February 13, 2007

New Foucault review

Filed under: Foucault — ubikcan @ 10:58 pm

New Foucault review just out on the nearly published “governmentality” lectures:

Mariana Valverde, Economy and Society, February 2007.

Aside from Society Must be Defended, these lectures–Birth of Biopolitics and Security, Territory, Population–are probably among the most eagerly awaited, certainly by geographers and political scientists. Here is a short excerpt from Valverde’s review, followed by a link to Stuart Elden’s review of the same works.

The question for Foucault watchers might be not only whether his descriptions of governmentality hold water, but in what ways the dropping out of not just “security” but also “territory” in the 1 February lecture means that space becomes less important. As Elden argues however “And, yet, the issue of territory continually emerges only to be repeatedly marginalised, eclipsed, and underplayed…”

But the ‘governmentality’ lecture, as Gordon noted long ago, was not a oneoff experiment with a neologism. It was, rather, the fourth in a tightly structured series of lectures devoted to understanding the processes giving rise to modern state knowledges and powers. This set of lectures continued the task Foucault had set for himself in the previous set of Colle`ge de France lectures (given two years earlier, in 1976).2 These lectures address the question of the genealogy of European states not by discussing early jurists or political thinkers but rather by exploring a neglected, almost suppressed discourse: the ‘race wars’ writings of aristocrats in the process of being marginalized by monarchical regimes building centralized legal systems…

…Having told an original story about the emergence of centralized sovereignty in the 1976 ‘race wars’ lectures, the 1978 lectures continue the story of sovereignty into the Napoleonic era,3 when sovereignty changed its shape as it ceased to be solely concerned with territory and the loyalty of subjects and began to be concerned with what Foucault first calls ‘security’ and then re-names ‘governmentality’. Instead of merely controlling territories and maintaining the loyalty of subjects, modern sovereign power, increasingly concerned with governing the future, sets out to govern risks  risks to the state itself and risks to what was now conceived as a population, not merely an aggregate of souls or subjects. The preventive logic of police regulations and police science that makes a cameo appearance in the ‘governmentality’ lecture is presented, in the more extended account given at the College de France, as crucial: the ethos of police is the bridge linking older sovereign practices to newer practices of (state) risk governance  including biopolitics, which is barely mentioned in the 1978 lectures but which was already on his research agenda…

What is worth pointing out here, however, is the fact that ‘governmentality’ was a neologism with which Foucault began to experiment only as he was actually delivering the lectures. And, frustratingly for ‘governmentality’ scholars, he does not explain why he changed terms. He simply walks in one day ( February 1978) and declares that if he were able to go back and correct the theme and title of that year’s lectures, he would no longer use the advertised title ‘Se´curite´, territoire, population ’ but rather ‘lectures on governmentality’. Then he goes on to talk about techniques of ‘governmentality’, with ‘security’ quietly receding into the background.

[much later]
In his writings on medicine and public health, Foucault linked ‘biopolitics’ to the rise of biology and modern medicine, particularly as deployed in relation to aggregates, such as mortality rates and other public health objects. But biopolitics as a form of power/knowledge is not necessarily contained by or monopolized by health institutions. ‘Biopolitics’ is best understood literally, as the politics of life  the politics through which some lives are maximized and cared for and other lives are discounted or even seen as poisonous to the social body. To put it differently, it is not just vaccination campaigns, antisepsis and sewers that are constitutive of biopolitics. Wars waged against external enemies or against internal threats can be biopolitical too, if the rationale for choosing who lives and who dies is a biopolitical one. Genocides are or can be biopolitical exercises…

More here at theoria (h/t).

Elden’s reviews* (and Stuart has told me he believes he might compile all his reviews of the lectures into a book one day).

*I know this is not yet available but when it is, this link should become valid. Check back.


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