Author Archive

Judith Revel “Identity, Nature, Life. Three Biopolitical Deconstructions”

February 21, 2018 Leave a comment

Revel, Judith 2009. Identity, Nature, Life. Three Biopolitical Deconstructions. Theory, Culture & Society 26(6): 45–54.

[…] from the 1960s, the radical critique of identities directs us to the analysis of power that principally takes the form of analyses of knowledges; yet, there is also, inseparably as its other side, an interrogation of the modes of subjectivation that could attempt to escape the objective frame of power and allow non-selfsame (non-identitaire) subjectivities to emerge. Of course, the trace of this non-selfsame is not easily discernible in Histoire de la folie or in Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things), though it is quite explicit in the texts that Foucault devoted to ‘literary’ figures in the wake of his analysis of Raymond Roussel, as I have has argued elsewhere (Revel, 2004). The problem then becomes that of how to prevent a subjective individuation from being immediately identified, that is, objectified and subjected to the system of knowledges/powers (savoirs/pouvoirs) in which it is inscribed. (46-47)

There is for Foucault a clear distinction to be made between what the relations of power construct in the form of an identity (that is, an objectified, reified identity, reduced to a number of definite characteristics, one that becomes the object of specific practices and knowledges), and the way in which subjectivity itself constructs its relation to itself. In the first case it is a matter of a subjection that fixes identities on the basis of a number of determinations that are supposed to ‘speak the truth of the subject’, such as when sexuality is transformed into ‘symptoms’ circumscribing the individual. In the second case, the refusal of this reduction of subjectivity to identity leads Foucault to theorize another form of the relation to oneself and others, namely, in the concept of a way of life (mode de vie). (48)

Foucault: “For me, this notion of way of life is important. . . . A way of life can be shared amongst individuals of different ages, statuses, social conduct. It can give rise to intense relations that are nothing like those which are institutionalized, and it seems to me that a way of life can generate a culture and an ethics. To be gay is not about identifying oneself with the psychological traits and the visible masks of the homosexual, but to seek to define and develop a way of life.” (1994c: 165). (48)

It is clear from this statement that Foucault understands a way of life as a set of relations that does not exclude this or that difference but preserves them as such in the process of relating; it is thus the bringing into the common (mis en commun) of differences at the level of difference, and the constitution on this differential ground as foundation of something which is of the order of a commonality, or that partakes of differences. This is at the opposite end of all the theorizations of the relation to the other that essentially operate through a decentring of oneself towards the other – oneself as another. Foucault is trying to work out how it is possible to live the relation to the other in such a way that differences – the self, the other – are neither reified, objectified, reduced to the least common denominator (such as a contrived universalization, or a reduction to sameness), or what one must rely upon to have access to the other. (48)

In this view, the conduct of existence is always inclusive of a relation to others, that is, it is an apprenticeship, a mutual construction and a subjectivation. It both forbids a return to individualism (such as the idea of the individual as the free entrepreneur of him/herself) and resists every temptation towards the naturalization, substantialization or essentialization of the self. (49)

Every singularity is irreducible because its emergence and becoming occurs in a determinate context, inside a web of relations and contacts that necessarily include other subjectivities also in process of becoming. New modes of life emerge as part of that process, but relations of power and the effects of dispositifs continue to operate. Foucault rejected the idea that there could be an outside of power, since resistance can only take place from inside a complex web in which resistance and power, subjectivation and objectification, strategies of liberation and subjection, substantialization and the logic of becoming, are interwoven. It follows from this analysis that nothing can transform the motor of resistance – the process of becoming of subjectivity – into an impersonal force, a ‘third person’, or a disqualification of singularities, as indicated in some readings of Foucault in Italy; the arguments above indicate that such
readings lead to a political impasse. (49)

