Foucault’s history of

the subject.

► Early 1600s philosophy of Rene Descartes. „Cogito Ergo
► Before the age of serious secularisation - he concluded that
God must have given us all a Cogito.
► Image of human subjectivity as an immaterial, fixed,
unitary thing that we are born with, and that stays with us
throughout our lives.
► Huge impact on the way that we conceive of ourselves.
► 100 years later Materialist, empiricist philosophers (Hume,
Mettrie, Diderot) argue that the human mind is a product
of experience, and a material thing made of brain matter,
not an immaterial, fixed unitary thing that we are born

Subjectivity in Sociology

►Early sociology neglects history of the
► Exception is Durkheim- „modern subject a
product of ideas and values of modern
►Individual rights and justice.
►Indivudual and „division of labour‟.
Foucault and Subjectivity.
► A History and Critique of
► Foucault in this tradition.
► Examines historical
circumstances that gave rise to
the modern type of person.
► Madness, Punishment,
Government, and Sexuality and
► Linked to his history of the
subject is a history and critique
of reason.
► Critique of the „Enlightenment‟
Subjectivity and Rationality-
Learned or Innate?
► Reason and rationality
objectifying, measuring,
calculating, and judging -
truth, morality and beauty.
► According to Kant, these
faculties are innate they
are what defines us as
► Foucault denies the
innateness of the subject.
► He gives it a history.

What is important about
► The history of all societies is
the history of forms of
► The subject and rationality
have a history - it is itself
part of the history of power.
► Enlightenment ideals equate
reason and knowledge with
human freedom.
► Foucault argues that
knowledge is directly linked
to power.
Madness and Civilisation 1
► Late 1950s - the history of
madness and psychiatry.
► Examines the emergence
of the modern rational
► We assume that
madness/insanity - pre-
existed psychiatric
► For Foucault -madness has
a recent history- tied to
the construction of the
rational subject.

Madness and Civilisation 2
► Modern rational subjectivity
created was by locking away all
of those people who displayed
ways of thinking and forms of
behaviour which did not accord
with the notions of rational
subjectivity which were
developing in the 17th and 18th
► The Great Confinement.
► Modern subjectivity was created
by material things done to
► By 1656 1 in every 100
Parisians was confined.
The Great Fear
► The Great Fear.
► A double fear.
► A fear of irrationality
„outside‟ and „inside‟ the
► Collective anxiety- has an
affective dimension.
► The consequence of The
Great Fear- demands for
order, regulation,
categorisation and
segregation, for regimes of
cure and control.

►Creation of outsiders - in particular criminals and
the insane.
►Creation of discourse, categories, treatments,
regimes, expertise and experts of psychiatry.
►Expert regimes to order, understand, categorise,
analyse, discipline, record, experiment upon –
►Irrationality and deviance made visible and no
longer scary.
►Projects of objectification all fed into of
criminology, psychiatry and medicine, pedagogy,
Knowledge as a new form of
► Knowledge, for Foucault,
doesn‟t develop in a
► Inextricably linked to
emergence of institutions.
► Knowledges involve doing
things with bodies.
► They invade the self-
determination of the
individual body.
► Power of rational expert
invades/ moulds/ shapes
the individual body


► Governmentality (in The Foucault Effect edited by Burchill
et al)
► Power of the rational expert also invades the social body.
► Prior to mid 17th century (same time as Great
Confinement) unusual to find people talking or writing
about government or governing.
► In Hobbes & Machievelli – imposing and maintaining
sovereignty- the sheer imposition of power. - little concern
with the governing of a population of people - for their
own good .
► By end of the 17th century political philosophy has
► Now about governing populations.
► Concept of population in this form quite new.
► Governmentality - the process of objectification and
rationalisation - applied to the whole of the population.
Governmentality, Science,
Knowledge and Power.
► Statistics - make it possible to
think in an entirely new way .
► Government impossible without
► Counting, classifying and
recording of people
► People and populations a new
object of analysis and
► Sociology can be conceived of
as part of this tradition.
► For Foucault the state is not a
thing - a single centre of power-
it is the accumulation of many
centres of governmental

► Sexuality is produced
within discourse.
► It has a worrying
relationship to reason.
► Therefore it had to be
understood, quantified,
examined and controlled.
► A whole disciplinary
principle is developed out
of this.

The “confession” and the
► The two organising principles of modern discipline and self-
► The discourse of induces us into self-examination and
► So that we might be normalised yet again.
► Psychoanalysis an example of the modern confessional
► Sexuality as a series of categories was invented by human
► Heterosexual, homosexual, sexual pervert - invented in the
19th century.
► The idea of sexual identity- invented by psychiatrists,
doctors, and sexologists in the 19th century.
► For Foucault even 20th Century sexuality subject to
processes of normalisation.

Technologies of the Self.
► Normalisation through
sexuality -one aspect of a
wider process that
Foucault calls the
development of
“technologies of the self”.
► Great projects of
objectification, knowledge
and normalisation turned
inwards into a project of
self mastery, self discipline
and self control.
► A “technology of the self”.

An historical shift in the nature
of social identities.
►Pre-modern identities emphasise
membership of collectivities
►Modern forms of identity emphasise the
importance of the subjects ability to
articulate and reflect upon private
Discipline and Punish
►Examines the birth of
the modern prison
►Links to disciplinary
regimes in modern
►Panoptican model
applied to whole of
The Panoptican
► Model for ideal prison
► Central watchtower
► Guards can look out but
inmates cannot look in.
► The feeling of being
observed produces self
regulating behaviour
among inmates.
► Applies this principle to the
whole of society with his
concepts of discipline, self-
discipline and the gaze.
The Paradox of Disciplinary
Discipline is an exercise of power, but it is only discipline that
can make us free/autonomous. It is through discipline that
we become people who can read and write and think about
our situation.
► Once your body has been disciplined - you are often „more
► Self-discipline can grant us greater freedom.
► Self-reflection, self-control, and self-discipline, and
technologies of the self in general - are actually the route
to the autonomous self - because they are what actually
create our inner life.
► Self-discipline trains our bodies and nervous systems to a
point where we can produce and create what we want to
create on the basis of our own volition.

So What about Identity?

►Foucault rejects the view that individuals
have a „real‟, fixed identity or inner „essence‟
within themselves.
►This is just a way of talking about the self- a
►Identity is communicated to others through
interaction but it is not a fixed thing.
►Identities are shifting.
►Identities are constructions.

Issues & Questions Raised by
reading Foucault.
►Are we merely products of an exercise of power
that don‟t always recognise?
►Are we better off for this discipline?
►Power is not just something that represses.
►Power produces things, it produces the insane, it
produces, the delinquent, it produces sexuality,
and it produces the „free‟, „rational‟ subject.
►The Enlightenment linkage between knowledge,
removal of power, and emancipation - that runs
through German Idealism, Marxism, the Frankfurt
School and so on - is broken.