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Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Writings 1972-1977

Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Writings 1972-1977

By Michel Foucault

Foucault M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977. Ed.

C. Gordon. Trans. C. Gordon L. Marshal J. Mepham and K. Sober. New York:

Pantheon Books.

A collection of interviews and works by Foucault compiled by Colin Gordon this book contains works most "closely linked to the themes and arguments of Foucault's two most recent works Discipline and Punish (1975) and The Will to Know: History of Sexuality 1 (1976)" (vii-viii). Of its purpose Gordon writes:

One of the motives for fabricating in translation this further Foucault 'book' has therefore been the hope that it will facilitate access to works that are at least in principle already available: to construct a sort of didactic primer made up of texts in which the author himself explains in straightforward and informal terms some stages and facets of his work and the preoccupations that traverse it. (vii)

Chapter 1: "On Popular Justice: A Discussion with Maoists"


The dialogue between Foucault and a few Maoists militants is an "attempt to identify the basic issues in a debate which had been initiated in response to the project of June 1971 to set up a people's court to judge the police" (p. 1)

Foucault begins by stating a hypothesis that is then debated and elaborated upon throughout the dialogue. He states "My hypothesis is not so much that the court is the natural expression of popular justice but rather that its historical function is to ensnare it to control it and to strangle it by reinscribing it within institutions which are typical of a state apparatus" (p. 1).

Pointing to the formation of the Red Army Victor one of the Maoists argues that there comes a point in which popular justice (as demonstrated in acts of individual justice) must be mediated by a neutral institution "which stands between the masses and their immediate oppressors" (p. 3)

A.Foucault disagrees arguing that it is the masses that serve to ensure that individuals do not stray from the "aims of the masses." Citing the people's court of the Revolution he argues that entities that claim to act as neutral institutions more often than not function under the ideology of the oppressor

B.Victor then comments that Foucault's example provides us with the acknowledgment of a third class. In addition to the masses and their enemies we also have the petty bourgeoisie who acts as an intermediary. It is this class that is in charge of the courts.

C.Foucault shifts the discussion to an historical approach. He explains that in the Middle Ages a reliance on a court of arbitration was shifted to a dependency on a set of institutions that could intervene on the basis of political power. This shift occurred on the foundation of two underlying processes.

a.(1) The "fiscalisation of the judicial system"

b.(2) "[T]he increasing link between the judicial and armed forces" (p. 5)

c.Based on these he provides a second hypothesis: "It seems to me that a certain number of habits which derive from the private war a certain number of ancient rites which were features of 'pre-judicial' justice have been preserved in the practices of popular justice" (p. 6).

Victor counters Foucault arguing he understands events up to 1789 but this does not allow us to understand anything going on presently. He requests they compare the French Revolution with the people's revolution of China (p. 8). After a brief revisiting of the ability of the court to act as an institutional mediator between classes Victor continues to criticize Foucault's approach stating "Whereas you discuss concretely all revolutions up to the proletarian revolution you become completely abstract when talking about modern revolutions including those that have occurred in the West" (p. 9). In short Victor spends a considerable amount of time attempting to get Foucault to ground his theory providing examples that counter Foucault's position or exist outside of its realm of explanation.

A.Throughout there is discussion of the form of judicial apparatuses (i.e. the set-up of the courtrooms). Foucault identifies three elements symbolized by such an organization.

a.A third neutral element

b."[R]eference to an idea a form a universal rule of justice"

c."[D]ecisions with power of reinforcement" (p. 11)

B. Victor counters that the identification of these elements allow them to conclude "The facts of the matter have been established the role of the revolutionary state apparatus is not yet over" (p. 12) The state apparatus is necessary in determining sentencing and resolving the contradictions of the masses.

C.Foucault counters arguing that the facts of the state apparatus as represented in the court are in no way defined as such and that the courts (state apparatuses) are unable to resolve the contradictions of the masses.

Foucault offers another hypothesis: "The penal system has had the function of introducing a certain number of contradictions among the masses and one major contradiction namely the following: to create mutual antagonism between the proletarianised common people and the non-proletarianised common people" (p. 14). The penal system Foucault argues has a triple role:

A."On the one hand it is a factor in 'proletarianisation': its role is to force the people to accept their status as proletarians and the conditions for the exploitation of the proletariat" (p. 14)

B."On the other hand this penal system was aimed very specifically against the most mobile the most excitable the 'violent' elements among the common people" (p. 15)

C."The third role of the penal system: to make the proletariat see the non-proletarianised people as a whole the dregs of the population trash the 'mob'" (p. 15).

D.For these reasons any revolution must eliminate the judicial apparatus.

Victor contends Foucault has neglected the twentieth century and asks "[I]s the principal contradiction among the masses that between prisoners and workers" (p. 16)?

A.Foucault answers that the contradiction he is discussing is between the proletariat and non-proletariat.  Social methods for creating and maintain the division between these two sets of people include the army colonization and prisons.

B.Victor is unsatisfied and again asks if it is the principle contradiction to which Foucault answers it is not the principle contradiction.

C.Victor follows with a brief summary of the theories of Engels concluding "This little extra historical contradiction among the masses is the opposition between egoism and collectivism competition and combination and that it is when you have combination that is the victory of collectivism over competition that you have the working masses and thus a unity among the proletarianised people and that then there will be a mass movement" (p. 19).

D.Foucault counters that he does not see this as the basic contradiction; instead he "meant that the bourgeoisie saw sedition as being the main danger" (p. 20)

At this point another Maoist Gilles enters the discussion asking if it seems important to identify between two different types of "plebs" (non-proletarianised common people). Foucault answers "I completely agree with you in saying that we must distinguish between the common people as they are seen by the bourgeoisie and the common people as they are in reality" (p. 22).

A.Gilles then states "If this is so then it is possible that the real solution to the problem of the relations between the proletariat and plebs is contained in the capacity to resolve the problem of popular unity that is the fusion of proletarian methods of struggle and the methods of peasant warfare" (p. 23).

