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Foucault and the logic of dialectics
Department of Political Science, Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada E-mails: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org An earlier version of this paper was presented at the University of Essex in June 2007.
Abstract This paper reorganizes our understanding of dialectical thought and
the work of Michel Foucault by addressing each one through the other. Foucault explicitly repudiates dialectics, and yet the dialectical implications found in his positions on power and resistance offer a contrasting understanding of his work. Although I do not claim that Foucault is in fact a dialectician, I show how he participates in dialectical thought through his programmatic arguments and in his genealogical histories. This requires elaborating an appropriate logic of dialectical relations that cannot be reduced to a logic of contradiction. The result is that a rapprochement between Foucault and proponents of dialectics becomes possible. It gives recourse to Foucault for those who see dialectics as a requirement of radical politics, while also providing a platform for future research that reconnects the study of power relations with dialectical themes such as experience, liberation and ideology. Contemporary Political Theory (2010) 9, 220–238. doi:10.1057/cpt.2009.3 Keywords: Foucault; dialectics; power; resistance; Hegel; Adorno
Recent accounts of dialectical thought present stark oppositions. Gilles Deleuze’s classic polemic against dialectics in Nietzsche and Philosophy suggested that dialectics has acted as a regressive historical force by providing a refuge in thought for the weakwilled (Deleuze, 1986). More recently, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have been judicious enough to admit that dialectics once offered considerable resources but, ironically, has been outflanked by historical developments (namely the emergence of Empire and postmodern society) that it was thought to be uniquely equipped to make sense of (Hardt and Negri, 2000, pp. 114–137). The ongoing success of the Adorno industry usually has the merit of considering the relevance of dialectical criticism to social transformation, and often finds considerable potential, even if there is a tendency to beg the question. Instead of having to choose between these disparate positions, what if a radical divide between dialectics and one of its
r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory www.palgrave-journals.com/cpt/ Vol. 9, 2, 220–238
with a sophisticated dialectics that is Hegelian-inspired. Hegel and Theodor W.Foucault and the logic of dialectics most severe critics – Michel Foucault – can be bridged? If a logic of dialectics that avoids conceptual reductionism is found to operate in Foucault’s work. Adorno. 2. Challenging the rationale of Foucault’s entrenchment provides an opportunity to reconsider his theorizing of power. which is why he figures so prominently. Beatrice Hanssen and Judith Butler have made similar comparisons previously. 220–238 221 .W. It is inspired in large part by how he understands the relationship between power and resistance. Foucault is clear that he thinks a politics of liberation is incoherent. By addressing how juridical and productive power incite and challenge one another. it would go some way to constructing the basis for a more productive engagement in the future between. in specific ways. If Foucault is compatible. 1980. Hegel’s work remains the ground-zero of dialectics. as I will show. 9. Subjects are always-already constructed by power. which yields implications for dialectics and. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. dialectical implications. Much of my argument will focus on similarities between Foucault and dialectical thinkers such as G. Foucauldians and Deleuzians. domesticating what is otherwise r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. What is at stake intellectually is a reordering of the relations between different theoretical traditions. The main political consequence I want to draw out involves the dialectical relationship between juridical and productive power. it becomes possible to articulate the rationale of a politics of liberation and even revolution. Foucault takes the position that ‘the dialectic’ forces events into a predetermined conceptual architecture. and I refer to their work to help build an ongoing line of inquiry. but also to articulate a more compelling relationship between Foucault and dialectics.F. and struggle. resistance. Although the substance of this argument is convincing. is it possible that dialectical critical theory can then account for a number of Foucauldian theses regarding power relations without renouncing a commitment to liberation through revolution? Foucault’s animosity toward dialectics can be traced back beyond Deleuze ` to the influence of Alexandre Kojeve. which he thinks must be thought of ‘in terms of a logic free of the sterilizing constraints of the dialectic’ (Foucault. even if subsequent thinkers such as Adorno are required to articulate a more modern dialectical approach. on the one hand. p. but without reviving a crude dialectics based on determinist teleologies or alienation from a supposedly primordial nature. and critical ˇ ˇ theorists (perhaps Zizek and Jameson most importantly) on the other. and by his concern with struggle. 144). its political implications are exaggerated. Escaping Foucault’s anti-dialectics Foucault’s hostility to dialectics is well known. so there can be no appeal to an originary nature or state of being from which we are estranged. for example.
