch, the general form of its consciousness: something like a Weltanschauung. Nor have I described either the emergence and eclipse of formal structure which might reign for a time over all the manifestations of thought: I have not written the history of a syncopated transcendental. Nor, finally, have I described thoughts or century-old sensitivities coming to life, stuttering, struggling and dying out like great phantoms-ghosts playing out their shadow theatre against the backdrop of history. I have studied, one after another, ensembles of discourse; I have characterised them; I have defined the play of
rules, of transformations, of thresholds, of remanences. I have established and I have described their clusters of relations. Whenever I have deemed it necessary I have allowed systems to proliferate. (p. 10)
In opposition to totalizing models, Foucault saw his own analysis as a more limited search for the empirical historical grounds for discursive consistency or coherence. In his later studies, he asserted the differentiated nature of his project through his use of concepts like &dquo;eventalization,&dquo;and argued that specific events (évenments singuliers) cannot be integrated or decoded simply as an application of a uniform and universal regularity. In this nonunified sense, the analytic of discourse effects a nonunified perspective. As Foucault (1972)

explained it,
the individualization of different series, which are juxtaposed to one one another, overlap and intersect, without one being able to reduce them to a linear schema. Thus, in place of the continuous chronology of reason, which was invariably traced back to some inaccessible origin, there have appeared scales that are sometimes very brief, distinct from one another, irreducible to a single law, scales that bear a type of history peculiar to each one, and which cannot be reduced to the general model of a consciousness that acquires, progresses, and remembers. (p. 8)
It has led

another, follow

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Departing from Kantian and neo-Kantian views, Foucault’s historicist conception rejected all transcendent and ahistorical foundations for knowledge, meaning also that there is no quasi-transcendent or a priori basis in language (pace Habermas) to which a conception of reason could be linked. In this,
Foucault reinstated a view, similar in many senses to the Aristotelian notion of phronesis, against the Kantian principle of universal reason as the basis of political life. Phronesis pertained to ethical knowledge and implied a form of rationality specific to human practice in a community. Although it demands the existence of practical reason, it rejected the Enlightenment concern with universal truth through science as the condition for unproblematic communication and interaction, and hence it rejected Kant and post-Kantian conceptions in preference for more pragmatically grounded conceptions, such as those based on Aristotle. No longer is the practical sphere subject to and subordinate to scientific knowledge. Rather, ethical knowledge (phronesis) and theoretical knowledge (theoria) are more adequate than the Kantian conception of judgment as a universalization of reason to understand the sphere of human action.

Reconciling Difference and Community
Foucault’s rejection of Hegelianism as a form of monist communitarianism established difference as the political principle, which ensures and safeguards pluralism, democracy, and inclusion. For Foucault, the concept of difference underpins his approach to the political as well as his conception of citizenship. It is the theory of difference that established relationality and multiplicity as fundamental social and political attributes. It is also his conception of difference that established the particular character of Foucault’s communitarianism as &dquo;thin,&dquo; and which regulates the legitimate sphere of state and group actions vis-h-vis individual and group discretion. For Foucault, the articulation of the concept of difference, which stemmed from his dependence on Neitzsche and was based on his condemnation of the postulates of identity as initially embodied in Aristotelian logic, underpinned his approach to the political as well as his conception of citizenship. Foucault established difference as the central principle underpinning his objections to prevailing theories of identity and totality. In linguistics, Saussure used a philosophy of difference to explain the complexity and functioning of language and representation. He claimed that language itself undermines and problematizes the very identities it establishes. What difference entailed for Foucault, as for other postmodernists, is that an object’s essential identity is not fixed within it but is established by its relations or connections to other objects. For Foucault, however, the process is more historical and applies not just to language but to discourses and practices in the processes of their historical constitution. The difference that an object has to other objects in terms of the overall matrix of relations establishes the contrasts that count in establish-

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ing its identity.
ment as to