Because of this, I think that in some admittedly different readings of Foucault by Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito or Paolo Virno, the argument for the passage to singularity by way of a third party (which eliminates attributes), the impersonal or the pre-individual obeys nothing more than a logical necessity and rests on an error, namely the inversion of the relation between commonality and a de-subjectivized singularity. The political cost of conceptualizing the common as the reassuring residue when one removes a layer of individualization from singularity is a new post-modern metaphysics. The common is not the reassuring starting point for the production of the political but its outcome; by eliminating singularity, one eliminates what makes resistance possible. (49)

[…] if biololitics puts to work a new form of regulation, namely the norm, that relies on the idea of a ‘biological’ naturality of life – which social medicine claims to preserve and protect – and if biopolitics inscribes in the norm new techniques of management of both individuals and populations, it means that relations of power in the 19th century have put in place an unprecedented reference to naturality in order to transform the latter into a new instrument of control. (50-51)

It can be seen from the above that Foucault thought it important to make clear three issues. First, life is not exclusively biological, as we saw in the discussion of ways of life as strategies of resistance in his analyses of subjectivity and ethics in the 1980s. Second, this means that powers over life or biopowers are not biological alone but include dispositifs of subjection and exploitation, of captation and regulation, of the control and ordering of existence in the wide sense. Third, this ‘biologization’ of life, now extended through biotechnologies and genetic engineering, appears to be, paradoxically, at the centre of some Italian readings of the biopolitical. (51)


Scott Yates and Dave Hiles “Towards a ‘Critical Ontology of Ourselves’?”

February 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Yates, Scott; Hiles, Dave 2010. Towards a “Critical Ontology of Ourselves”? Foucault, Subjectivity and Discourse Analysis. Theory & Psychology 20(1): 52–75.

Power produces more than knowledge and systems of social apparatus, however. It also “produces the very form of the subject” (Foucault, 1989, p. 158). The individual is not a pre-given phenomenological subject, an “elementary nucleus” (Foucault, 1980) onto which power fastens, or some form of original sovereign will standing opposite its antithesis of a power that constrains and limits it (Foucault, 1984/1988). It is, instead, “one of the prime effects of power that certain bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses, certain desires, come to be identified and constituted as individuals” (Foucault, 1980, p. 98). (56)

Foucault’s strong emphasis on this dissolution of the sovereign, ahistorical phenomenological subject is what gives rise to readings of his work as denying wholesale the existence of subjectivity (and even, in a wider sense, human agency; McWhorter, 2003). However, as McWhorter (2003) points out, Foucault’s conception of subjectivity is more sophisticated than this, embodying a rejection only of an ahistorical subjectivity alongside a deeper concern for the constitution of forms of subjectivity as actually experienced. (57)

[…] whilst disturbing the concept of the autonomous, self-thematizing subject, Heidegger’s thinking contains a central awareness of Dasein’s agency and experience and its potential for choosing ways of being. As Dreyfus (2004) points out, such a conception had no parallel in the early work of Foucault, but this was something he later came to regret and correct. (58)

Power is “exercised over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free” (p. 221). Subjects in power relations are “faced with a field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several reactions … may be realized” (p. 221). At the same time, however, it must be acknowledged that power relations are often “fixed in such as way that they are perpetually asymmetrical” (Foucault, 1984/1997a, p. 292), and there is only “extremely limited” margin for action, freedom, or resistance. (59)

These technologies of the self coalesce around and take hold of specific thoughts, desires, behaviours, or practices, and are related to imperatives to shape one’s conduct in specific ways. It is here that Foucault talked about “government” (e.g., 1982, 1993) in a broad sense to refer to the intersection of strategies by others to govern one’s conduct alongside the actions one performs in relating to and governing oneself. (61)

This is well expressed by Hook (2007). Drawing on Foucault and Rose, he differentiates these technologies of the self from technologies of subjectivity, which refer to broad sets of regulative practices that bring the ambitions and strategies connected to various forms of government of individuals into alignment with individuals’ own ideals. They can be thought of as forms of subjectification that “involve the operation of a type of power that connects the norms of authorities to the motivating ideals we have of ourselves” (Hook, 2007, p. 246). (61)