dialectical thought is not extraneous to Hegel. ` The usual argument against Kojeve depicts his reading of Hegel as an idiosyncratic. 1995. 186). Many of the objections made against dialectics are captured in the familiar equation that dialectics equals teleology. 2. 1969. apparently ignoring how the Phenomenology concludes with the insight that in light of what Spirit has learned about itself. but for Foucault. 259). 1977. Hegel is presented as the bearer of epochal – and unbelievable – truths. from contradiction and negation. p. p. which began with Plato. 1977. overly anthropological interpretation. ‘if one wants to take seriously the assertion that struggle is at the core of relations of power. p. 184–186). from all of dialectics’ (Foucault. For example. notably Jean Wahl and Jean Hyppolite. in which the reliance on the master and slave motif loses any proportion to its place in the Phenomenology (see Rockmore. However. Later. or more substantively. it H must continue on as if starting its journey over again (Hegel. his arguments were ` difficult to ignore. Napoleon’s conquests are said to serve for Hegel as evidence for the end of History’s long narrative. It is for all of the reasons I have outlined that Foucault made unequivocal statements about how ‘it was necessary to free ourselves from Hegel – from the opposition of predicates. 9. 35). 1977. one must take into account the fact that the good old ‘logic’ of contradiction is no longer sufficient y’ (Foucault. Although Kojeve is actually at ` pains to downplay the importance of dialectics for Hegel (Kojeve. Refracted through Kojeve. 1969. pp. For him. Foucault tells us. 808). 164). Nevertheless. 259). 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. that moment when we give up all ‘bloody Fighting and creative Work’ ` (191. His rather unsubtle appreciation of ` dialectical thought finds its roots here too. 115. p. but rather must be seen as culpable in an idealist version of history that elevates the struggles of bare existence to the status of an unfolding destiny. 1969. p. 31–38). 162). is that Kojeve either disregarded or was blind to everything in the Phenomenology that addresses the ontological unfolding of the categories ` of thought from the standpoint of Being (Kojeve. it was the influence of ` Deleuze and especially Kojeve that was most formative. Hegel’s apparent sterilization of history and thought guaranteed Foucault’s opposition. pp. as ` Kojeve was taken to be a largely reliable guide to Hegel. which is ` not in fact true. ‘In other words’. he is made to look as if he ` thinks self-knowledge is consonant with world-historical knowledge (Kojeve. Only a strenuous disregard for textual evidence could find in this The End of History.Grant aleatory and reducing a hazardous reality to nothing more than a formula or a ‘Hegelian skeleton’ (Foucault. Kojeve even asserts that classical philosophy. French philosophy’s renewed interest in Hegel was ignited by multiple sources. 220–238 . The implication. Foucault. Part of my intention is to break this 222 r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. p. Foucault did not arrive at this position on his own. Foucault could never separate a mode of thinking from its results. 1980. ends with Hegel (88–89). 1980.
Instead. 256) – that we can begin to understand historical progression. In The History of Sexuality. the problem is not with teleology as such. Nor does discrete teleology refuse the useful argument that history has occupied various determinable paths. Discrete teleology avoids such implications. Striving toward an end is not the same as expecting an unalterable and organic sequence of events to deliver it without fail. Foucault addresses his critics by anticipating the charge of ‘careless’ historicism. Determinist teleology involves attributing a predetermined purpose and unalterable course to the unfolding of existence (whether to that of a particular acorn or to world history). 220–238 223 . but with the differences between what I will call its determinist and discrete forms. Determinist teleology is equivalent to the type of historicism attacked by Karl Popper. which at its most persuasive offers an image of history that is bristling with both opportunity and danger. it places all its emphasis of inquiry on a particular event or phenomenon. 9. where the unpredictability of events is explained away as owing to part of an unbreakable historical plan. The decisive differences that separate discrete from determinist teleology should be evident. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. but insists that their potential to do so is determined entirely according to their lived circumstances. The discrete form prioritizes contingency instead of inevitability. 2. It is worth mentioning here that one possible model of discrete teleology can be found in Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History.Foucault and the logic of dialectics equation. If determinist teleology is a type of historical universalism. without going so far as to claim that any of them were predetermined to follow a precise historical succession. This variant of historicism denies the possibility of successive historical developments. it is possible that discrete teleology is a type of historical particularism. The former understands that our movement through time might include progress. Those who are convinced by it – as Foucault was – cannot help but view dialectics as thoroughly compromised by a compulsion to find a picture of destiny in any event or historical conjuncture. It is by managing to amputate every last vestige of irresistible progress from this image of history – ‘There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism’ (Benjamin. though. If this distinction is broadly acceptable then one might fairly want to know if either type of teleology is also a kind of historicism (for there is surely no single definition for this term either). without then projecting them onto a backdrop of a more expansive historical narrative. whereas the latter sees a steady advance. Discrete teleology involves different arguments. p. it identifies tendencies without divining the future and it takes events to be intelligible short of being comprehensively knowable. according to which he ignores r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1969. The actions of individuals are thought to be irrelevant and are construed as nothing more than effects of history’s unfolding. Perhaps. but still can be indicted on the grounds of an alternative historicism. It admits that many things strive to reach particular ends and only those ends.
