Foucault Beyond Foucault: Power and Its Intensifications Since 1984

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Jeffrey T. Although the stated motivation for Nealon's discussion is to counter the current interpretation of Foucault's ethical works, the result is one of the most interesting interpretations of Foucault to emerge in many years. Jeffrey Nealon successfully challenges the critical prejudices and assumptions that have defined Foucault's legacy, particularly in the North American academy, and stakes out new terrain by productively synthesizing recent developments in political and economic theory with Foucault's own analysis of power and subjectivity in the age of "bio-power.

Foucault Beyond Foucault.

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Description Desc. Foucault Beyond Foucault proceeds by way of a systematic development of this thought. It is introduced in the first chapter as a counterinterpretation to the current Prodigal Son view of Foucault as a returning liberal. He argues that Foucault is much more interested in the question "What does it cost?

In that chapter, Nealon claims that we have not yet understood the historical changes associated with changes in the operation of power. The first three stem directly from Foucault's treatment of punishment in Discipline and Punish. The final one stems largely from the first volume of Foucault's history of sexuality, but in Nealon's reading is continued into the second and third volumes, the place in which the Prodigal Son interpretation of Foucault prepares the fatted calf.

Nealon argues here that the explanation for the changes in power's operation is its increasing efficiency through intensification.

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Foucault Beyond Foucault

Sovereign power was brutal but clumsy. Social power was better, but was brought to greater efficiency by discipline, which, Nealon claims, acts not so much upon the body as upon actions. Discipline's ability to intervene upon most, or at least many, actions allows it to suffuse itself throughout the body and the body politic.


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Moreover, discipline, unlike sovereign power, can create actions, not just suppress them. However, biopower is the most intense, therefore most efficient form of power. It acts directly upon life. Where discipline uses the force of power to effect the creation of action, biopower intervenes on life at all levels, working through norms in order to shepherd life in directions that he treats in the following chapters.

Although I am fascinated by what Nealon does with this reading of Foucault in the following chapters, I must admit some discomfort with it as an interpretation of Foucault.

Table of Contents: Foucault beyond Foucault :

I have two reservations here, one that might be called interpretive and one that might be called metainterpretive. The interpretive reservation has to do with the periodization Nealon lays out. On this periodization, discipline bears upon actions while biopower concerns norms.

As he writes, "the disciplinary criminal is known through her transgressive deeds, while biopower's delinquent is known through his abnormal personality" p. I believe this is a mistaken interpretation.


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For Foucault, it is precisely discipline that works through personalities and norms. He writes,. Behind the offender … stands the delinquent whose slow formation is shown in a biographical investigation. The introduction of the 'biographical' is important in the history of penality.

Because it establishes the 'criminal' as existing before the crime and even outside it. Discipline and Punish , p. And elsewhere he states, "The power of the Norm appears throughout the disciplines" Discipline and Punish , p. Foucault's view, as I see it, is that discipline is one part of biopower.


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There are two aspects to biopower. One of those involves individualizing discipline, and the other involves an intervention into life of the kind Nealon calls biopower. Therefore, discipline is actually a part of biopower. Nealon argues that discipline is in decline and the other aspect of biopower is now ascendant. Here I believe he is on stronger ground. Foucault himself provides an indication of this in his as-yet untranslated lecture series Naissance de la biopolitique. There he argues that there is a new figure, homo oeconomicus , that is beginning to emerge in place of the disciplined body.

Homo oeconomicus is the neoliberal individual, the figure for whom everything is a matter of investment and return. For homo oeconomicus , everything from child-rearing to marriage to whether to abide by the law is a question of investment, risk, and reward. Foucault sums this idea up in saying that we are dealing with, "Not a society of the supermarket -- a society of enterprise. Homo oeconomicus … is not the man of exchange, he is not the consuming man, he is the man of enterprise and of production" Naissance de la biopolitique , p.

The figure of homo oeconomicus is, I believe, the figure that Nealon suggests in his discussion of biopower. The metainterpretive reservation I have with this reading of Foucault is that the concept of intensification seems to me a bit transhistorical. It cuts a wide swath through Foucault's works, perhaps too wide a swath. The reason, I believe, that Foucault's genealogical works do not say much about the dynamics of historical change is that historical change is, for him, local and contingent.

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Particular practices intersect with other practices to form yet still other practices, or perhaps to form dominant modes of power. Discipline arises as an intersection of dispersed practices, from the monastery to the military to penal reform, and its emergence is a contingent matter. There may be a number of reasons that discipline remains ascendant, and among those intensification would help provide an explanation. But I am not entirely comfortable with the concept in the role Nealon wants to place it.

2008.02.14

These last remarks may sound as though I believe Nealon is deeply mistaken about Foucault. That would be a misimpression. He has provoked me to think about Foucault again, after many years of an interpretation I have felt comfortable with.