In this process,

however, there is


final resolution



object finally is, because any attempted conclusion as to an object’s identity or unity maintains that any apparent unity only exists through an object’s relations to other objects. These relations are constitutive of a multiplicity revealing that any unity or essential identity is only an illusion. Hence, it is argued that an analytic of difference consistently applied reveals the falsity of any supposed unity or totality. At a political level, the poststructuralist claims that the search for totality or unity results in totalitarianism. This is because the search for unity entails a limitation of discourse within a predefined range of possibilities, a range defined by the supposed real nature of the totality to be discovered. Such assumptions thus prevent freedom of expression in that the very attempt to achieve unity in the light of a predefined totality forces a reduction and delimitation of the differences that exist to a single theoretical idea or supposed material state of the real. This for the poststructuralist implies totalitarianism in that thought is directed along a single channel where differences and oppositional elements are suppressed. This conception of difference effects a certain conception of the political latent within a possible reading of Foucault’s work,&dquo; which I am characterizing as &dquo;thin&dquo; communitarian. Because this is not normally the way Foucault or postmodernist conceptions are stated, it is necessary to further articulate the justifications for such a designation. Central to my argument is that Foucault’s
notion of difference presupposes a &dquo;minimal universalism,&dquo; which in turn necessitates a certain conception of community. To say that difference must be underpinned by a minimal universalism, I mean a limited and conditional universalism. It is not a Kantian universalism in relation to reason but rather a

what an

Nietzschean universalism conditional on the will of the human species to survive. To the extent that there is such a will to survive, then there are certain implications for democratic politics and the equalization of power. My argument here is that a concordance of difference and unity is a requirement of Foucault’s thought. Although Foucault supported a conception of the politics and philosophy of difference in the sense that he opposed the unitaristic tendencies inherent in Hegelianism, Marxism, and other Enlightenment discourses as well, he did not privilege difference over unity, or to the exclusion of

This perspective, which entails that difference can only be articulated in the of a concept of community, stands opposed to the perspective of writers such as Iris Marion Young and others who represent difference and community as mutually opposed categories. Although Young (1986) observed that difference presupposes equality between groups and it cannot entail &dquo;absolute otherness&dquo; but stresses its relational character, noting that difference requires a strong state, job protection, common schooling, specific representation for the oppressed, and a democratic polity, she nevertheless contrasted the &dquo;politics of difference ... instead of community as the normative ideal of political emancicontext

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pation&dquo; (p. 2). My own argument places greater emphasis on the complementary nature of difference and community. It is based on an analysis of the concept of difference in Western philosophical ontology and Foucault’s representation of difference as dialogical or relational, presupposing strategies to equalize power relations, involving, not isolation or separateness, but an open-ended process of negotiation and debate. Since the time of the Greeks, and certainly in Marxism and Hegelianism, difference has been articulated in relation to unity. Although Marxism has always refused to make the theme of difference its organizing principle, it has always found a place for difference in relation to unity. What the poststructuralist correction involves, then, is altering their ontological weightings of &dquo;unity&dquo; and &dquo;difference&dquo; within the context of the theory as a
whole. As Milton Fisk (1993) observed,
The materialist interpretation of history is certainly in the tradition of the theme of difference-in-unity, for it attempts to organise the different aspects of a society around its economy considered as a unity.... Post Marxists of the poststructuralist sort claim that privileging gets us into difficulty since it is inherently reductionist of differences. (p. 326)