B.Victor contends that while this solves the problem of fusion it does not solve the problem of methods which can only be done through the use of an army. To which Gilles extends that this suggest an attack on the state is necessary to answer the opposition between the plebs and proletariats thus the people's court is unnecessary.

The discussion continues in this vein with attempts to determine the methods of a revolution that would answer the contradictions among the classes. Victor drawing again from the Red Army states "Therefore in order to have modern subversion that is a rebellion as the first stage of a continuous revolutionary process it is necessary for there to be a fusion of rebellious elements from among the non-proletarianised people with the proletarianised people under the leadership of the factory proletariat and its ideology" (p. 25). He continues that as a product of these revolutions as state apparatus must arise that has the potential to become "repressive in relation to the masses" (p. 26).

A.Foucault responds to two of the points raised. He states "You say that is it under the leadership of the proletariat that the non-proletarianised people will join in the revolutionary battle. I entirely agree. But when you say that this happens under the leadership of the ideology of the proletariat then I want to ask you what you mean by the ideology of the proletariat" (p. 26).

B.Victor responds: the thoughts of Mao Tse-Tung

C.Foucault counters that these ideas are not the same of the French Revolution and that Victor must grant him that the models of the bourgeois state apparatuses including the judicial apparatus cannot be used for a new form of organization.

Victor answers with an appeal to practicality. Yes he explains the masses will need to discover something but until then old structures can be adapted. Foucault then states "If you define the people's court as a regulatory instance—I would prefer to say an instance of political elucidation—on the basis of which acts of popular justice can be integrated with the overall political line of the proletariat then I entirely agree. But I feel some difficulty in calling such an institution a 'court'" (p. 29).

The debate continues with various questions of the proletariat utilizing the bourgeois judicial structure and the need for representations of popular unity in judicial decision-making. Foucault argues that to rely on the old bourgeois structure even for practical reasons risks allowing for the old bourgeois ideologies to find their way back into the social structure.

Victor then moves to summarize the discussion with Foucault interjecting when he disagrees with the statements Victor makes. In doing so he makes remarks "I would prefer to say that an act of popular justice cannot achieve its full significance unless it is clarified politically under the supervision of the masses themselves" (p. 31)

A.Victor then begins to discuss the appropriate method of revolution.

B.Foucault responds to Victor's discussion of creating alternative powers by stating "You are saying that it is a victory to exercise alternative power in opposition to in the place of an existing power […] But when it comes to the courts we must ask two questions. What would it amount to exactly to exercise alternative power over the judicial system?  And what is the real power that is exercised in a people's court like that at Lens" (p. 33)?

C.The remainder of the dialogue centers around defining a counter-justice which Foucault defines as " one that enabled one to put into operation in relation to some person who would in the normal course of events get away with what he's done some kind of judicial proceedings" (p. 34). Victor calls this version of counter-justice idealistic to which Foucault agrees saying "there can be no such thing" (p. 34)

The discussion concludes with Foucault resisting the theses presented by Victor. He states "For my part the idea I wanted to introduce into the discussion is that the bourgeois judicial state apparatus of which the visible symbolic form is the court has the basic function of introducing and augmenting contradictions among the masses principally between the proletariat and the non-proletarianised people and that it follows from this line that this judicial system and the ideology which is associated with them must become the target of our present struggle" (p. 35-36).

Chapter 2: "Prison Talk"


This interview by J.-J. Brochier centered on Foucault's view of prisons and his work Discipline and Punish.

The interview begins with a series of questions on method. The first asks about Discipline and Punish's goal of criticizing blank areas of history; the second focuses on the difficult of performing the history with the lack of monographs on prison. The second was answered by Foucault stating "With prisons there would be no sense in limiting oneself to discourses about prisons" (p. 38). After listing a variety of discourse such as those produced in prisons and the regulations and decisions that constitute prisons he argues "And in my view this task consists rather in making all these discourses visible in their strategic connections than in constituting them as unities to the exclusion of all other forms of discourse" (p. 38).

The questions quickly move to those of content as Brochier asks about Foucault opinion that the central moment in the history of repression being the "transition from the inflicting of penalties to the imposition of surveillance" (p. 38).

A.Foucault takes this opportunity to shift to a discussion of power and the body.

B.He states " But in thinking of the mechanisms of power I am thinking rather of its capillary form of existence the point where power reaches into the very grain of individuals touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes their discourses learning processes and everyday lives" (p. 39)

C.This shift leads to a question on the role of the prison's surveillance in creating delinquency. To which Foucault discusses prisons as a failure because rather than reforming criminals the produced new criminals and pushed "existing criminals even deeper into criminality" (p. 40).

Brochier steers the discussion to economic concerns asking about the fear that arose over the competition prison workers gave wage earners. Foucault counters the question by discussing the increase of moralization in the nineteenth century that rested on the segregation of criminals from those involved in commerce.

A.Foucault then returns to discussing prisons as recruitment locations for individuals which targeted as Brochier points out those of the lower class. Foucault writes "[F]rom the late 1830s it became clear that in fact the aim was not to retrain delinquents to make them virtuous but to regroup them within a clearly demarcated card-indexed milieu which could serve as a tool for economic or political ends" (p. 42)

B.Brochier follows by asking about what appears to be an increased tolerance for illegality.

a.Foucault responds "It is quite true that in popular consciousness and also in the present economic system a certain margin of illegality is not seen as a serious problem but rather as perfectly tolerable" (p. 43).

C.Brochier also identifies a shift in explaining criminality. Rather than assigning a moral judgment criminal behavior is explained away by circumstance.

a.Foucault is then asked to discuss his distinction between two modes of criminality: "one which ends up in the police and the other which lapses into aesthetics" (p. 45) symbolized by Vidocq and Lacenaire in turn.

b.The discussion addresses the notion of crime being of use to society.

c.The usefulness of the discourse produced by criminology is questioned.

The conversation shifts once again to method as Brochier asks about Foucault's claim that we must "free historical chronologies and successive orderings from all forms of progressive perspective" (p. 49).