either. But rather than being the strict opposite or Other of identity. Foucault did not reduce himself to historical particularism.Grant the hard facts of sex and biology in favour of particular – and therefore secondary and unessential – aspects of sexuality (Foucault. Nothing in this line of argument contains any characteristics of historical universalism or determinist teleology as I have described them. The evidence I will present from Foucault offers sharp contrast to such a reading by reminding us that even when power relations seem to have become unalterable. p. 1990. 152). impersonal relations of power operate as fully determining and unassailable. 308). In short. there is a shared emphasis on historical developments and tendencies beyond isolated moments. ‘On many points – I am thinking especially of the relations between dialectics. 1988a. 2. is not to fear that freeing ourselves from teleology drops us into the pit of historicism (in either of its senses). In one case. and in the other case the development of consciousness is constant and unyielding. 1990. with nothing counting against it. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. 9. 224 r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. he aligned himself with what I have described as discrete teleology. Adorno explains his description of Hegel by charting the turn in dialectics from identity to ‘non-identity’. 1993. ‘we must hear the distant roar of battle’ (Foucault. p. Given how Foucault interpreted Hegel. In a process that parallels power and resistance. It would be fair to assume from the statements I quoted earlier that Foucault did not consider dialectics to have any great importance for his work. Hegel does not lack for famous statements either. On the contrary. pp. helping to set a broader context for reevaluating Foucault. it is a mistake to think that ‘sex is an autonomous agency which secondarily produces manifold effects of sexuality’ (Foucault. Foucault’s uncertainty provides an opening to consider his work in light of a more subtle and sophisticated understanding of dialectics. but the one most appropriate to match Foucault’s riposte actually comes from Adorno: ‘Hegel’s philosophy murmurs and rustles’ (Adorno. pp. Foucault responds that as the biological and the historical are intertwined rather than consecutive. This makes it all the more surprising that the following admission was made after dialectics had apparently been disregarded. 220–238 . but rather to see that avoiding historicism helps to establish a useful notion of teleology. it is ironic that they have both been accused of authoring closed systems. non-identity is generated by the very act of identification. However. at least once the old equation that links dialectics with determinist teleology is broken. then. It does so because it is dialectical. 150–151). 51). Dialectical thought shares this alignment. which are analyzed through the specific relations of power and resistance that characterize their histories. 101). p. The point. 1979. genealogy and strategy – I am still working and don’t know whether I am going to get anywhere’ (Foucault. The positions I have articulated regarding teleology and historicism provide greater clarity about dialectics as an historical phenomenon and as a type of critical inquiry. 155.
This insight does not amount only to some epistemological curiosity. It is not simply r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd.Foucault and the logic of dialectics non-identity is the undoing of this type of relational consistency. The contradictions described by Hegel’s philosophy end up revealing the contradictions in his philosophy.1 Whereas Foucault would be unpersuaded. Adorno discovered – and constructed – an alternative dialectics. The disjunctions between concept and object compel an engagement with material conditions. 1977. rebalanced relationship between subject and object. ‘Consciousness of life. 1993. (1993. 2. p. hostility. Antagonism articulates a sense of opposition. non-identity requires an alternative. non-identity ‘emerges unpacifiable’ (Adorno. 1975. Dialectical contradiction is experienced in the experience of society. The subject’s priority is revoked. 12). is only an agonizing over H this existence and activity’ (Hegel. As Hegel put it in his Encyclopaedia. the pervasive negativity of the dialectical conflicts in Hegel’s philosophy refuses the order of a reconciled unity. while the apparent being-in-itself of the concept is reconnected to the antagonistic material reality it supposedly represents. It is the concept of antagonistic totality. the experience of which makes it possible to organize the move that sees philosophy and social critique become entwined in dialectics. These trials are experienced not as contradictions. as the exertions of consciousness are only too real. requires that contradiction be grasped as much from the side of the object as from the side of the subject. 220–238 225 . 209). of its existence and activity. p. certain that the small tragedies of consciousness would be overcome in Hegel’s reconciliation of mind and world. that every part of its being has been H tortured on the rack and every bone broken’ (Hegel. it is in the dialectical contradiction that there crystallizes a concept of experience that points beyond absolute idealism. however. ‘thinking is always the negation of what we have immediately H before us’ (Hegel. For Adorno. and even suffering. Hegel’s idealism failed to settle the differences between subject and object or idea and society because. its richness illuminates what Foucault did not believe: that the trials of consciousness implicate those of an entire society. which contradiction alone often cannot convey. but as antagonisms. 9. Hegel does not ignore how. As material reality exceeds and overflows the conceptual. formulated in terms of the philosophy of identity. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. 31). Indeed. as Adorno explains. 539). according to Adorno. 1977. Hegel’s own construction. Hence the materialist implications in Hegel’s account of the agony that occurs as the pursuit of identity repeatedly fails. 78) Even when Hegel’s dialectical philosophy is revealed as inadequate. the ontological unfolding of consciousness is experienced as if ‘all its defences have broken down. for the subject.
just as dialectics does not equal determinist teleology. it was not elevated onto a conceptual throne. antagonism occurs on a real. slave-like wage labour and environmental degradation constitute the fault lines between the massive capacity of productive forces and the exploitative relations that support them. p. 220–238 . Explicit in my reading of Foucault is a more complex version of dialectics that does not raise its hand always with the same answer to everything it addresses. p. 1973. ‘the physical moment tells our knowledge that suffering ought not to be. p. Immediate realities tell us even more. The justification of capitalism presumes an identity between its promised achievements – including individual freedom. Grinding inequalities. although being equally indicative of the same general ones. and without the principle there would be no exchange. Social antagonism therefore cannot be reduced to the logical category of contradiction. Even in Adorno. it is through exchange that non-identical individuals and performances become commensurable and identical’ (Adorno. sprawling slums. 1973. identity becomes the bleach of difference. Attempts to stitch the identity of capitalism back together result in an unresolvable contradiction that finds its correlate in an antagonistic society (Adorno.Grant logic or emotion that compels such a response. As Adorno knew. and the logic of contradiction is revealed to be an inadequate shorthand for a constellation of concepts that include antagonism. together they constitute both a description and a critique of our present conditions. Foucault’s opposition to dialectics is confronted directly by Adorno’s negative dialectics on two crucial points. that things should be different’ (Adorno. efficiency and equal opportunity – and the reality it has accomplished. 156). reducing objects to their respective exchange value and individual actions to what they can demand by way of compensation. Sceptics should not fear a renewed fixation with contradictions. but our physical experience of what we live through. 1998. difference 226 r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 9. contradiction and antagonism are shown to belong to different orders of problems in their own specific manifestations. In the midst of the identifying power of capitalism. neither does it equal contradiction. Instead. but it remains as symptomatic of contradiction as contradiction is reflective of antagonism. The priority of identity is replaced by non-identity. This is merely another equation to be broken. 203). ‘Exchange is the social model of the principle [of identity]. the dissonance of dialectical non-identity is a point of resistance. existing material level. For Adorno. translation modified). 2. Yet the increasing inability to imagine what being free might be like in a non-capitalist society tells us about what freedom amounts to in a capitalist one. 146. Whereas contradiction is often restricted to features of our thought. Capitalist exchange relations remain one of the most profound examples. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. Although the former applies to the logical order of identity and the latter to material existence. who never tired of analyzing contradiction.
