In the Journals

Foucault Across the Disciplines: A Special Issue

The October 2011 issue of History of the Human Sciences is a special issue entitled “Foucault Across the Disciplines.” The eight articles which compose the issue, along with guest editor Colin Koopman’s introduction,

“demonstrate the enormous gain in critical potential that can be realized by taking up Foucault’s own posture as a cross-disciplinary or counter-disciplinary thinker. One of the signal themes that was established during the conference, and which the articles here clearly ratify, was that what is unique in Foucault’s work is its combination of the conceptual and the empirical, or the theoretical and the empirical, or the philosophical and the social scientific. These articles, like Foucault’s own thought, are written across philosophy and history, theory and politics, history and psychiatry, philosophy and the arts, and so on. The point of this issue, then, is not just to show the range of Foucault’s influence in distinctive disciplinary contexts, but rather to showcase the fecundity of Foucault’s thought as it reaches across disciplines in order to straddle multiple disciplines without collapsing them into a monolith all-form that would reduce all thought as superstructural to some final theoretical base.” (Koopman 2011: 9-10)

The articles, then, are as follows:

Foucault across the disciplines: introductory notes on contingency in critical inquiry
Colin Koopman

Foucault is one of the most widely cited thinkers across social sciences and humanities disciplines today. Foucault’s appeal, and ongoing value, across the disciplines has much to do with the power of his thought and his method to help us see the contingency of practices we take to be inevitable. It is argued in this introductory article that Foucault’s emphasis on contingency is as misunderstood as it is influential. I distinguish two senses of contingency in Foucault. A first sense, widely acknowledged, concerns Foucault’s facility at showing that a taken-for-natural practice is in fact contingently produced. A second sense, widely neglected, concerns the facility of Foucauldian methods for grasping how a given practice was contingently produced. The second sense of contingency opens up possibilities for practical transformation that the former sense of contingency largely leaves to the side.

Ian Hacking

Michel Foucault’s famous book on madness first appeared in 1961 as Folie et Déraison. When it was reissued in 1972, ‘Déraison’ had dropped from the title, but it remained dense in the text, often capitalized or italicized. No two texts, abridgements, or translations of the madness book are identical with respect to the word. It is translated as ‘unreason’, but what does it mean? How did Foucault use it? Why did he come to downplay it? The relationships between déraison and painting and writing are explored. It is noted that the idea of ‘archaeology of knowledge’ is introduced in connection with a discussion of folie and déraison as displayed in Racine’s Andromaque.

In praise of counter-conduct
Arnold I. Davidson

Without access to Michel Foucault’s courses, it was extremely difficult to understand his reorientation from an analysis of the strategies and tactics of power immanent in the modern discourse on sexuality (1976) to an analysis of the ancient forms and modalities of relation to oneself by which one constituted oneself as a moral subject of sexual conduct (1984). In short, Foucault’s passage from the political to the ethical dimension of sexuality seemed sudden and inexplicable. Moreover, it was clear from his published essays and interviews that this displacement of focus had consequences far beyond the specific domain of the history of sexuality. Security, Territory, Population (Foucault, 2007) contains a conceptual hinge, a key concept, that allows us to link together the political and ethical axes of Foucault’s thought. Indeed, it is Foucault’s analysis of the notions of conduct and counter-conduct in his lecture of 1 March 1978 that seems to me to constitute one of the richest and most brilliant moments in the entire course. It is astonishing, and of profound significance, that the autonomous sphere of conduct has been more or less invisible in the history of modern (as opposed to ancient) moral and political philosophy. This article argues that a new attention should be given to this notion, both in Foucault’s work and more generally.

Foucault and the politics of our selves
Amy Allen

Exploring the apparent tension between Foucault’s analyses of technologies of domination – the ways in which the subject is constituted by power–knowledge relations – and of technologies of the self – the ways in which individuals constitute themselves through practices of freedom – this article endeavors to makes two points: first, the interpretive claim that Foucault’s own attempts to analyse both aspects of the politics of our selves are neither contradictory nor incoherent; and, second, the constructive claim that Foucault’s analysis of the politics of our selves, though not entirely satisfactory as it stands, provides important resources for the project of critical social theory.