A.Foucault replies that it is an approach designed to avoid imposing "positivity or valorization" (p. 50).

B.The questions we are answering Foucault explains is "how do things happen" not questions of betterment or advancement.

The interview continues as Brochier asks Foucault about the importance and/or implications of making visible the invisible.

A.Foucault states "Now I have been trying to make visible the constant articulation I think there is of power on knowledge and of knowledge on power. We should not be content to say that power has a need for such-and-such a discovery such-and-such a form of knowledge but we should add that the exercise of power itself creates and causes to emerge new objects of knowledge and accumulates new bodies of information" (p. 51)

B.He continues discussing the relationship between knowledge and power: "Knowledge and power are integrated with one another and there is no point in dreaming of a time when knowledge will cease to depend on power; this is just a way of reviving humanism in a utopia guise. It is not possible for power to be exercised without knowledge it is impossible for knowledge not to engender power" (p. 52).

The interview concludes with a turn to Marx and Nietzsche.

A.Foucault explains he quotes Marx without citing him; those who cite him become known as someone who reveres Marx

B.Foucault states "It was Nietzsche who specified the power relation as the general focus shall we say of philosophical discourse—whereas for Marx it was the production relations. Nietzsche is the philosopher of power" (p. 53).

Chapter 3: "Body/Power"

This chapter is an interview with the editorial staff of Quel Corps?


Answers to questions on the establishment and role of the social body:

A."[I]t's the body of society which becomes the new principle in the nineteenth century. It is the social body which needs to be protected in a quasi-medical sense" (p. 55)

B.There is a fantasy of a social body "constituted by the universality of wills" (p. 55)

C.On the ability of the body to resist power Foucault states "But once power produces this effect there inevitably emerge the responding claims and affirmations those of one's own body against power of health against the economic system of pleasure against the moral norms of sexuality marriage decency […] Power after investing itself in the body finds itself exposed to a counterattack in that same body" (p. 56).

D.In order to understand the "evolution of the bodily relationship between the masses and the State apparatus" (editorial staff p. 57) one must "study what kind of body the current society needs" (Foucault p. 58).

In questions of his approach Foucault distinguishes himself from both Marxists and para-Marxists.

A.He states "Marxism considered as an historical reality has had a terrible tendency to occlude the question of the body in favour of consciousness and ideology" (p. 59)

B.Para-marxists rather exaggerate the role of repression.

In a response to a critique that his focus on micro-powers neglects the State apparatus Foucault responds the power cannot be seen as localized within the State apparatus.

In a brief discussion of psychoanalysis Foucault appears to argue that if it can modify its current role as a normalization tool of the State it may be possible to challenge the effects of the power "render[ing] the State apparatuses much more difficult" (p. 61).

Foucault then comments on his goal in studying madness and prisons. He states "I have attempted to analyse how at the initial stages of industrial societies a particular punitive apparatus was set up together with a system for separating the normal and abnormal" (p. 61).

The interview concludes with a question of "who coordinates the activities of agents of the political body?  To which Foucault answers that this cannot be narrowed to a single individual as it rest on a system of complex relations. He concludes "The interesting thing is to ascertain not what overall project presides over all these developments but how in terms of strategy the different pieces were set in place" (p. 62).

Chapter 4: "Questions on Geography"


This chapter contains an interview with the editors of Hérodote.

The interview begins with the editors expressing their surprise about Foucault's silence on geography and questioning whether or not there is a role for geography in his archaeology of knowledge.

A.Initially Foucault responds that taking on a particular science for reasons of interest or possible value is not the intention of the approach; rather archaeology of knowledge is an exploration of conflicts and tensions.

B.The editors then ask whether it is possible geography has been ignored because it lacks the polemic that often attracts the questioning of philosophers.

C.Throughout the discussion as the interviewers continue to strive for an answer as to why geography has remained out of Foucault's approach of archaeology of knowledge Foucault continues to stress that the archaeology of knowledge does not suggest a "global exhaustive coverage of all domains of knowledge" but "only ever means a certain mode of approach" (p. 66).

D.He explains that there is room for a "archaeology of geographical knowledge" (p. 67)

The interviewers critique Foucault for his privileging of time over his "nebulous and nomadic spatial demarcations" (p. 67). In this critique the interviewers cite his many uses of spatial metaphors claiming that regardless of where he borrowed the metaphors from they are geographical. In addition "geography grew up in the shadow of the military" (p. 69).

A.Foucault counters arguing that though he has been criticized for his reliance on these metaphors "But I think through them I did come what I had basically been looking for: the relations that are possible between power and knowledge. Once knowledge can be analysed in terms of region domain implantation displacement transposition one is able to capture the process by which knowledge functions as a form of power and disseminates the effects of power" (p. 69).

B.The discussion then shifts to Panopticism in which the interviewers argue space shifts from being solely a metaphor to becoming material. The editors question the relationship between the panoptic system and the State apparatus.

a.Foucault explains "The panoptic system was not so much confiscated by the State apparatuses rather it was these apparatuses which rested on the basis of small-scale regional dispersed Panoptisms. In consequence one cannot confine oneself to analysing the State apparatus alone if one wants to grasps the mechanisms of power in their detail and complexity" (p. 72)

As the conversation continues the interviewers revisit the role of geography in Foucault's overall project by highlighting where geography comes into play. The turning point of Foucault's opinion seems to come in the question that identifies geography and history as constitutive of the national discourse of nationalism.

A.Foucault responds "It's my hypothesis that the individual is not a pre-given entity which is seized on by the exercise of power. The individual with his identity and characteristics is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies multiplicities movements desires forces" (p. 74).

B.The interviewers then argue that the map is an instrument of power/knowledge that spans and has been altered through the periods of time (the Greeks the Middle Ages and the eighteenth century) that Foucault has discussed. Foucault explains :I think one could find in geography a good example of a discipline which systematically uses measure inquiry and examination" (p. 75)

C.The interviewers introduce the dependence of geography on catalogues to reinforce this position. They then move to question why there has not been a polemics in geography hypothesizing that it may have something to do with the fact that Marx never had much of an influence on the discipline.

a.Foucault then states " Marx doesn't exist" (p. 76). He clarifies " I mean the sort of entity constructed around a proper name signifying at once a certain individual the totality of his writings and an immense historical process deriving from him. I believe Marx's historical analysis the way he analyses the formation of capital is for a large part governed by the concepts he derives from the framework of Ricardian economics" (p. 76).