There is thus a gap between technologies of subjectivity and practices of the self. Foucault’s work implies a degree of freedom in practices of the self, but it must also be noted that they do not entail an uncomplicated zone of liberation” (Hook, 2007, p. 248)—the project of ethical self-relationship and self-formation becomes thinkable only against the background of the systems of thought and the technologies of subjectivity available within a culture. (61)

Hubert J.M. Hermans “The Dialogical Self: Toward a Theory of Personal and Cultural Positioning”

February 15, 2018 Leave a comment

Hermans, Hubert J.M. 2001. The Dialogical Self: Toward a Theory of Personal and Cultural Positioning. Culture & Psychology 7(3): 243–281.

The central concept, the dialogical self, is inspired by two thinkers, James and Bakhtin, who worked in different countries (the USA and Russia, respectively), in different disciplines (psychology and literary sciences), and in different theoretical traditions (pragmatism and dialogism). The dialogical self finds itself, as a composite term, at the intersection of these traditions. (244)

In James’ view, the I is equated with the selfas-knower and has three features: continuity, distinctness and volition (see also Damon & Hart, 1982). The continuity of the self-as-knower is characterized by a sense of personal identity, that is, a sense of sameness through time. A feeling of distinctness from others, or individuality, also follows from the subjective nature of the self-as-knower. Finally, a sense of personal volition is reflected in the continuous appropriation and rejection of thoughts by which the self-as-knower proves itself as an active processor of experience. (244)

In James’ view, the Me is equated with the self-as-known and is composed of the empirical elements considered as belonging to oneself. Because James (1890) was aware that there is a gradual transition between Me and mine, he concluded that the empirical self is composed of all that the person can call his or her own, ‘not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank-account’ (p. 291). (244)

In James’ view, the self was ‘extended’ to the environment. The extended self can be contrasted with the Cartesian self, which is based on a dualistic conception, not only between self and body but also between self and other (Hermans & Kempen, 1993). Self and other do not exclude one another (self versus other), as if the other is simply ‘outside the skin’. With his conception of the extended self, James has paved the way for later theoretical developments in which contrasts, oppositions and negotiations are part of a distributed, multivoiced self. (244-245)

For Bakhtin, the notion of dialogue opens the possibility of differentiating the inner world of one and the same individual in the form of an interpersonal relationship. The transformation of an ‘inner’ thought of a particular character into an utterance enables dialogical relations to occur between this utterance and the utterance of imaginal
others. (245)

“The intersection, consonance, or interference of speeches in the overt dialog with the speeches in the heroes’ interior dialogs are everywhere present. The specific totality of ideas, thoughts and words is everywhere passed through several unmerged voices, taking on a different sound in each. The object of the author’s aspirations is not at all this totality of ideas in and of itself, as something neutral and identical with itself. No, the object is precisely the act of passing the themes through many and varied voices, it is, so to speak, the fundamental, irrescindable multivoicedness and varivoicedness of the theme.” (Bakhtin, 1929/1973, p. 226) (246)

In James’ work the I (self-as-knower) is portrayed as a unifying principle that is responsible for organizing the different aspects of the Me as parts of a continuous stream of consciousness. As such, James seems to emphasize the continuity of the self more than its discontinuity. In other parts of his foundational work, however, James (1890) speaks explicitly of the ‘rivalry and conflict of the different selves’ (p. 309), dealing with the inherent discontinuity of the self. (246)