zero-sum calculus. Indeed. we are never outside or free from power relations. including how our society operates through ongoing dialectical struggles of power and resistance. the latter are all the more real and effective because they are formed right at the point where relations of power are exercised (Foucault. it cannot be transformed endlessly or even easily. The next section presents the case for the existence of a dialectical sensibility in Foucault. in the same way that resistance is never absent from power. This relationship of power and resistance is an immanent one for Foucault because it is internal to a specific social formation. Foucault explains how the body is ‘molded by a great many distinct regimes. dialectics is free to undertake the type of analysis it is supposedly incapable of conducting. p. 142). and throughout the rest of the paper I situate Foucault in relation to Hegel and Adorno in order to facilitate a concluding (yet preliminary) statement on the future implications for dialectics. through eating habits or moral laws. it is poisoned by food or values. Released from the conceptual stasis and determinist teleology that Foucault sees. 1980. Genealogy. he acknowledges that it is even possible for power relations to become so r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. History’.Foucault and the logic of dialectics and negativity. 96). 1984. it constructs resistances’ (Foucault. ‘y there are no relations of power without resistances. As I will show. The reason we refer to resistance is to designate it as a non-dominant instance of power that is opposed to the present configuration of power relations. and resting. He eschewed the common belief in a juridical. it is a relationship that is both productive and juridical. 220–238 227 . Foucault considers power to be something that is always dangerous because it can produce practices that result in exploitation or injury. The body adheres to established hours and rhythms of working. 9. resistance itself is taken to be an instance of power. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. where power and resistance are antithetical. Further. Instead Foucault sought to demonstrate how the operational logic of power relations establishes a dependence between power and resistance. Foucault thinks that power incites resistance and that resistance motivates greater power. it is rare for workers to change easily from a day shift to a night shift. rest. This compels him to assert that resistances ‘are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite’ (Foucault. it is broken down by the rhythms of work. In Foucault’s words. 87). eating. in effect resisting the changes that come with working through the night. 2. and holidays. In fact. To use Foucault’s example of work and rest. What becomes more important than power as such is the nature of specific relations of power. 1990. p. In his essay ‘Nietzsche. Although the body is malleable. p. Foucault began theorizing a novel relationship between power and resistance. Discovering the dialectical in Foucault In the early 1970s.
27). Finally. each of which has its own risks of conflict. power and resistance are compatriots and irreducible opposites. p. the claim in Discipline and Punish that relations of power ‘ y are not univocal. Take. my claim is that Foucault has conceived of power/resistance as a relationship that is simultaneously one of reciprocity. and no assurance that they might yield any positive returns. for example.Grant entrenched that a state of domination takes hold where resistance is foreclosed and the possibility of reversing those relations is lost (Foucault. it means that they are also relations of freedom insofar as they include struggle and the possibility of escape (not from power itself. To be more specific. a perpetual linking and a perpetual reversal’ (Foucault. Foucault contends the following: ‘In effect. reliant on each other for their own existence. 9. 2. 1988b. 220–238 . p. Because Foucault defines dialectics as nothing other than a binary logic of contradiction. It is also an antagonistic relationship as each element offers a perpetual challenge to the arrangement of power that the other effects. 226). of struggles. has implications for our understanding of social struggles that are unmistakably dialectical. The question of reversing relations of power is an important one for Foucault. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. On the contrary. 3). 1982. it is easy to see why he thinks that it cannot account for the complexities of power relations. These are the qualities that might seem to undermine any reading of the power/resistance relationship as a dialectical one. between a relationship of power and a strategy of struggle there is a reciprocal appeal. antagonism and production. but from any particular manifestation of it). These implications are particularly evident in Foucault’s important later essay. Foucault describes how any study of power relations ought to begin by examining resistance because it indicates exactly those points where relations of power are exercised. This mutual dependence makes for a productive relationship as power and resistance interrelate to construct a terrain of contestation and struggle. ‘The Subject and Power’. there is no suprahistorical achievement toward which these ineradicable relations of power and resistance are oriented. 1979. By translating this into a dialectical language. focuses of instability. Foucault’s view that power and resistance are ‘compatriots’. As power relations have resistance inscribed in them by their very nature. they define innumerable points of confrontation. yet without sacrificing any of its intended meaning. Instead. In this essay. part of what I want to show is that the full force of Foucault’s resistance to dialectics does not prevent the complexity of struggles from being understood dialectically. with the latter inscribed in the former. He wants it to be clear that the nature of any specific power/ resistance relationship is shifting and precarious. and of an at least temporary inversion of the power relations’ (Foucault. p. the perpetual linking and reversal to which Foucault appeals is the epitome of a non-progressive negative dialectic and its ceaseless determinate negations. especially to the extent that there is a common concern 228 r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