Toward a left art of government: from ‘Foucauldian critique’ to Foucauldian politics
James Ferguson

Many contemporary uses of Foucauldian modes of analysis to ‘critique power’ (as it is often put) today lead to a rather sterile form of political engagement, in which denunciation (the politics of the ‘anti’) takes the place of positive political programs, and the strategies of government that such positive programs necessarily entail. Attention to some of Foucault’s own remarks about politics hints at a different political sensibility, in which empirical experimentation rather than moralistic denunciation takes center place. This article identifies some examples of such experimentation that come out of recent research on the politics of social assistance in southern Africa, and draws conclusions regarding the prospects for developing a ‘left art of government’.

‘Could you define the sense you give the word “political”’? Michel Foucault as a political philosopher
Hans Sluga

Foucault’s political thinking is focused on the concept of power relations. Under the influence of Nietzsche he proposes two different accounts of how power is related to human action. Nietzsche had argued, on the basis of a reading of Kant’s antinomies of pure reason, for two different accounts of that relationship. On the one hand, he had sought to understand action as a phenomenon of the will to power; on the other, he had also spoken of the will to power as an aspect of human agency. On Nietzsche’s views, we need to assert both positions even though they are for us irreconcilable. In his writings on power and action Foucault finds himself driven into adopting a similarly dual view. While he speaks of action in the nineteen seventies as subsidiary to power relations, he reverses himself in the nineteen eighties by treating power as a feature of human action. Just like Nietzsche, he offers us no way of reconciling these two distinct accounts.

Political science after Foucault
Mark Bevir

This article concerns the relevance of postfoundationalism, including the ideas of Michel Foucault, for political science. The first half of the article distinguishes three forms of postfoundationalism, all of which draw some of their inspiration from Foucault. First, the governmentality literature draws on Marxist theories of social control, and then absorbs Foucault’s focus on power/knowledge. Second, the post-Marxists combine the formal linguistics of Saussure with a focus on hegemonic discourses. Third, some social humanists infuse Foucauldian themes into the New Left’s focus on culture, agency and resistance. The second half of the article then describes a research program that may bring together these varieties of postfoundationalism. This research program includes aggregate concepts that overtly allow for the constitutive role of meanings in social life and the contingent nature of these meanings. The concepts are: situated agency, practice and power. A postfoundational research program also needs concepts that demarcate a historicist form of explanation, that is, concepts such as narrative, tradition and dilemma. Finally, this research program contains specific empirical focuses to link these aggregate and explanatory concepts back to governmentality, post-Marxism and social humanism.

Archaeological choreographic practices: Foucault and Forsythe
Mark Franko

Although Michel Foucault never wrote of dance as an example of a bodily discipline in the classical age, he did affect the art of contemporary ballet through his influence on the work of William Forsythe. This article interprets Foucault’s influence on Forsythe up until the early 1990s and also examines how Forsythe’s choreography ‘responded’ to issues of agency, inscription and discipline that characterize Foucault’s thought on corporeality. Ultimately, it asks whether Forsythe’s use of Foucauldian theory leads to a reinterpretation of inscription in Foucault.

Foucault on Painting
Catherine M. Soussloff

Michel Foucault’s understanding of painting oriented him and his readers to an alternative history of art through a means or an approach well known to philosophers and literary critics, that of irony. A close reading of the first chapter of The Order of Things shows that Foucault rejected the traditional interpretations of art history generated by a focus on the intentions of the individual artist, the identification of the subjects portrayed, and the expectations of a genre, relying instead on a synthesis of the approaches to painting given by Merleau-Ponty and Jacques Lacan, which converged with his ironic approach.

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