My central argument here-that Foucault must be adjudged a &dquo;thin&dquo; commu-

subarguments that difference cannot constitute a structuring ontological principle on its own but must always be seen in relation to unity. Although difference will affect the sort of communitarianism that Foucault could be adjudged as subscribing to, it nevertheless constitutes the ordering principle of a community. The central point here is that, as Fisk (1993, p. 324) observed, the ontological postulates of difference and unity have to be kept in balance, which is to say that the principle of difference cannot plausibly explain social relations on its own. This is why in classical philosophy the theme of otherness, which underpins difference, was always paired with that of unity or identity. To try to make one’s philosophical orientation work solely on the grounds of difference neglects equally strong arguments for unity. For to try to define objects solely in terms of differences neglects equally compelling reasons for considering them as objects of certain kinds. Similarly, if, as the poststructuralist insists, a final synthesis is not possible to achieve, this does not mean, nor should it entail, that all unities or identities simply collapse into differences, or that social life is simply a process of endless, vicious regress. In short, as Fisk (1993, p. 325) argued, unless the theory of difference is to result in incoherence, there must be a minimal kind of unity. This is perhaps the major reason for considering Foucault as a &dquo;thin&dquo; communitarian. To represent this argument in political terms, it can be said that pushing the principle of difference too far results in contradiction. Although Foucault wanted to celebrate multiplicity and a decentered polis, the fundamental ambiguity resulted from the fact that respecting the autonomy of different groupsnitarian-relates


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whether based on religion, race, gender, or ethnicity-is only possible within certain bounds unless difference is to be elevated as a new universal. This paradoxically lets Kant in through the back door: &dquo;Act always so as to respect the difference of the other.&dquo; Todd May (1994) developed a similar argument in relation to Deleuze, which applied equally well to Foucault. As he expressed the point,
Thus Deleuze asks us to think difference as constitutive all the way, and of unity as a product of the play of difference. But if difference is to be thought of as constitutive, this is in order to rid philosophy not of unities, but of unifying forces or principles that either preclude difference or relegate it to a negative phenomenon.

(pp. 39-40)

Part of the point here is that difference cannot be reduced to a logic outside of history or injected with metaphysical serum. Thus, for Foucault, neither difference nor unity can be seen as primary. As May ( 1994) put the point,
If meaning were merely the product of difference, there would be no meaning, only noises unrelated to each other. In order for meaning to occur, identity must exist within difference, or better, each must exist within the other. To speak with Saussure, if language is a system of differences, it is not only differences but system as well; and system carries with it the thought of identity... to posit a concept whose function is to be given primacy to difference is to violate the necessary chiasmic relationship between unity and difference. (pp. 46-47)

Like Deleuze, Foucault utilized difference to create a context to shape a way of thinking for a general perspective. Central here is how the concept of difference is to function, and for Foucault the principle functioned to undermine the unity of being that has reigned supreme from Plato to Hegel, to introduce a new way of thinking philosophically. In Foucault’s pluralism, systems were not unities but compositions of series, each defined on the basis of difference. Like Deleuze, too, Foucault wanted us to see difference as constitutive of reality and unities as the outcome or, in Spinoza’s sense, the expression of such a process. Quite distinct from Derrida’s concept of différance, which involves what is essentially a theory of discourse characterized by a linguistic logic, Foucault’s project was a materialistic thesis about practices, structures, and series and their historical emergence. Such a conception also expresses an &dquo;internalist&dquo; view of history. There is no guiding principle underlying structures or their emergence. Difference then is historical, and resists the univocity of being, as well as transcendence in all its forms, whether God, cogito, forms, or difference. There is nothing outside of history. Within Foucault’s writing, then, unity and difference represent a balance of forces in the search for any ethics or perspective. In this sense, Foucault is a holist, as is Deleuze (see May, 1994, p. 44). As Arnold Davidson ( 1997) noted, this is explicit in relation to Foucault’s dependence on structural linguistics as