By the end of the interview Foucault demonstrates a change in position.  He writes "Now I can see that the problems you put to me about geography are crucial ones for me. Geography acted as the support the condition of possibility for the passage between a series of factors I tried to relate. Where geography itself was concerned I either left the question hanging or established a series of arbitrary connections" (p. 77). He concludes "One theme I would like to study in the next few years is that of the army as a matrix of organization and knowledge; one would need to study the history of the fortress the 'campaign' the 'movement' the colony the territory. Geography must indeed necessarily lie at the heart of my concerns" (p. 77).

Chapter 5: "Two Lectures"


Lecture 1: 6 January 1976 Foucault begins the lecture by discussing the fragmentary nature of his work justifying it based on the period in which it arose which he argues has contained two notable events that have shaped his work.

A.The first is an "increasing vulnerability to criticism of things institutions practices and discourses" that had an "inhibiting effect of global totalitarian theories" (p. 80).

B.The second is an "insurrection of subjugated knowledges" (p. 81).

a.These subjugated knowledges take two forms: (1) "those blocs of historical knowledge which were present but disguised within the body of functionalist and systematizing theory" and (2) naïve knowledges those located below scientific knowledge in the knowledge hierarchy. (p. 82).

b.These knowledges are recovered through criticism.

Foucault moves from this justification and discussion of knowledges to define genealogy. He writes "Let us give the term genealogy to the union of erudite knowledge and local memories which allows us to establish a historical knowledge of struggles and to make use of this knowledge tactically today" (p. 83).

A.Genealogies are "precisely anti-sciences" as they are not "positivistic returns to a more careful or exact form of science" (p. 83).

B.He writes "We are concerned rather with the insurrection of knowledges that are opposed primarily not to the contents methods or concepts of science but to the effects of the centralising powers which are linked to the institution and functioning of an organised scientific discourse within a society such as ours" (p. 84) 

C."A genealogy should be seen as a kind of attempt to emancipate historical knowledges from that subjection to render them that is capable of opposition and of struggle against the coercion of a theoretical unitary formal and scientific discourse" (p. 85)

D.He further elaborates that if we divide this process in two archaeology "would be the appropriate methodology of this analysis of local discursivities" while genealogy "would be the tactics whereby on the basis of descriptions of these local discursivities the subjected knowledges which were thus released would be brought into play" (p. 85).

With this in mind Foucault continues elaborating on the goals scope and methods of this approach. He states " Our task […] will be to expose and specify the issue at stake in this opposition this struggle this insurrection of knowledges against the institutions and against effects of the knowledges and power that invests scientific discourse" (p. 87).

Comparing juridical power and Marxist power finding a certain point of commonality Foucault states "Broadly speaking in the first model we have a political power whose formal model is discoverable in the process of exchange the economic circulation of commodities; in the second case the historical raison d'être of political power and the principle of its concrete from and actual functioning is located in the economy" (p. 89).

A.Based upon this Foucault asks if it is possible today for us to "conduct a non-economic analysis of power" (p. 89).

B.Foucault argues two hypotheses are offered when we attempt to liberate ourselves from an economically dependent view of power.

a.The first "argues that the mechanisms of power are those of repression" (Reich's hypothesis).

b.The second "argues that the basis of the relationship of power lies in the hostile engagement of forces" (Nietzsche's hypothesis) (p. 91).

C.Foucault concludes the lecture by introducing two schemes for the analysis of power.

a.The contact-oppression scheme: representative of the old power scheme of sovereignty with oppression as an extension of power's limit.

b.The domination-repression or war-repression scheme: Oppression in this scheme is "the mere effect and continuation of a relation of domination" (p. 92).

Lecture 2: 14 January 1976 Once again Foucault begins by discussing the general nature of his work. He states "I have tried that is to relate its [power's] mechanisms to two points of reference two limits: On the one hand to the rules of right that provide a formal delimitation of power; on the other to the effect of truth that this power produces and transmits and which in turn reproduce this power. Hence we have a triangle: power right truth" (p. 93).

The discussion then leads into a posing of multiple questions centering on the relationship between power and truth.

A.The questions conclude with the statement "If I were to characterise not its mechanism itself but its intensity and constancy I would say that we are forced to produce the truth of power that our society demands of which it has need in order to function: we must speak the truth; we are constrained or condemned to confess or to discover truth" (p. 93).

B.The central problem of the right in Western societies according to Foucault is the sovereign as discourse either serves to eliminate its domination.

a.In answer to this Foucault's general project is to invert the mode of analysis followed by the right since the Middle Ages.

b.He states "My aim therefore was to invert it to give due weight that is to the fact of domination to expose both its latent nature and its brutality. I then wanted to show not only how right is in a general way the instrument of this domination—which scarcely needs saying—but also to show the extent to which and the forms in which right […] transmits and puts in motion relations that are not relations of sovereignty but of domination" (p. 95-96).

C.This approach has led Foucault to address specific methodological precautions.

a."[I]t seemed important to accept that the analysis in question should not concern itself with the regulated and legitimate forms of power in their central locations with the general mechanisms through which they operate and the continual effects of these" (p. 96)

b."[T]he analysis should not concern itself with power at the level of conscious intention or decision." (p. 97)

c."[P]ower is not to be taken to be a phenomena of one individual's consolidated and homogenous domination over others or that of one group or class over others" (p. 98)

d."[W]hen I say that power establishes a network through which it freely circulates this is true only up to a certain point" (p. 99). Rather than a deductive analysis of power Foucault contends that it must be an ascending analysis in which the analyzer begins with the micro-structures of power and works up through the global structures.

i.Foucault shifts to discuss how power works on the body and its production of economic advantage.

ii.He states "We need to see how these mechanisms of power at a given moment in a precise conjuncture and by means of a certain number of transformations have begun to become economically advantageous and politically useful" (p. 101).

e."[I]t is quite possible that the major mechanisms of power have been accompanied by ideological productions" (p. 102)

f.In summarizing these precautions Foucault states "I would say that we should direct our researches on the nature of power not towards the juridical edifice of sovereignty the State apparatuses and the ideologies which accompany them but towards domination and the material operators of power towards forms of subjection and the inflections and utilisations of their localised systems and towards strategic apparatuses" (p. 102).