In summary, James, as a theorist of the self, acknowledged not only the unity but also the multiplicity of the self. Bakhtin, on the other hand, as a literary theorist, elaborated on the multiplicity of characters in the polyphonic novel by introducing the notion of multivoicedness. Further, although James acknowledged the intrinsic social nature of the self in terms of competing characters, Bakhtin elaborated more extensively on the voices of the characters and their mutual dialogical relationships. Although James’ thinking on the self certainly admitted the possibility of a multiplicity of characters, Bakhtin’s polyphonic novel, if applied to the self, can be seen as a challenge not only to the notion of individuality (the self as discrete from other selves), but also to the unity and continuity of the self. If the self is considered in terms of a polyphonic novel, the implication is a far-reaching decentralization of the self in terms of a decentralized plurality of characters. (247-248)

A particular feature of the dialogical self is the combination of continuity and discontinuity. In line with James, there is a continuity between my experience of, for example, my wife, children, ancestors and friends because, as belonging to the ‘Mine’, all of them are extensions of one and the same self. In line with Bakhtin, however, there is a discontinuity between the same characters as far as they represent different and perhaps opposed voices in the spatial realm of the self. As my wife and my children, they are continuous; as my wife and my children, they are discontinuous. In this conception the existence of unity in the self, as closely related to continuity, does not contradict the existence of multiplicity, as closely related to discontinuity. (248)

In contrast to the individualistic self, the dialogical self is based on the assumption that there are many I-positions that can be occupied by the same person. The I in the one position, moreover, can agree, disagree, understand, misunderstand, oppose, contradict, question, challenge and even ridicule the I in another position. In contrast to the
rationalistic self, the dialogical self is always tied to a particular position in space and time. As Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962) would have it, there is no ‘God’s eye view’. As an embodied being, the person is not able to freely ‘fly above’ his or her position in space and time, but he or she is always located at some point in space and time. (249-250)

The dialogical self is ‘social’, not in the sense that a self-contained individual enters into social interactions with other outside people, but in the sense that other people occupy positions in a multivoiced self. The self is not only ‘here’ but also ‘there’, and, owing to the power of imagination, the person can act as if he or she were the other and the other were him- or herself. This is not the same as ‘taking the role of the other’, as Mead (1934) meant by this expression that the self is taking the actual perspective of the other. Rather, I’m able to construe another person or being as a position that I can occupy and as a position that creates an alternative perspective on the world and myself. (250)

[…] the spatial character of the polyphonic novel leads to the supposition of a decentralized multiplicity of I-positions as authors of a variety of stories. The I moves in an imaginal space (which is intimately intertwined with physical space) from the one to the other position, creating dynamic fields in which self-negotiations, selfcontradictions and self-integrations result in a great variety of meanings (Josephs, 2000). (252)

When speakers produce unique utterances, they always speak in social languages at the same time. Although the speaker may not be aware of the influence of social languages, these languages shape what individual voices can say. For this simultaneity of individual and collective utterances Bakhtin used the term ‘ventriloquation’, which means that one voice speaks through another voice or voice type as found in social language. When Bakhtin refers to ‘multivoicedness’, he not only has in mind the simultaneous existence of different individual voices, but also the simultaneous existence of an individual voice and the voice of a group (Wertsch, 1991). (262)

A central feature of collective voices is that they organize and constrain the meaning systems that emerge from dialogical relationships. Sampson (1993), for example, argued that societal relationships are governed by polar opposites leading to ‘social dichotomies’, such as male versus female, young versus old or white versus black. Within these dichotomies, the master term (e.g. young) is defined as possessing particular properties that the opposite term (e.g. old) lacks. (262-263)

In the tradition of authors like Bakhtin and Vygotsky, Linell emphasized that meanings are not entirely constructed ab novo in interaction. Rather, they belong to a cultural capital inherited and invested by new actors through history. This heritage implies that the microcontext of concrete dialogical relationships cannot be understood without some concept of macroframes (organizational and ethnographic context). Every utterance has a history in preceding dialogues and an embeddedness in situation and culture (see also Lyra, 1999). (264)

[…] the notion of social power or dominance is an intrinsic feature of dialogical processes and, moreover, closely associated with the position a person occupies in a particular institution. As such, dominance is an indispensable concept for the analysis of cultural processes. Dominance relations organize and constrain not only the interactions within societies or groups, but also the interactions between different cultural groups. (265)