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developed in his lectures published in Dits et Écrits (Foucault, 1994a, 1994b, 1994c). Traditionally, the rationality of analytic reason, he said, has been concerned with causality. In structural linguistics, however, the concern is not with causality but in revealing multiple relations that Foucault ( 1994b) called &dquo;logical relations&dquo; (p. 824). Although it is possible to formalize one’s treatment of the analysis of relations, it is, said Foucault, the discovery of the &dquo;presence of a logic that is not the logic of causal determinism that is currently at the heart of philosophical and theoretical debates&dquo; (p. 824). Foucault’s reliance on the model of structural linguistics provided him with a method that avoids methodological individualism and being trapped by a concern with causalism. Structural linguistics is concerned with &dquo;the systematic sets of relations among
elements&dquo; (Davidson, 1997, p. 8), and it functioned for Foucault as a model to enable him to study social reality as a logical structure, or set of logical relations, revealing relations that are not transparent to consciousness. The methods of structural linguistics also enabled Foucault to analyze change. For just as linguistics undertakes synchronic analysis seeking to trace the necessary conditions for an element within the structure of language to undergo change, a similar synchronic analysis applied to social life asks the question, &dquo;in order for a change to occur what other changes must also take place in the overall texture of the social configuration?&dquo; (Foucault, 1994b, p. 827). Hence, Foucault sought to identify logical relations where none had previously been thought to exist or where previously one had searched for causal relations. This form of analysis became for Foucault a method of analyzing previously invisible determinations (see Davidson, 1997, pp. 1-20). Holism in this model is defined not in relation to closure, but in reference to the relationality of elements within a structure. According to Davidson (1997), it is through such methodological strategies that Foucault proceeded to advance a nonreductive, holist analysis of social life. As he put it,
This kind of analysis is characterised, first, by anti-atomism, by the idea that we should not analyse single or individual elements in isolation but that one must look at the systematic relations among elements; second, it is characterised by the idea that the relations between elements are coherent and transformable, that is, that the elements form a structure. (p. 11)

Foucault, Community, Democracy
now like to argue for a particular form of community that is consiswith Foucault’s concepts in ethics, totality, and difference. Centrally, in this regard, arguments for radical difference or pluralism cannot answer the objection that it is simply not possible in practice within any territory to allow unlimited difference. The real problem is power and how to share it, that is, which practices can be respected/tolerated in relation to difference, and which must be part of the common? Whose law should prevail? What when the prac-

I would


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tices of one group interfere with the lives of another group? What property codes and entitlements apply? What sanctions need to be enforced against groups that do not support an ethics of difference? This issue is between group and individual practices, on one hand, and community requirements on the other hand. Hence, whereas many postmodernist writers seem to manifest a

fear of

community such that they see a principle of difference as adequate alone

constitute the structuring principle of the polis, at a political level this must be squared with the issue of democracy if it is to function as a principle at all. One writer who has realized this is Honi Fern Haber. In her book Beyond Postmodern Politics (1994), she argued that theories of difference if pushed too far become incoherent in relation to politics and culture for they deny unity, community, or any single standard in ethics at all, leaving, by implication, only a level playing field of market exchanges as the de facto context in terms of which difference actually operates. Although a form of civic associationism can be maintained that respects different group lifestyles and values, there must be some common (i.e., shared) intergroup, between-individual commitments (if nothing else at a minimum to the procedural rules of the game) that permit a cultural ethics of difference to be maintained at all. In this sense, Foucault’s conception of ethical self-creation must entail a minimal universalism premised on a complex and sophisticated conception of the good. Although Foucault himself never articulated such a principle at the level of the political, the overriding communitarianism of his approach to ethics and self-creation means that such a push is warranted. For while difference can be respected for groups and individuals, such a concept itself implies limits in relation to the basis on which such a complex political ideal itself rests. Although it has some applicability in relation to lifestyles and values, it is not possible to actually respect different actual policies as to how politics should be conducted, or as to how the state should be run, just as it is not possible to tolerate lifestyles that are themselves intolerant and are not in turn committed to the same ground rules. Hence, the principle of difference itself must entail a commitment to certain nonnegotiable universal values if it can function as a principle at all. Expressed positively, as a series of critical reflections on limits, a certain political ordering is required if the development of capacities is to be realizable and if different group and individual lifestyles and cultural ends are to be respected. Put in different terms, if it is to be a minimal universalism, the good must have a &dquo;smart button&dquo; for, while giving pride of place to difference and pluralism, it must itself be dogmatically committed to those democratic values that are intolerant of styles of life not themselves respectful of the principle. What is necessarily a part of the common and what is optionally different must be negotiated substantively for each domain of behavior or action (sexuality, religion, childrearing practices) for each different social and historical context. In this sense, democratic values, defined as those values that protect the spaces in terms of which self-creation can take place, constitute the essential basis of difference and, at a pragmatic level, its necessary foundation.