Foucault describes the spectacle of the scaffold and the use of public execution in the 18th century as a method of stamping an obedient fear and knowledge into the populace. he conjectured. as under pre-modern regimes. Hanssen claims there are characteristics of Hegelian logic in Foucault. for example. might bear productive or generative effects. What Hanssen’s analysis does not elaborate is how Foucault’s genealogical histories display real instances of dialectical relations. whom I address first. she finds that it draws significantly from German idealism. In that sense. the critical violence Foucault advocated – however figurative or metaphorical – still operated as a dialectical tool. pp. Dialectics relies on. 1990. Notably. but is not reducible to. My description of these dialectical relations requires that we affirm what will be a scandal as much to dialecticians as to their critics: dialectics can no longer be reduced to a logic of contradiction.Foucault and the logic of dialectics with the conflict between openness and closure. diet and hygiene (Foucault. Other readers of Foucault have not entirely overlooked his dialectical qualities. counterviolence will redeem itself. at the brink – the negative may turn into a positive. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. 140. To be more specific. p. 25). in Discipline and Punish. For example. (Hanssen. The nature of these negations results in the production of new stages of consciousness (or new relations of power in the case of Foucault) for the subject to negotiate. 220–238 229 . qua power and reification. 2. he documents how this overt demonstration of state power gave rise to the very resistance that it was intended to prevent. 52) As Hanssen supposes. 2000. and power becomes less concerned with granting life. Hanssen suggests that Foucault’s conception of the struggles that take place within relations of biopolitical production ‘is informed by the logic of ‘‘dialectical moments’’’. contradiction. activating the force of negation. This is the case with both Beatrice Hanssen and Judith Butler. similar figures of dialectical relations run throughout Hegel’s Phenomenology. like them [the condemned]. sexual relations. Dispensed in sufficient quantities. y according to which – pushed to the limit. as ‘never did the people feel more threatened. 9. which is nothing more than a reductive shorthand that betrays the complexity of any real scenario. focuses on Foucault’s description of the shift from the juridical power of the Hobbesian sovereign to what he calls ‘bio-power’. than with generating it through the regulation of. but neither have they been elaborated sufficiently. After testing the composition of Foucault’s work. which. where the contradictions in each stage of consciousness become so overwhelming that they result in ongoing negations. Hanssen. birth and mortality rates. Here the norm becomes more important than the law. [than] by a legal violence exercised without moderation r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
the lack of work as freedom. it was this solidarity much more than the sovereign power that was likely to emerge with redoubled strength’ (Foucault. when ´ a 13-year-old boy named Beasse stepped in front of a judge and. (Foucault. ‘Yet out of the ceremony of the public execution. the lack of a time-table as the fullness of days and nights. Does discipline achieve what other types of power cannot. 1979. also. The power of the execution incited public resistance. 1979. p. On execution days. All the illegalities that the court defined as offences the accused reformulated as the affirmation of a living force: the lack of a home as vagabondage. antagonism and productivity. However. sympathy for the condemned. p. This was notably the case in 1840. that even a ‘panoptic society’ still cannot break the dialectical companionship of power and resistance? Despite somewhat eliding this aspect of the carceral system’s broader investments in society. step by step. 1979. 63). But resistance is always closer at hand than Foucault’s accounts of disciplinary power sometimes suggest. 2. along with a general milieu of illegality as work stopped. especially as Foucault refers repeatedly to how the disciplines ‘guarantee the obedience of individuals’ through a seamless and automatic functioning of power (Foucault. Foucault is clear that the spectacle of the scaffold is an example of juridical power. 290) Is this resistance nothing more than a reminder of youth’s ingenuity? Or does it suggest too that discipline and normalization – firmly established by that time in the carceral system according to Foucault – do not always produce docile subjects. this emphasis on resistance quietly retreats. crowds gathered and the spectacle began. 1979. For Foucault. 63). out of that uncertain festival in which violence was instantaneously reversible. 220–238 . the lack of a master as independence. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. the scaffold resulted in hostility toward the executioner and guards. 282. 303). 148. 201–203. The main objective for the authorities became to break an emergent social solidarity. p.Grant or restraint’ (Foucault. turned the accusations of the law into the resistance of a popular illegality. which was resisted in turn by police repression. This epitomizes how power and resistance intertwine in an ongoing dialectical relationship defined by reciprocal dependence. And despite his insistence that power is never without resistance. this act y revealed indiscipline in a systematically ambiguous manner as the disordered order of society and as the affirmation of inalienable rights. no doubt because ‘they [illegalities] have always met with 230 r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. when Discipline and Punish elaborates a history of disciplinary power. namely the elimination of resistance? This is a tempting conclusion to make. 9. pp. Foucault agrees that the production of delinquency is an historical development that provokes only tentative results.