A new form of power (one which differs from sovereignty) emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Foucault labels this power disciplinary power. This new form of power has worked alongside sovereign power masking it under a process of apparent democratization. Rather than law discipline defines normalization.

Chapter 6: "Truth and Power"


This chapter contains an interview with Alessandro Fontana and Pasquale Pasquino.

In answering a question about the discontinuity present in his work and he being labeled as a structuralist historian Foucault explains that the question he is attempting to answer is a question of what governs statements and the way in which they govern each other. He admits that what was missing in The Order of Things was the problem of the "discursive regime." 

The interviewers ask Foucault to discuss the concept of "event." Deviating from what he calls the structuralist notion of the event Foucault states "But the important thing to avoid trying to do for the event what was previously done with the concept of structure. It's not a matter of locating everything on one level that of the event but of realising that there are actually a whole order of levels of different types of events differing in amplitude chronological breadth and capacity to produce effects" (p. 114)

The interviewers then ask where Foucault would place genealogy in the methodological context of Marxism and a certain kind of phenomenology. Foucault answers commenting on the role of the subject in his project. He states "One has to dispense with the constituent subject to get rid of the subject itself that's to say to arrive at an analysis which can account for the constitution of the subject within a historical framework" (p. 117)

The interviewers follow by asking Foucault to discuss the concepts of ideology and repression.

A.Foucault argues that ideology is difficult to use for three reasons.

a.First "it always stands in virtual opposition to something else which is supposed to count as truth" (p. 118).

b.Second it refers to "something of the order of the subject" (p. 118)

c.Third it "stands in a secondary position relative to something which functions as its infrastructure as its material economic determinant etc." (p. 118)

B.A reliance on repression contends Foucault equates to a reliance on juridical power ignoring power's productive capabilities. Foucault states "What makes power hold good what makes it accepted is simply the fact that it doesn't weight on us as a force that says no but that it traverses and produces things is induces pleasure forms knowledge produces discourse" (p. 119).

a.In order to avoid this approach of seeing power as solely repressive we must for Foucault establish a political philosophy that is not built on the concept of sovereignty.

b.He states "We must cut off the King's head: in political theory that has still to be done" (p. 121).

C.The interviewers ask about an apparent shift in political philosophy that focuses on the state rather than the sovereign.

a.Foucault argues that the analysis of power cannot rely on the state for two reasons.

b.The first the State is unable to occupy the entire realm of power.

c.Second the State only operates upon existing power structures.

The discussion shifts to a discussion of power and the body. The interviewers as Foucault to comment on the relationships between the "molar body of the population and the micro-bodies of the individuals" (p. 124).

A.Foucault suggests there is an intersection of the powers that discipline the body and the powers that control the population.

B.In the conclusion of his answer Foucault turns to the power mechanisms focused on sex. He states "And I believe that the political significance of the problem of sex is due to the fact that sex is located at the point of intersection of the discipline of the body and the control of populations" (p. 125).

The final question of the interview asks Foucault to discuss how his conclusions may be found useful for everyday political struggles.

A.Here Foucault begins by distinguishing between the specific and universal intellectual.

a.Universal intellectuals used to be writers free subjects "counterposed" to those intellectuals who served the State.

b.The emergence of specific intellectuals beginning during the WWII era was marked by the specialization of intellectuals who were now seen as a threat to the State because of the knowledge he (sic) possessed.

c.While the universal intellectual can be viewed as a "man of justice" the specific intellectual represents the "savant or expert" (p. 128).

d.The specific intellectual is epitomized in the scientist working on the atomic bomb demonstrating that these intellectuals hold knowledge that can bring great benefit or great destruction to State. Foucault states "He is no longer the rhapsodist of the eternal but the strategist of life and death" (p. 129).

B.After calling for a questioning or revision of our reliance on specific intellectuals Foucault moves to discuss the relationship between truth and power. He states "The important thing here I believe is that truth isn't outside power or lacking in power: contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study truth isn't the reward of free spirits the child of protracted solitude nor the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth its 'general politics' of truth: that is the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true" (p. 131)

C.He concludes by revisiting the initial question and providing three specificities for the intellectual.

a.His class position

b."His conditions of life and work"

c."The politics of truth in our societies" (p. 132).

d.He concludes by summarizing the role of the intellectual. He states "It's not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power […] but of detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony social economic and cultural within which it operates at the present time" (p. 133).

Chapter 7: "Powers and Strategies"


This chapter is an interview with the editors of Les révoltes logiques.

The interview begins with a question of internment which reads "Isn't it an inversion of your arguments to make the critique of 'internment' serve as a neo-liberal or neo-populist slogan" (p. 134)?

A.Foucault responds by discussing what he calls the "Gulag-Internment parallel." He distinguishes between the Gulage institution and the Gulag question.

B.To pose the Gulag question means four things:

a."[I]t means questioning all these theoretical texts [those of Marx and Lenin] however old from the standpoint of the reality of the Gulag" (p. 135).

b."refusing to restrict one's questioning to the level of causes" (p. 135).

c.Refusing to adopt for the critique of the Gulag a law a principle of selection internal to our own discourse or dream" (p. 136).

d."Rejecting the universalising dissolution of the problem into the 'denunciation' of every possible form of internment" (p. 136-37).

The interviewers then ask Foucault to discuss the typical approaches to studying power one that focuses on the love of the master and the other which focuses on the desire of the masses for fascism.