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What form of association could accommodate a form of community that is consistent with Foucault’s theorizing? Or, put slightly differently, what form of political community would he commit himself to if he were able to address the issue? There are several competing notions of the political that would claim to allow for difference. Liberal theory has traditionally claimed to allow for difference in terms of an order of rights founded on a rational idea of justice, as in that advanced by Rawls, for instance. Problems within liberal theory related to the nature of the

self as well as the nature of rationality make liberalism an unsuitable contender, however. In addition, because freedom and autonomy are politically constructed spaces, the liberalist presupposition, a presupposition present for instance in writers like Kymlicka, that collective and institutional practices and organizations constitute a &dquo;constraint&dquo; on freedom, or are represented as in some way &dquo;being opposed to&dquo; the freedom of individuals, dissolves. In Liberalism, Community and Culture ( 1989), Kymlicka defended the traditional liberal emphases on negative freedom and noninterference by the state as opposed to seeing people embedded in the situatedness of community structures that provide a context through which issues can be resolved and the good for all pursued. For Kymlicka, it is for individuals to weigh competing conceptions of the good, whereas for Foucault the processes are more collective, or group based, and contextualized. Although, like liberalism, Foucault’s conception of critique encourages reflection of the limits and functions of the reason of state, while respecting difference, a Foucauldian approach might also instantiate collective determinations of what is good (i.e., of shared ends and moral patterns). Unlike liberals, it is not just a matter of individuals deciding on what to do, for in many cases minority rights cannot simply be reduced to issues concerning individuals. For instance, certain minority rights may need protecting and assisting, which may indeed, after discussion and due process, involve abridging the liberties of certain groups or individuals. The state is further involved in rendering collective decisions authoritative and in enforcing the conditions of difference. Here again, it is not a question of minimal state involvement, for whether it provides a certain policy or does not (e.g., transport, smoking), it is still substantively involved in public life. Not to act or provide may simply be to side with dominant interests. For Foucault, indeed, collective and institutional practices, properly arranged, become freedom’s necessary basis, that is, its

presupposition. theory cannot serve Foucault’s purpose, premodern or Hegelian conceptions are also inadequate, conceiving the individual as simply a shadow within the noble totality of the city, for reasons already discussed. theories of the sort associated with William Connolly ( 1991 ), Similarly, agonal or the communitarianism of Habermas (1984, 1987), which perceived the posJust


sibility of &dquo;noise-free&dquo; communication in undistorted contexts, are also unsuitable in that their overarching theory of rational communication denies the grounds in terms of which difference originates and is articulated.

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The type of communitarianism that I believe sustains an ethical principle of difference most appropriate for Foucault represents a form of associationism best illustrated in the political philosophy of the Greeks and the Greco Romans. It is of interest that Chantal Mouffe also argued that a similar concept of the political, in her case a form of &dquo;civil associationism&dquo; developing in a tradition starting with Hobbes, is best fitted to the accommodation of diversity in her book The Return of the Political (1993). In her own book, Mouffe (1993) likened civil associationism to Oakeshott’s distinction between societas and universitas. Whereas universitas pertains to a tightly knit community with a common purpose, societas is marked by the fact that it does not presuppose a common or shared purpose. Rather, what is entailed is a purely procedural conception of community as requiring a &dquo;specific language of civil intercourse&dquo; referred to by Oakeshott as res publica. The basis of this type of community is procedural rules; hence,
This modern form of political community is held together not by a substantive idea of the common good but by a common bond, a public concern. It is therefore a community without a definite shape or a definite identity and in continuous re-enactment. Such a conception is clearly different from the premodern idea of the political community [namely, held together by a common purpose, as provided by religion], but it is also different from the liberal ideal of the political association. For liberalism also sees political association as a form of purposive association, of enterprise, except that in its case the aim is an instrumental one: the promotion of common interest. (p. 67)