then there is no relationship of power without the means of escape or possible flight. prevent him from adopting this Hegelian motif of life and death struggle or from putting it in a quasi-Hegelian framework. Foucault’s concern is with the capacity of war and biopower to rule over all of life rather than with the unfolding of consciousness. ‘There aren’t immediately given subjects of the struggle. do not lose their specific nature. Foucault does not see the operations of power/resistance as involving contradiction. the other the bourgeoisie’. at least in potentia. and his depiction of them just quoted is a story of reification and the closure of struggle rather than a metanarrative of progress. the conduct of others. a strategy of struggle. ‘Who fights against whom? We all fight each other’ (Foucault. nevertheless. 1979. they have given rise to struggles and provoked reaction’ (Foucault. however. or do not finally become confused. Each constitutes for the other a kind of permanent limit. along with its productive effects – arguably had a greater impact on Foucault than on Marx. p. Foucault’s description of power struggles is consistent with Hegel’s up to the point where the relationship between the master and slave is overcome. clear differences between Foucault and Hegel. If it is true that at the heart of power relations and as a permanent condition of their existence there is an insubordination and a certain essential obstinacy on the part of the principles of freedom. A relationship of confrontation reaches its term. There are. More evidence of dialectical features in Foucault can be found by turning again to ‘The Subject and Power’. 9. it is obvious that Foucault shares his concern with the struggles of life and death. in which the two forces are not superimposed. Whereas Marx used this dialectic as a model for capitalist work relations. one the proletariat. For a relationship of confrontation. the fixing of a power relationship becomes a target – at one and the same time its fulfilment and its suspension. Every power relationship implies. 225)2 These profound similarities with Hegel become all the more dramatic because there is a shared logic of struggle and strategies that makes sense for Foucault according to his own views on power and resistance.Foucault and the logic of dialectics resistance. they agree that a struggle to the death is replaced by a fixed and r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Without mentioning Hegel. Of course. In other words. That said. 285). Through such mechanisms one can direct. it is generalized by Foucault and applied to all intersubjective relationships. he claims. 208). p. a point of possible reversal. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. p. 2. its final moment (and the victory of one of the two adversaries) when stable mechanisms replace the free play of antagonistic reactions. (1982. The master–slave dialectic – with its relational logics of reciprocity and antagonism. 220–238 231 . from the moment it is not a struggle to the death. 1980. in a fairly constant manner and with reasonable certainty. This does not.
92). it is the very process of transmission and transformation. Of particular interest is her early text Subjects of Desire. only in and by reason of its limit’ (Hegel. Such a relationship is eminently dialectical. In his Phenomenology. 1987. Genealogy. Where Butler thinks Foucault and Hegel overlap is in their mutual insistence that their objects of study must be grasped immanently. Foucault argues that each force in a power relationship acts as a permanent limit for the other force. I do not take this to be just some fortuitous phrasing that supports a false line of continuity. Hegel goes even further than saying that the developmental transitions of consciousness occur immanently. 9. History’ is a critique of all philosophies of history and their teleological implications. Because power does not exist apart from the various relations by which it is transmitted and transformed. have a paradoxical relationship in that they serve as the limit of the other. 220–238 . Power and resistance. 1975. for him. nothing is constituted purely on its own terms. 2. The dialectics of power and the return of liberation One way to refine this account of how power relations are invested with dialectical qualities is to compare it to some of Judith Butler’s arguments on Foucault. pointing out that Foucault’s argument in ‘Nietzsche. although she includes an important qualification.Grant institutionalized relationship that threatens to turn into a relation of domination. As well. Butler thinks that Foucault’s characterization of power relations shares this trait with Hegel’s depiction of consciousness. which recalls Hegel’s discussion of determinate negation in the Encyclopaedia. with none of the narrative coherence and closure characteristics of the Phenomenology. which is especially evident in their shared genealogical arguments 232 r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. p. which both reinforce and differentiate my own position. a history of these processes. and yet in doing so they motivate and incite more of what they intend to check or restrain. 225) Butler reminds us – if we needed reminding – of Nietzsche’s influence on Foucault. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. consciousness is synonymous with those transitions because it experiences the pain of their development and knows nothing outside of them. which is notable because reading Butler backwards in this way uncovers a reverse trajectory in her work that involves an increasingly sensitive treatment of dialectical thought. Whereas Hanssen tends to stress Foucault’s Hegelian affinities. then. according to their own internal logic. For both Foucault and Hegel. (Butler. Butler begins by differentiating their dialectical qualities. where he insists that ‘a thing is H what it is. but always in relation to what limits it.