A.In the focus on the desire for fascism Foucault is concerned with the lack of historical analysis which allows fascism to exist as a floating signifier without precise questioning what fascism really was (p. 139).

B.The reduction of power to the love of the master leads to a reduction of power to the law. This has three consequences.

a.Suggests power is homogenous for every level and domain.

b."It enables power never to be thought of in other than negative terms" (p. 139).

c."It allows the fundamental operation of power to be thought of as that of speech-act" (p. 140).

C.Rather than reducing power to law we must see law as an instrument of power.

The question is raised as to Foucault's opinion that power is "always already there" and incapable of being challenged by resistance. Foucault answers with an explanation of power.

A."[P]ower is co-extensive with the social body"

B."[R]elations of power are interwoven with other kinds of relations"

C."[T]hese relations don't take the sole form of prohibition and punishment"

D."[T]heir interconnections delineate general conditions of domination and this domination is organised into a more-or-less coherent and unitary strategic form"

E."[P]ower relations do indeed 'serve' but not at all because they are 'in the service of' an economic interest taken as primary rather because they are capable of being utilised in strategies"

F."[T]here are no relations of power without resistances" (p. 142).

Foucault contends that we must distinguish between critique of reformism as a political practice and critique of political practice for the sake of reform. He challenges the opinion that localized critique is only relevant if it is targeting the weak link that will bring down the entire system. Rather he states "The notion of theory are a tookit [sic] means; (i) The theory to be constructed is not a system but an instrument a logic of the specificity of power relations and the struggles around them; (ii) That this investigation can only be carried out step by step on the basis of reflection (which will necessarily be historical in some of its aspects) on given situations" (p. 145).

Chapter 8: "The Eye of Power"


This chapter contains a conversation with Jean-Pierre Barou and Michelle Perrott.

The discussion conversation begins with an explanation and discussion of the importance of Bentham's Panopticon. The explanation is summarized by Foucault "In short the principle of the dungeon is reversed; daylight and the overseer's gaze capture the inmate more effectively than darkness which afforded after all a sort of protection" (p. 147). The importance of Panopticism for Foucault was that it demonstrates that at the end of the eighteenth century architecture came to be "involved in problems of population health and the urban question" (p. 148). This suggests a need for a study of the role of space in power.

A.Perrott introduces sexuality to the discussion.

B.Foucault takes the opportunity to introduce Doctors and the military.

Perrott highlights a phrase from the Panopticon "Each comrade becomes an overseer" (p. 152). He continues commenting that the French Revolution reads Bentham differently than they do today.

A.Foucault responds "The new aspect of the problem of justice for the Revolution was not so much to punish wrongdoers as to prevent even the possibility of wrongdoing by immersing people in a field of total visibility where the opinion observation and discourse of others would restrain them from harmful acts" (p. 153).

B.Perrott claims the power of the Panopticon is found not only in the gaze but also in speech. Foucault agrees but alters speech to read interiorisation.

a.Foucault argues the central issue of power is expense; previous demonstrations of power often violent risked provoking revolts thus losing power.

b.In contrast Foucault explains is the system of surveillance. He states "An inspecting gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorising to the point that he is his own overseer each individual thus exercising this surveillance over and against himself" (p. 155).

c.Under this type of system " Power is no longer substantially identified with an individual who possesses or exercises it by right of birth; it becomes a machinery that no one owns" (p. 156)

As the conversation of the structure of power continues Perrott summarizes Foucault's position. He states "You are opposed to the idea of power as a superstructure but not to the idea that power is in some sense consubstantial with the development of forces of production that it forms part of them" (p. 159).

A.Foucault agrees eventually adding that "techniques of power are invented to meet the demands of production" (p. 161)

B.When questioned as to why when he uses the term 'labour' it is rarely in reference to productive labor Foucault responds it is because he deals with individuals situated outside the productive labor force: the insane children and prisoners.

C.He then argues that there is a triple function of labor.

a.The productive function.

b.The symbolic function.

c.The function of discipline.

The conversation then shifts to a discussion of what shifts Bentham into the "realm of the unreal."

A.The first is the presence of the media which was able to make the gaze evident.

B.The ever-present existence of the resistance to power.

a.Barou poses the question whether resistances are always physical in character.

b.Foucault avoids answering and comments instead that we must pay attention to the situational nature of struggle. He then states "If one wants to take seriously the assertion that struggle is the core of relations of power one must take into account the fact that the good old 'logic' of contradiction is no longer sufficient far from it for the unraveling of actual process" (p. 164).

c.Perrott questions whether Bentham's Panopticon is utopian or representative of reality to which Foucault responds " He describes in the utopian form of a general system particular mechanisms which really exist" (p. 164).

d.Perrott concludes by asking whether there is a point in the prisoners taking over the tower. Foucault answers "Oh yes provided that isn't the final purpose of the operation. Do you think it would be much better to have the prisoners operating the Panoptic apparatus and sitting in the central tower instead of the guards" (p. 164-65)?

Chapter 9: "The Politics of Health in the Eighteenth Century"


Foucault begins by making two points:

A.During the eighteenth century there existed a double-sided process in terms of healthcare: the development of a private and socialized medicine.

B."The centre of initiative organization and control for this politics should not be located only in the apparatuses of the State" (p. 167). This notion of noso-politics allows us to question the "displacement of health problems relative to problems of assistance" (p. 168).

C.The discussion of noso-poltics and health is summarized as follows: "The sudden importance assumed by medicine in the eighteenth century originates at the point of intersection of a new 'analytical' economy of assistance with the emergence of a general 'police' of health. The new noso-politics inscribes the specific question of the sickness of the poor with the general problem of the health of populations and makes the shift from the narrow context of charitable aid to the more general form of a 'medical police' imposing its constraints and dispensing its services" (p. 171).

Foucault identifies this process of nos-poltics as a technology of population.