Under this form of community, the bonds that unite are not the sharing of a single substantive idea of the common good, and thus it constitutes a framework that regulates and makes room for liberty. It is a form of association that can accommodate relative strangers and requires a minimum of participation to the extent that specific interests or goals collide. Thus, in civil associationism, said Mouffe, diversity is accommodated by a nonpurposive framework of formal rules. As Mouffe represented her position, however, it is in the tradition of agonal conflict resolution and must be regarded as an excessively narrow proceduralist position. A return to reinstate aspects of Greek thinking, in the works of Aristotle, and in the Greco-Roman writing of the 1 st and 2nd centuries encompassed a broader sense of community, allowing for the development of procedural structures to facilitate friendships, sexual relations, and different styles of life. In this sense, if we can borrow a conceptual designation made by liberalism, it incorporates positive and negative dimensions of state, but where state action is not confined within a purely procedural mode of governance and rule but actively pursues substantive ends in the interests of difference within community. Central to the thesis here is that a politics of difference presupposes a space for government as the guarantor and enforcer of the rights of difference, most notably ethical self-creation and the development of capabilities. If

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indeed difference is to work at all, some mechanism to ensure that all groups abide by the norms and procedures of conflict resolution is necessary. Among all the differences, too, there will be certain common ground based on overlapping interests. The fact that all groups must respect the norms of difference constitutes one set of common concerns. In addition, certain groups or categories might warrant preferential treatment, on the grounds of protection or support, which also constitute contexts in terms of which the state may play a substantive role. What emerges, then, is a conception of the political that can be characterized as &dquo;thin&dquo; communitarianism, defined in a sense that establishes a noncoercive means of allowing for the diversity of contemporary Western societies. Society, for Foucault, like Oakeshott, was certainly in one important sense a societas or cive-a form of civil association adequate to define community for modern democratic conditions, and a mode of association that makes room for group differences and individual liberty. Unlike liberalism and Kantianism, which give priority to the right over the good, Foucault’s community was in fact conceived in Hegelian terms, with the exception that difference is now privileged within unity, thus enabling a sittlich-type relation, one based on pluralism and liberty, to emerge. Unlike Habermas, Foucault’s conception did not stress shared normative codes or see community as integrated around rules of discourse and forms of argumentation rooted in communicative codes of the public sphere. Whereas, like Habermas, Foucault’s community would avoid uncritical or unreflexive appeal to tradition or to established cultural codes, unlike Habermas he did not define community around integrated normative principles, for such a system runs the risk of being too decontextualized and elevates consensus as an exclusive regulatory principle. Within Foucault’s conception, importantly, are various senses of the political. The negative notion accommodated the insights of writers such as Karl Marx, and later Carl Schmidt, which depicted the political in terms of conflict and division, while the positive notion conceived of the possibility of the management of difference through ethical self-creation and &dquo;the care of the self.&dquo; Although the state’s role must give a preeminent respect to difference, it is not simply necessarily a neutralist vehicle for the arbitration and resolution of discord. Rather, the state’s role is substantive of the common conditions for selfcreation, and with respect to the shared interests of different groups within the polis. Any unity in the polis is seen simply as the product of a falsely normalized hegemony, however, for the polis in this model represented, for Foucault, as for other postmodern theorists of community, a deterritorialized and global cultural order. It is the centrality of the requirement for openness and the avoidance of closure at the social-institutional level that presupposed the need for democratic institutions. In other words, to operate community in accord with the principle of difference requires a certain societal public sphere, as well as institutions of democracy, which link community to the social. &dquo;Thin communitarianism&dquo; thus constitutes a form of decentralized republican democracy