Butler suggests that even if the repressive hypothesis is abandoned. a dialectic unanchored in which the constant inversion of opposites leads not to a reconciliation in unity. 225) Butler’s claim that Foucault is a ‘tenuous dialectician’ is dangerously misleading.Foucault and the logic of dialectics against progressivist histories. Take. 9. which belongs to a juridical conception of power and has worked to mask power’s productive features. the relation of juridical to productive power still involves a r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. and struggle remains dialectical. because Foucault’s account of the immanent logic of power.3 teleology. On the other hand. 220–238 233 . It is an apt description insofar as his efforts to escape dialectics were not entirely successful. but his is a dialectic without a subject and without teleology. maintaining only the rhythm of a relentless yet contingent dialectical process. According to Butler: Foucault thus remains a tenuous dialectician. if the subject is an effect of power through and through. the genuine dialectician rejects teleological promises or any other certainty. which holds that power’s primary function is to act as a block or a prohibition. is not enough to accomplish a complete break with dialectics. Butler’s reading also contributes to the ‘Hegelianizing’ of Foucault. 2. However. his jettisoning of certain features attributed to Hegel. According to this view. (1987. From this it would seem that the classical view of revolution as a rupture and radical reordering of socio-economic structures also fails to recognize that the primary task of radical politics is the creation of new subjectivities. notably the presumed metanarrative of progress. then those who pursue liberation have misrecognized what they desire: a different construction and writing of the subject rather than the freeing of an existing but dominated one. resistance. requires a similar portrayal of emancipatory principles of liberation and revolution as logically incoherent. Butler’s reading may move Foucault away from the more Hegelian characterization offered by Hanssen. But it can also be taken to imply that one’s dialectical credentials become suspect if one rejects the idea of a Subject. p. as I have been describing. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. for example. but to a proliferation of opposites which come to undermine the hegemony of binary opposition itself. this only places him in closer proximity to the efforts of other dialectical thinkers. Does this mean that Adorno – whose negative dialectics is meant to go beyond a proliferation of opposites by inducing a proliferation of difference – or Louis Althusser – who rewrote Marxist dialectics by insisting we think of history as a process without a Subject – are not dialectical thinkers? Quite the opposite. or a project of reconciliation. but rather than calling into question his dialectical attributes altogether. Foucault’s renowned work on the historical function of the repressive hypothesis. It is well known that rejecting the repressive hypothesis.
at the borders and in the interstices of power that was exercised over life. although freedom that endures also requires a qualitative change in the capacity of individuals to participate in the writing of their lives (which is also to say a qualitative change in society itself). especially as the radical changes that occur to socio-economic structures and relations as a result of revolution herald opportunities for the construction of new subjectivities. Foucault’s description of suicide as a response to biopower repeats the dialectical logic discussed earlier in the operations of disciplinary power. in Foucault’s sense. In its most basic sense. p. As I have shown. the moment that escapes it. Is this description of liberation not also one of the primary aims of resistance as Foucault would have it? The political intention of revolution described above also makes sense according to this position. What Butler and Foucault fail to recognize is that this relationship accommodates the precepts of productive power without condemning liberation politically or theoretically. The dialectical position I have described holds that liberation is not the restoration of a repressed and essential nature. The general dialectic of power and resistance that I have been articulating assumes the specific character of a dialectic of life and death. which works to control life by fostering and managing it. 9. packaged acceptably for popular consumption in films about Che Guevara or libertine teenagers in the 1960s. affirmation and negation’ (Butler. This 234 r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. But this opposition should be understood dialectically and not in the Deleuzian fashion where life and affirmation are pitted against anti-life and negation as unrelated opposites. This affirmation of revolutionary politics takes on even greater significance because revolution. is because it generates resistance. so it is the same for productive and juridical power. 1987. liberation is the freedom from a particular set of engrained relations of power (but not from power as such). 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. death becomes ‘power’s limit. 138). Part of the reason that power is productive. 220–238 . death becomes the most secret aspect of existence’ (Foucault.Grant juridical distinction. 2. inasmuch as it is analogous to ‘the opposition between life and anti-life. Under the conditions of the biopower. Just as each component of the dialectic between power and resistance relies unwillingly on its ‘opposite’. p. both of which find themselves being preserved as forms of entertainment. more than just becoming an empty signifier. 1990. but only altered and replayed by way of the struggles that define it. power’s own productivity results in a juridical opponent and a juridical standoff that is never ‘resolved’. At stake is our political imagination as well as an influential tradition of political engagement. It [suicide] testified to the individual and private right to die. The dialectical qualities that Butler articulates and I have developed further are best confirmed by turning again to Foucault’s genealogical histories. is on the verge of being lost to our general consciousness altogether. 228).
1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. 139) Normally. that participation often has no relation to willingness. The difference is wide enough: dialecticians generate insights by intentionally employing dialectical thought. Short of suicide. others. p. This dialectical relationship continues because the antagonistic political objectives of biopower and rights incite each other to action without yet resulting in one being negated. 145) As Foucault indicates with his use of quotation marks.4 In developing my argument I do not want to give the impression that Foucault was actually a dialectician without knowing it. death would terminate any dialectic. after all. to one’s body. We know well. It is the site of their meeting and the reason for their present dependence on each other. and consequently so difficult to explain as being due to particular circumstances or individual accidents. suicide became a tactic of resistance that struck back at the operations of power. r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. But in a society where the regulation of life was preferred increasingly to corporal punishment. other dialectical manifestations of power and resistance took hold. Consequently. and beyond all the oppressions or ‘alienations’. As Foucault puts it.Foucault and the logic of dialectics determination to die. there are reasons to be suspicious about the political role of rights as well as their philosophical justifications. was one of the first astonishments of a society in which political power had assigned itself the task of administering life. become participants in dialectical thought when their work takes on dialectical implications. The real scandal – again for dialecticians and their critics alike – is that Foucault makes it acceptable to participate in dialectical thought without being a dialectician. 220–238 235 . from the traditional right of sovereignty. He continues: The ‘right’ to life. (1990. I will maintain that the implications of Foucault’s work exceed his intentions. 2. to health. The evolution of a rights discourse and the deployment of rights as a political tactic is a direct reaction to the encroachment of the disciplines. strange and yet so persistent and constant in its manifestations. p. such as Foucault. to happiness. he could study and argue using the principles of genealogy and still bear positively on dialectics. (1990. What this does not diminish is how biopower and rights are mutually productive of life. 9. to the satisfaction of needs. the ‘right’ to rediscover what one is and all that one can be. either. ‘life as a political object was in a sense taken at face value and turned back against the system that was bent on controlling it’. this ‘right’ – which the classical juridical system was utterly incapable of comprehending – was the political response to all these new procedures of power which did not derive. Dialectical moments are not introduced into Foucault as much as they are revealed to exist already.