Montaigne: “We are all framed of flaps and patches, and of so shapeless and diverse contexture, that every piece, and every moment plays its part. And there is as much difference found between us and ourselves, as there is between ourselves and others.” (pp. 196–197). (276)

Hubert J.M. Hermans “The Dialogical Self as a Society of Mind”

February 15, 2018 Leave a comment

Hermans, Hubert J.M. 2002. The Dialogical Self as a Society of Mind. Theory & Psychology 12(2): 147–160.

Self and society both function as a polyphony of consonant and dissonant voices. More specifically, they share two main features that are necessary for understanding their dynamics. First, both in a multivoiced society and in a multivoiced self, there is opportunity for intersubjective interchange. Second, both in society and in the self, the relationships between the several positions are characterized by dominance or social power. As some individuals or groups in a society have more social power or influence than other individuals and groups, the voices of some positions in the self are more easily heard and have, in a particular situation, more opportunity for expression and communication than others. In sum, dialogical interchange and dominance are intrinsic features of the dialogical self. (148)

In Bakhtin’s view, individual speakers are not simply talking as individuals, but in their utterances the voices of groups and institutions are heard. Bakhtin was interested in social languages, such as social dialects, professional jargons, languages of generations and age groups, languages of the representatives of various circles and passing fashions. Speakers always speak in social languages when producing unique utterances, and thus social languages shape, beyond awareness, what the individual voices can say. Such ‘social languages’ represent collective voices because they go beyond the unique utterances of individual people. Although Bakhtin did not say much about cultures, cultural voices also can be considered as collective voices. (149)

Michel Foucault “Sex, Power and the Politics of Identity”

February 2, 2018 Leave a comment

Foucault, Michel 2000. Sex, Power, and the Politics of Identity. In: Rabinow, Paul (ed). Essential Works of Foucault 1954–1984. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 163–173.

Sexuality is a part of our behavior. It’s a part of our world freedom. Sexuality is something that we ourselves create – it is our own creation, and much more than the discovery of a secret side of our desire. We have to understand that with our desires, through our desires, go new forms of relationships, new forms of love, new forms of creation. Sex is not a fatality: it’s a possibility for creative culture. (163)

Q. Is it significant that there are, to a large degree, identities forming around new sexual practices, like S&M? These identities help in exploring such practices and defending the right to engage in them. But are they also limiting in regards to the possibilities of individuals?

M.F. Well, if identity is only a game, if it is only a procedure to have relations, social and sexual – pleasure relationships that create new friendships, it is useful. But if identity becomes the problem of sexual existence, and if people think that they have to “uncover” their “own identity,” and that their own identity has to become the law, the principle, the code of their existence; if the perennial question they ask is “Does this thing conform to my identity?” then, I think, they will turn back to a kind of ethics very close to the old heterosexual virility. If we are asked to relate to the question of identity, it must be an identity to our unique selves. But the relationships we have to have with ourselves are not ones of identity, rather, they must be relationships of differentiation, of creation, of innovation. To be the same is really boring. We must not exclude identity if people find their pleasure through this identity, but we must not think of this identity as an ethical universal rule. (166)

[…] if there was no resistance, there would be no power relations. Because it would simply be a matter of obedience. You have to use power relations to refer to the situation where you’re not doing what you want. So resistance comes first, and resistance remains superior to the forces of the process; power relations are obliged to change with resistance. So I think that resistance is the main word, the key word, in this dynamic. (167)

[…] I think that resistance is a part of this strategic relationship of which power consists. Resistance really always relies upon the situation against which it struggles. (168)

Mika Ojakangas “Michel Foucault and the Enigmatic Origins of Bio-politics and Governmentality”

February 2, 2018 Leave a comment

Ojakangas, Mika 2012. Michel Foucault and the Enigmatic Origins of Bio-politics and Governmentality. History of the Human Sciences 25(1): 1–14.