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that limits the scope of state administration, and specifies its form, without diminishing social provision. As a civic form, it enables the operation of a market order regulated by a network of coordinative institutions and agencies. Foucault’s community is not, then, simply an aesthetic conception devoid of politics. Foucault’s political writings can thus be represented to support, I claim, a model of radical democratic citizenship, with citizenship defined not on the basis of naturally established rights but as the articulating principle through which subject positions in a community are defined and through which self-creation can be realized.


argued in this article that a politics of difference/community is not simply compatible with democratic politics but can be represented as positively aligned and supported by it. Although the specificity of democratic procedures will be historically contingent, there is potentially a long inventory of procedures and structures, including equal, universal suffrage; majority rule; minority rights; the rule of law; and constitutional guarantees of freedom, including the liberties of assembly and expression. The fact that democratic institutions such as free elections, competitive party systems, or written constitutions have emerged historically does not necessarily mean that they will be retained unadapted. Whether they are would be decided anew in each era. Even if retained or improved, however, such procedures would not be, for Foucault, one suspects, an automatic protection against arrogance or corruption of political leaders, but nevertheless would best constitute the vital mechanism for limiting the growth of monolithic state power. For Foucault, a postliberal polity in terms of a model of republican democracy might involve any number of moves,

I have

including decentralizing state power, limiting the unequal accumulation of power and increasing democracy within civil society, extending the democratizing process from the political to the civil sphere of the society, as well as strengthening the role of associations in civil society vis-~-vis the state. The
be efficient without being oppressive, functioning to represent the diverse interests of civil society without succumbing to forms of authoritarian rule. Democracy, in this sense, best represents the Foucauldian politics of difference/ community on a whole range of grounds. Although he did not argue for it directly, as a Foucauldian I do. It is the main bulwark against violence and authoritarian rule, and its major normative impulses are consensus, open dialogue, mediation, and revocable concessions and compromises. Although historically, democracy has been associated, as Weber argued, with an expanding hierarchical bureaucracy and as a form of technical expertise as ends in themselves, Foucault would see these tendencies as contingent historical episodes and challenges to be surmounted rather than as the necessary consequences of the expansion of the democratic process. Although democracy may well carry
state must

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with it its own dangers, and although it comprises a multifaceted range of mechanisms and processes, its advantage for a Foucauldian politics is not simply that it enables the participation and approval of concerns by the entire collectivity and of all the major groups within it but, even more important, it permits continued debate, modification, rejection, or revision of agreed decisions while enabling a maximum of freedom and autonomy, an ongoing possibility of negotiation and dialogue, and the most effective opposition to possible abuses of power. Notes
1. Etzioni



32) used the


Chinese nesting boxes


represent this

for instance, Mulhall and Swift (1992) and Beiner (1997) for a summary of these arguments. A 3. Corlett’s book is subtitled Politics of Derridean Extravagance (1993). 4. Poster (1984) saw a break between "the structuralist concern with language and its autonomy that was paramount in The Order of Things and the perspective of " "discourse/practice in which the reciprocal interplay of reason and action was presumed" (pp. 39-40). Although I acknowledge a shift in the problems explored, and a greater emphasis on power and institutions, I believe that too much should not be made between Foucault’s earlier and later writings. For further discussion of the issue, also see Olssen (1999, pp. 39-42), Mahon (1992, p. 103), Dreyfus and Rabinow (1983), Smart (1985, pp. 47-48), and Barrett (1988, p. 135). 5. This shift in the form of materialism in Foucault’s work was undoubtedly one of the reasons he opposed the republication of Illness and Psychology in 1962. Mental 6. Although for ease of expression I will speak sometimes as if the argument belongs to Foucault theoretically, I wish only to maintain that my argument regarding "thin" communitarian is only inspired or suggested by a consideration of key themes within his work. My argument in this sense is of the kind that if Foucault were to theorize the issue of community, this is the sort of perspective he may take. Or, put another way, as a Foucauldian, and given my own reading of Foucault (accepting even that other reasons might be possible), this is the particular representation on the matter of community that I have arrived at. In no way am I trying to represent this argument as Foucault’s. 7. In this sense there is a parallel between Foucault’s model of "holismparticularism" or "system/originality" to theories of complex determination that are being used to explain how infinite possibilities and random nonpredictable occurrences are derivable from a set of determined rules or laws (see Cilliers, 1998). 8. Foucault acknowledged a debt in his use of style to Peter Brown (1978). See Foucault (1989, p. 320). 9. Such a representation of Foucault will be seen to conflict with other readings of his work. For instance, Beiner (1997) represented Foucault’s ethics individualistically,