Although I cannot pursue this here. Jameson and Zizek (and Foucault) are proof as to how much still turns on the question: who is your Hegel? The current tendency. Dialectical thinkers have less reason to be hostile to Foucault. In its place I elaborated new dialectical logic of reciprocity. unfortunately. The rhythm and structure of power relations. proved fairly ˇ ˇ inconsequential to Jameson and Zizek. antagonism and production that exceeds the logic of contradiction. all the while anchoring dialectics in the real. a position that avoids the traps of historical universalism and particularism alike. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. My presentation of dialectics also shares with Foucault an understanding of history’s discrete teleologies and non-progressive unfolding. It plays a double role as an object of and a requirement for dialectical critique. it reveals the double life of experience. This is evident in Foucault’s methodological injunctions and his genealogical histories. Hegel is reaffirmed as the pivot point for dialectics. The second and third areas of interest are determined directly by the previous arguments. When combined with my use of Adorno and Hegel. Both as a concept and something ‘real’. As with Marx and ˇ ˇ Adorno before them. my arguments about power relations and revolutionary politics leave off at related problems of experience and ideology. 2.Grant Conclusion There are three main issues at stake in this paper. whose work has. 236 r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Intellectually. are eminently dialectical. Foucault’s anti-dialectical positions are revealed to rely on a crude image of dialectics. which should be supported. 220–238 . Finally. whereas Zizek thinks that it offers no ground for critical insight or praxis. Politically. 9. as well as productive and juridical power. When Jameson or Henri Lefebvre ask about how our lived conditions contribute to how we experience them. with materialist and existentialist attributes. negotiating Foucault’s work with concepts such as ideology critique (a model of which runs throughout Foucault) and totality might well provide a sharper sense of how he thinks of and conducts critique. there is the opportunity for a rapprochement between different traditions of thought. The first is the various points of compatibility I have elicited between Foucault and dialectics. specifically the relationship between power and resistance. but without abandoning it as a concept. is to construct a Hegel who is more radical. than was common in the past. In relation to dialectics. the status of experience is unresolved and under-exploited. On the contrary. what do the arguments in this article hold for the future of dialectical thought? The recasting of dialectical logic provides an axial turn away from a reductionist logic of contradiction. any type of dialectical thought that intends to contribute to the transformation of social relations by way of social critique needs to draw on and criticize experience. a logic of liberation and revolution is shown to be able to accommodate Foucault’s positions on power and resistance. Adorno thought that the possibility of experience had almost ˇ ˇ disappeared.
Translated by C. New York: Vintage. (1987) Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France. Foucault. T. See Hegel. Translated by S. Sheridan. 78. Translated by H. Hannah Arendt (ed. Foucault. Benjamin. Dreyfus and P. (1973) Negative Dialectics. M. London: Continuum. as teleology. 3 Although Butler does not capitalize the term.B. In: P. 9. In: H. New York: Schocken Books.). J. pp. Rabinow (eds. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Translated by E. Deleuze. (1993) Hegel: Three Studies. history. Foucault. Translated by A. M. New York: Columbia University Press. or the unfolding destiny of a worldhistorical agent.W. Bouchard and S. (1984) Nietzsche.W. T. and contribute to. T. And it might well be argued that biopower and rights are now often complicit in their aims. M. 208–226. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. et al. Does not a violation of international human rights – real or supposed – clear a path for intervention that brings with it a biopolitical agenda as well? References Adorno. The Foucault Reader. Ashton. (1998) Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords. 76–100. New York: Continuum. Simon.. Foucault. W. 12. (1986) Nietzsche and Philosophy. Pickford.W.W. Translated by H. 2. Nicholsen. in this instance she is referring to the ‘Subject’ in the pejorative sense that Althusser does. Adorno. Tomlinson. along with the editors and anonymous reviewers at this journal. New York: Pantheon. Acknowledgements I would like to thank Simon Critchley for his comments at that event. (1979) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 80.) Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics.F. 4 The negation of rights remains a long way off. 156–157). 32. M. 2000. New York: Pantheon Books. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. 2 Hanssen also focuses on this passage and its ‘proto-Hegelian narrative’ (Hanssen. Thanks also go to Samuel Chambers and James Martin for their thoughtful questions. M. Rabinow (ed. r 2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. the latter. (1977) Language Counter-Memory Practice: selected essays and interviews by Michel Foucault.). New York: Columbia University Press.Foucault and the logic of dialectics as a site of profound conservatism and the potential source of an explosion. whose reviews have been very helpful.W. (1982) The subject and power. (1969) Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. G. Foucault. Dialectical thought is intended to account for. Gordon. although I focus more on its dialectical implications. 220–238 237 . 1977. Translated by D. Notes H 1 More evidence is available in support of these two quotations. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977. pp. Adorno. Butler. London: The MIT Press. genealogy.
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