But why then does he trace the origin of bio-political concern for populations back to the JudeoChristian tradition and does not say anything, for instance, about Plato’s well-known demographic and eugenic considerations in The Republic and The Laws? It is precisely in the Platonic texts, rather than in any passages of the New Testament, not to mention the writings of the Church Fathers, that we first encounter eugenic bio-politics in the western tradition. In the Republic (1997b: 459–60), Plato writes: “The best men must have sex with the best women as frequently as possible, while the opposite is true of the most inferior men and women, and, second, that if our herd [poimnion] is to be of the highest possible quality, the former’s offspring must be reared but not the latter’s. And this must all be brought about without being noticed by anyone except the rulers, so that our herd of guardians remains as free from dissension as possible.” (4)

Moreover, while he maintains that Plato’s view, especially in The Statesman, is eventually negative as regards the shepherd as the ideal type of the magistrate (ibid.: 2007: 140), he leaves the whole question of Platonic eugenics aside. He does so even though in The Laws, the shepherd is depicted as the ideal type of the magistrate, in addition to which this shepherd is supposed to ‘weed out the unhealthy and inferior stock’ (Plato, 1997a: 5.735), rather than, like the ideal Christian shepherd, taking care of ‘each and every one’. (5)

Certainly, Foucault also knew his Aristotle, who in Politics gives advice for pregnant women on how they should care for their bodies and mothers on how they should rear their children, adding that there should be a law according to which infanticide should be performed for any children born with deformities – a practice that was widespread in the ancient world of the Greeks and Romans: “As to exposing or rearing the children born, let there be a law that no deformed child shall be reared; but on the ground of number of children, if the regular customs hinder any of those born being exposed, there must be a limit fixed to the procreation of offspring, and if any people have a child as a result of intercourse in contravention of these regulations, abortion must be practiced on it before it has developed sensation and life; for the line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive.” (Aristotle, 1994: 7.1335b) (5)

In Sparta, every newborn child was brought, according to Plutarch (Lycurgus), into the city hall to be examined by the elders of the tribes: “Offspring was not reared at the will of the father, but was taken and carried by him to a place called Lesche, where the elders of the tribes officially examined the infant, and if it was well-built and sturdy, they ordered the father to rear it, and assigned it one of the nine thousand lots of land; but if it was ill-born and deformed, they sent it to the so-called Apothetae, a chasm-like place at the foot of Mount Tay ¨getus, in the conviction that the life of that which nature had not well equipped at the very beginning for health and strength, was of no advantage either to itself or the state.” (Plutarch, 1914: 16.1–2) (5)

In the Roman world, the law of infanticide can be found in the Twelve Tables: a child conspicuously deformed was to be immediately destroyed (cito necatus insignis ad deformitatem puer esto), as Cicero reports in De legibus (III.8). In De ira (1928b: I.15), Seneca also mentions this ancient but still ongoing Roman practice, asserting that it is not an unreasonable one: ‘We drown the weakling and the monstrosity. It is not passion, but reason, to separate the useless from the fit.’ (5)

A middle Stoic philosopher, Musonius Rufus, for instance, criticized the practice of infanticide and exposure, implying that it was contrary to nature (see Harris, 1994: 15; Cameron, 1932: 110), but what is more important here is that they were Christians who launched a rigorous campaign against the ancient but ongoing practice of eugenics, be it private or public. We find this critical attitude in Athenagoras’ Supplicatio (35.6), Clemens of Alexandria’s Stromata (II.18), and Origen’s Contra Celsum (VIII.55) among many others. Lactantius’ remarks in his Divine Institutes (1886: 5.15) are illustrative. First, he makes the comment about people ‘who either strangle their own children or, if they are too pious for that, expose them’. Although this reveals that Lactantius differentiates murder and exposure, he immediately asserts that people cannot be thought of as innocent if they are offering up their own children, since it is very likely that they would end up in brothels or slavery. (6)