A.He explains " Within a set of problems the 'body' –the body of individuals and the body of populations—appears as the bearer of new variables not merely as between the scarce and the numerous the submissive and the restive rich and poor healthy and sick strong and weak but also as between more utilizable more or less amenable to profitable investment those with greater or lesser prospects of survival death and illness and with more or less capacity for being usefully trained" (p. 172)

B.Its main characteristics are as follows:

a."The privilege of the child and the medicalisation of the family" (p. 172).

b."The privilege of hygiene and the function of medicine as an instance of social control" (p. 175).

Foucault credits the eighteenth century challenge to the hospital institutions to three phenomena. These include: "the emergence of 'population' with its biomedical variables of longevity and health the organisation of the narrowly parental family as a relay in the permanent source and ultimate instrument and the interlacing of medical and administrative instances in organising the control of collective hygiene" (p. 177).

A.The hospital is replaced by three mechanisms.

a."The organization of a domestic form of 'hospitalisation'."

b."A medical staffing of the population"

c.Out-patient care

B.The reform of the hospital is attempted addressing multiple problems.

a."The first problem concerns the spatial adaptation of the hospital and in particular its adaptation to the urban space in which it is located" (p. 179).

b."[I]t becomes necessary in the hospital to articulate medical knowledge with therapeutic efficiency" (p. 180-81).

c."[T]he hospital must serve as the supporting structure for the permanent staffing of the population by medical personnel" (p. 181).

Foucault concludes "The return of the hospitals and more particularly the projects for their architectural institutional and technical reorganisation owed its importance in the eighteenth century to this set of problems relating to the urban space the mass of the population with its biological characteristics the close-knit family cell and the bodies of individuals. It is in the history of these materialities which are at once political and economic that the 'physical' process of transformation of the hospitals is inscribed" (p. 182).

Chapter 10: "The History of Sexuality"


The interview with Lucette Finns begins with questions addressing specific works of Foucault. These questions quickly lead to more general questions of theory and what Finns finds to be misunderstandings in Foucault's books. Finns asks "One ought perhaps to eliminate three possible misunderstandings. Would it be true to say that your rejection of the hypothesis of repression consists neither in a simple shift of emphasis nor in imputing to power an attitude of denial or ignorance with respect to sex? One might instead of stressing repression to which heretics were subject choose to emphasise the 'will to know' which presided over their torture!  This is not is it a line you would take?  Now would you say would you wither that power conceals from itself its own interest in sex or that sex speaks unbeknown to a power which it surreptitiously outflanks" (p. 185).

A.Foucault answers that "misunderstandings" is too severe a word and that they are not present in his book.

B.He concludes his defense "What I want to show is how power relations can materially penetrate the body in depth without depending even on the mediation of the subject's own representations. If power takes hold on the body this isn't through its having first to be interiorised in people's consciounesses. There is a network of circuit of bio-power or somato-power which acts as the formative matrix of sexuality itself as the historical and cultural phenomenon within which we seem at once to recognise and lose ourselves" (p. 186).

After further discussion which elaborates upon the concept of power Finns asks Foucault to define his use of the term "political."  To which Foucault responds "Every relation of force implies ate each moment a relation of power (which is in a sense its momentary expression) and every power relation makes a reference as its effect but also as its condition of possibility to a political field of which it forms a part. To say that 'everything is political' is to affirm this ubiquity of relations of force and their immanence in a political field; but this is to give oneself the task which as yet has scarcely even been out-lined of disentangling this indefinite knot" (p. 189).

Finns then asks Foucault to distinguish between sex and sexuality. As the focus of the book states Foucault "I postulated the idea of sex as internal to the apparatus of sexuality and the consequent idea that what must be found at the root of that apparatus is not the rejection of sex but a positive economy of the body and of pleasure" (p. 190).

A.There is brief discussion of psychoanalysis as the medicalization of sexuality.

B.Foucault dodges responsibility for aiding in the "woman question."

Chapter 11: "The Confession of the Flesh"

This final chapter includes a conversation with Alain Grosrichard Gerard Wajeman Jaques-Alain Miller Guy Le Gaufey Dominique Celas Gerard Miller Catherine Millot Jocelyne Livi and Judith Miller. The conversation centers on Foucault's History of Sexuality vol. 1.

The first question offered by Grosrichard is framed "You talk about an 'apparatus of sexuality'. What is the meaning or the methodological function for you of this term apparatus (dispositif)" (p. 194). Foucault discusses three elements.

A."[A] thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses institutions architectural forms regulatory decisions laws administrative measures scientific statements philosophical moral and philanthropic propositions—in short the said as much as the unsaid" (p. 194).

B."[W]hat I am trying to identify in this apparatus is precisely the nature of the connection that can exist between these heterogeneous elements" (p. 194)

C."[F]ormation which has are its major function a given historical moment that of responding to an urgent need" (p. 195).

The second question raised to Foucault a request to discuss "episteme' in terms of 'apparatuses' and 'disciplines'.

A.Foucault replies 'What I should like to do now is to try and show that what I call an apparatus is a much more general case of the episteme; or rather that the episteme is a specifically discursive apparatus whereas the apparatus in its general form is both discursive and non-discursive its elements being much more heterogeneous" (p. 197)

B.He further explains "The episteme is the 'apparatus' which makes possible the separation not of the true from the false but of what may from what may not be characterised as scientific" (p. 197)

Grosrichard asks Foucault what the term "analytic" adds to his concept of power.

A.The contribution of this term comes from the notion that power is "in reality an open more-or-less coordinated (in the event no doubt ill-coordinated) cluster of relations then the only problem is to provide oneself with a grid of analysis which makes possible an analytic of relations of power" (p. 199)

B.Grosrichard asks Foucault to reconcile his discussions of top-down and bottom-up powers.

a.Foucault responds that the top-down power appears once in his work when discussing the Council of Trent; he then comments that power analysis must begin with the micro-powers.

b.G. Miller asks whether these micro-powers still operate from above.

C. Within this discussion the term "power relation" is questioned as J.A. Miller wonders if it is just a "relation of obligation" (p. 201).

They quickly return to a discussion a 'general apparatus' and which point Millot questions Foucault's position of the subject how he can have a strategy without a subject.