process. 2. See,

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representing his later work as a Stoical concern with a "praxis of ’intensified’ quasiaesthetic self crafting" preoccupied with individual "withdrawal" and where individuals are concerned primarily with the "intensification of pleasures (p. 73). Although as " stated above, I do not claim that Foucault actually advocated for the "thin" communitarianian thesis that I am advancing but only that his approach is consistent with it, a number of points can be made to counter such readings of writers such as Beiner. First, although Foucault was influenced by and even inspired by the Stoics, as Paul Veyne (cited in Davidson, 1997) said, "Clearly no one will accuse [Foucault] of aspiring to renew the Stoic ethics of the Greeks ... the solution to a contemporary problem will never be found in a problem raised in another era" (p. 226). Furthermore, more direct evidence can be seen in that Foucault, as supported by citations given in the text
of this essay, frequently drew on the classical Greek thinkers in his elaboration of the "care of the self." But it should also be noted, most important, that to accuse Foucault of a form of "dandyism," or of simplistically supporting a form of self-crafting based on individualistic values, supported by the views of the Stoics, is to misrepresent Stoic conceptions. The Stoic idea of the "continuum" or of the "interdependence of things" supports a conception of Foucault as more in keeping with a form of communitarianism, albeit of a "thin" variety, as the Stoics saw all parts of the universe as linked in dynamic interplay. In addition, as Beiner pointed out, the Stoics, not Aristotle or Plato, can be seen as the originators of natural law within the Western moral tradition in that they subscribed to a conception of the "natural cosmos as the source of rational norms" (p. 73). Balancing the influence of the Stoics with that of the classical Greeks, as I am suggesting, can also be seen to accentuate the idea of ethical self-creation as a form of "self-mastery" (over passions, etc.), which is also more in keeping with Stoic thought. Hence, Foucault was, as Beiner noted, radicalizing the Socratic-Platonic tradition, but not (as Beiner also would have it) of producing an individualized form of self-crafting based on an intensification of pleasures. In this sense, I would claim that Foucault’s ethics drew variously from the Greeks, the Romans, the Renaissance (Burckhardt), and Baudelaire (see Foucault, 1985, pp. 10-12). 10. One of Foucault’s central aims was to (re)introduce notions of indeterminacy, complexity, and chance (alea) into the historical process. See Foucault (1981, p. 69). 11.I claim at least that it is a plausible reading of Foucault, not that it is the true reading, or accurately reflects the "real" Foucault.




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Mark Olssen is a reader in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Surrey, England. He is the editor of Mental Testing in New Zealand: Critical and Oppositional Perspectives (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1988), author (with Elaine Papps) of The Doctoring of Childbirth (Palmerston North: The Dunmore Press, 1997), and editor with Kay Morris Matthew of Education Policy in New Zealand: The 1990s and Beyond (Palmerston North: The Dunmore Press, 1997). More recently he is author of Michel Foucault: Materialism and Education (New York: Bergin and Garvey, 1999). He has published articles in Britain in the Journal of Education Policy, British Journal of Educational Studies, Educational Psychology, and Educational Philosophy and Theory.

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