The Theodosian code (XI.27) from AD 375 made infanticide a crime. (7)

Another widespread and usually approved practice in the pagan world which became a target of the Christian authors from the very beginning of Christianity was abortion (see Gray, 2001: 313–37). According to Aristotle, for instance, if the legal limit fixed for the procreation of offspring is exceeded, abortion must be practised, whereas the Apocalypse of Peter (1993: 8) declares that women who ‘have caused their children to be born untimely’ are buried up to their necks in a pit of excrement near a great flame in hell while the aborted children sit nearby crying to God, with flashes of lightning going out from the children and piercing their mothers’ eyes. (7)

Indeed, the majority of the early Fathers condemned abortion and the Council of Elvira finally confirmed this view in 305, calling for the excommunication of women committing abortion and declaring that they were not to be readmitted even on their deathbeds (Noonan, 1970: 14). (7)

Whereas the Jews and the Christians announced that abortion was a crime because of the absolute value of human life, since ‘man’ was created in the image of God, the Hellenistic and Roman authors maintained that abortion, if the child was healthy, was a crime against state and society: the foetus needed to be protected for economic and military reasons (see Schiff, 2002: 16). (7)

Did Foucault suggest that we cannot identify modern eugenics with the ancient eugenics because modern eugenics does not derive from the Platonic ideas of selection but from the Christian politics of universal care for individuals? If this is the case, I believe Foucault was fundamentally wrong. Yet I do not believe this is the case. We must, therefore, pose a second question: if the Christian universal pastorate is the origin of bio-power, is modern eugenics, including negative eugenics, then a perversion of the pastorate and, more precisely, does it signify a return of sovereign power in the immanence of pastoral bio-power? I believe this is closer to Foucault’s opinion, since he sees modern societies as characterized by what he calls a ‘demonic combination’ of bio-power and sovereign power (Foucault, 2000a: 311). (8)

What then, according to Foucault, is the difference between governmentality and bio-power? While bio-power is power over the life-processes of individuals and populations, governmentality relates to those political technologies by means of which power, be it bio-power or not, has been exercised in the West since the 17th century. (9)

[…] pastorate was not supposed to be a political technology of Christians, whereas when we read Plato, it is precisely the citizens of the polis that must be constantly watched over by the political shepherd: ‘Nothing, so far as possible, shall be left uncontrolled [aphroureˆtos]’, as he writes in The Laws (1997a: 6.760a). (10)

Indeed, we can find many other issues and objectives that were characteristic of the early modern governmental technologies of the police in plenty of Greek and Roman authors from Xenophon’s Oeconomicus to Cicero’s De legibus and beyond, but hardly in the writings of the Church Fathers. Censors, as Cicero writes in De legibus (III.7), should keep count of the number of citizens, their age, children, families and property; they should look after the temples, roads, aqueducts, public finance and taxation; they should control the mores of the people, and so on and so forth, thus neatly summarizing the tasks of the real censors of Rome up to the end of the Roman republic after which this office was reserved to the emperors (see Mommsen, 1887–8: 358–459; Suolahti, 1963: 25–66). (10)

If Christianity introduces something new in this configuration, it is the strict prohibition of negative eugenics – and rather than making a contribution to the classical governmental rationalities and practices, Christianity marked a point of their gradual deterioration until the reinvention of the classical culture during the Renaissance and early modern Europe. It is possible that there is a connection between the Christian theme of pastoral care (agape/caritas) and the early modern ideology of the police, whose duty was to take care of populations, but the means and the aims of the early modern police were not Christian but classical. (10)