A.Foucault responds "[O]ne finds all sorts of support mechanisms […] which invent modify and re-adjust according to the circumstances of the moment and the place—so that you get a coherent rational strategy but one for which it is no longer possible to identify a person who conceived it" (p. 203).

B.The conversation on the subject leads to a question of practicality. J.-A. Miller states "But perhaps there is a problem when one is dealing not with the 'theoretical' but the 'practical' field. Given that there are relations of forces and struggles the question inevitably arises of who is doing the struggling and against whom?  Here you can't escape the question of the subject or rather the subjects" (p. 206)

C.In stating who opposes who Foucault states "it's all against all" (p. 208)

The conversation turns toward sex and the discussion of a "break" in the discourse surrounding sex. Focusing on the figures of Tertullian and Freud. For Foucault the discourse of sex began with in the eighteenth century with Tertullina rather than Freud in the nineteenth and twentieth.

A.Freud Foucault argues just made literal the statement of Charcot "it is indeed all a question of sexuality" (p. 212).

B.Foucault eventually changes the direction of the conversation explaining that rather than breaks or origins of discourse he is "concerned with […] how it comes about that people are told that the secret of their truth lies in the region of their sex" (p. 214).

J. –A. Miller asks Foucault to clarify what he hopes to gain by his approach which focuses on confession.

A.Foucault takes this opportunity to elaborate on what he means by confession.

B.He states "What I mean by 'confession' even though I can well see that the term may be a little annoying is all those procedures by which the subject is incited to produce a discourse of truth about his sexuality which is capable of having effects on the subject himself" (p. 215-216).

C.He contends that he is not attempting to reduce everything to confession. Rather he is concerned with "procedures for the extortion of truth" (p. 217)

D.A brief discussion of the woman's movement and gay liberation movement is undertaken.

The discussion ends focusing on the issue of racism.

A.Grosrichard questions Foucault's chronology of the development of racism pointing to era of Louis XIV.

B.Foucault responds "[W]hat is new in the nineteenth century is the appearance of a racist biology entirely centered around the concept of degeneracy. Racism wasn't initially a political ideology. It was a scientific ideology which manifested itself everywhere in Morel and the others. And the political utilisation of this ideology was made first of all by the socialists those of the Left before those of the Right" (p. 223).

The conversation ends with Grosrichard discussing the shift from the right to put to death and the power over life.

A.Grosrichard asks whether this power over life is specific to Western societies. He continues "[I]s this shift from a power of death to a power over life really something unprecedented or is it not rather periodic linked for instance to ages and civilisations where urbanisation and the concentration of population or conversely the depopulation caused by wars and epidemics seem to imperil the nation" (p. 226)?

B.Foucault states three interesting events happened in the eighteenth century.

a.The generalization of population problems

b.The application of new types of knowledge

c.The establishment of power apparatuses that allow for observation manipulation and intervention

Afterword: by Colin Gordon


The afterword is Gordon's views of Foucault's theory of power and methodological approach. In addition he makes claims as to the significance he finds in Foucault's theory.

Gordon begins by placing Foucault's theory into a context. He introduces May 1968 (the series of revolutionary event in France) places Foucault's thought in relations to a group of historians including Lucien Febvre and Fernand Braudel and discusses the importance of the rise of structuralism.

A.Gordon then places Foucault's theory in relation to Marxism.

B.Foucault argues Gordon deals with some of the same problems as Marxists.

a.A genealogical question

b.An archaeological question

c.And ethical question

d."[T]he question of the proper use to be made of the concept of power" (p. 233); what Foucault calls the power/knowledge (pouvoir-savoir) question.

Gordon then walks through how Foucault's version of power differs from previous versions

A."His object is not to arrive at a priori moral or intellectual judgments on the features of our society produced by such forms of power but to render possible and analysis of the process of production itself" (p. 237).

B.Gordon then discusses Foucault notion of "technologies of power" and how it deviates from past notions of power. He writes "The key here to Foucault's position is his methodological scepticism about both the ontological claims and the ethical values which humanist systems of thought invest in the notion of subjectivity" (p. 239).

C.The focus of Foucault's analysis is the present. Gordon argues that Foucault's product is the "history of the present." (p. 241)

Gordon addresses the methodology and theory present in specific works of Foucault beginning with The Birth of the Clinic (1963) and The Archaeology of Knowledge.

A.In referencing thee two works Gordon elaborate on Foucault's notion of power.

B.Gordon then introduces and discusses three "general forms of rationality pertinent to the study of power/knowledge": strategies technologies and programmes.

Gordon concludes by taking about Foucault's theory and its role in resistance. He writes " [W]hat Foucault may have to offer is a set of possible tools tools for the identification of the conditions of possibility which operate through the obviousness and enigmas of our present tools perhaps also for the eventual modification of those condition" (p. 258).

Excerpts from Reviews:

Lowe W.J. (Oct 1981). [Book Review]. Religious Studies Review p. 334.

These occasional pieces by the author of The Order of Things The Archeology of Knowledge and critical histories of prisons mental institutions and human sexuality provide valuable introduction to his work. Convinced that 'the exercise of power itself creates and causes to emerge new objects of knowledge' and that conversely 'it is possible for knowledge not to engender power' (51 52) Foucault seeks to describe power in 'its capillary form of existence where power reaches into the very grain of individuals' (39). This strategy implies an important complement and critique for current Anglo-American investigations of 'paradigm shifts.'

Hacking I. (14 May 1981). "The Archaeology of Foucault." The New York Review of Books.

This is one more stage in a remarkable adventure of ideas that began in the late Fifties. 'Key words' in Foucault's work would be for example: Labor Language Life Madness Masturbation Medicine Military Nietzsche Prison Psychiatry Quixote Sade and Sex. Be neither attracted nor repelled by this adolescent list of topics. Foucault has an original analytical mind with a fascination for facts. He is adept at reorganizing past events in order to rethink the present. He engagingly turns familiar truisms into doubt or chaos. Even though his present thoughts about power and knowledge have not yet matured they are plainly part of a fermentation worth learning about.