Surely the Christian Church made universal ‘care’ (agape/caritas) the core of its social teaching and introduced a variety of rules and restrictions on marriage. Yet neither this care nor the marriage rules and restrictions had much to do with those considerations we find in the 18th-century treatises of Polizeiwissenschaft. The political dimension of the pastoral care found its expression in caring for the poor and the afflicted, while the rules and restrictions concerning marriage were based on particular interpretations of biblical teachings, not on the calculations of power, prosperity, happiness, or the order of the city. Instead, the rationale of the police was based precisely on these calculations: ‘The name Policey comes from the Greek word polis, a city, and should mean the good ordering of cities and of their civic institutions’, von Justi writes in the first paragraph of his Grundsa¨tze der Policeywissenschaft [Principles of Policy Science], originally published in 1756, adding in the second paragraph that Policey most generally includes all measures in the internal affairs of the country through which the general means (Vermo¨gen) of the state may be more permanently founded and increased, the energies (Kra¨fte) of the state better used, and in general the happiness of the community promoted. It is true that these are not entirely absent from the writings of the early Fathers, but there is nothing particularly Christian in these considerations. They originate in the governmental wisdom of the pre-Christian Graeco-Roman world. (11)

Annemarie Mol “Ontological Politics”

February 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Mol, Annemarie 1999. Ontological Politics. A Word and Some Questions. The Sociological Review 47(1): 74–89.

Ontological politics is a composite term. It talks of ontology – which in standard philosophical parlance defines what belongs to the real, the conditions of possibility we live with. If the term ‘ontology’ is combined with that of ‘politics’ then this suggests that the conditions of possibility are not given. That reality does not precede the mundane practices in which we interact with it, but is rather shaped within these practices. So the term politics works to underline this active mode, this process of shaping, and the fact that its character is both open and contested. (74-75)

Ontologies: note that. Now the word needs to go in the plural. For, and this is a crucial move, if reality is done, if it is historically, culturally and materially located, then it is also multiple. Realities have become multiple. (75)

Talking about reality as multiple depends on another set of metaphors. Not those of perspective and construction, but rather those of intervention and performance. These suggest a reality that is done and enacted rather than observed. Rather than being seen by a diversity of watching eyes while itself remaining untouched in the centre, reality is manipulated by means of various tools in the course of a diversity of practices. Here it is being cut into with a scalpel; there it is being bombarded with ultrasound; and somewhere else, a little further along the way it is being put on a scale in order to be weighed. But as a part of such different activities, the object in question varies from one stage to the next. Here it is a fleshy object, there one that is thick and opaque and in the next place it is heavy. In performance stories fleshiness, opacity and weight are not attributes of a single object with an essence which hides. Nor is it the role of tools to lay them bare as if they were so many aspects of a single reality. Instead of attributes or aspects, they are different versions of the object, versions that the tools help to enact. They are different and yet related objects. They are multiple forms of reality. Itself. (77)

[…] what is ‘other’ is also within. Alternative realities don’t simply co-exist side by side, but are also found inside one another. But this is a situation that does not easily fit our traditional notion of politics. (85)

The word ‘ontological politics’ suggests a link between the real, the conditions of possibility we live with, and the political. But how to conceive of this? In this text I’ve not laid out a response to this question, but rather articulated some of the problems that come with a specific interpretation of politics, one that is posed in terms of deliberation or choice. We may list these. One: if we think in such terms then we risk the ramification of options everywhere – with the consequence that they end up always  seeming to be elsewhere. Two: the interference between various political tensions is such that each time one thing seems to be at stake (say: anaemia) an unquantifiable number of other issues and realities are involve as well (say: sex difference). And three: the various performances of reality in medicine have all kinds of tensions between them, but to separate them out as if they were a plurality of options is to skip over the complex interconnections between them. And then there is a fourth problem. Who is the actor who might decide between the options? Might, or should, this be a patient-customer making choices between discrete goods available on a market; or should it be a patient-citizen trying to organize the health care system for the benefit of all? Or, again, are the crucial moments not those where ‘patients’ act as an agent, but rather those where they (we) are define, measured, observed, listened to, or otherwise enacted? (86-87)