Abstracts re: Foucault

Kelly, M.G.E. “International Biopolitics: Foucault, Globalisation and Imperialism.” Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory 57:123 (June 2010). 1-26.

Online (pay access) here: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/berghahn/theoria/2010/00000057/00000123/art00001

This summary is available as a PDF: Abstract of Kelly, “International Biopolitics” (PDF)

Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977.

To express rage towards the death of Canadian photojournalist Ali Mustafa, there was this viral dissemination of Mustafa’s work – his writings, photos, and interviews. This socio-psychological event, characterized with a (re)creation (or rather bringing back to life, or making more evident, or resuscitation) of a new discourse surrounding the death of a young photojournalist in a situation specific to Syria bears all the conditions, notions and narratives offered by Foucault in his essay outlining and elucidating what an author is, what his function is, his relationship to the text, his location in the text, the relationship between the text and the death of the author of this text, the critical (i.e. the rigid evaluation of the intrinsic qualities of the text) and the religious (the transdiscursive, and transcendental qualities which reveal or rather attempt to reveal hidden meanings and relationships) natures and aspects of the text (or more generally speaking ‘the work’).

Does the author, in the evolution and the production of his text, begin to have to a relationship with the text, or is he, whether he likes or not, external to it? Foucault tries to answer this question by looking at various notions, most important of which is death, and how it amplifies the significance of the author (who we are yet to define), and his work (which is yet to be determined). “If [the author] was willing to die young, it was so that his life, consecrated and magnified by death, might pass into mortality.” So the discourse was that the author was almost invisible, and his work was almost unimportant (despite the fact that the quality of the work preceded the death of the author). But why is that the case? Because the way the author was made out to be.

Foucault questions the notion that a certain type of “writing” can be considered a work. His questioning of it is not out of a desire to cast doubt upon the worthiness of a certain type of writing to be referred to as a ‘work,’ but rather to tell us how a ‘writing’ was classified to form a discourse on writing and authorship. So in it, he questions whether a scribble by a notable person who we now refer to as an author actually constitutes a work; what is the significance of the author’s anonymity, what is the nature of it (hard science, theory, literary, or just a narration of events on an unpublished journal etc..). This first question appears to be purely technical. The second question is somewhat metaphysical or transcendental because of how the absence of the author of the work is situated, how does one fill the gaps after death, how does one take what has been offered and build upon it, answer questions that were left unanswered, and offer new knowledge or information or new questions to be answered.

Visker, Rudi. “Can Genealogy be Critical? A Somewhat Unromantic Look at Nietzsche and Foucault.” Man and World 23 (1990): 451-452.

Available online here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF01271587?LI=true

The central problem of genealogy as critical technique is that one cannot mount a critique of reason (even applied to a specific area like morality or discipline) by employing reason. Visker argues that Nietzsche and Foucault get around this by employing problematics (frameworks used to formulate new problems/questions) other than genealogy.

The genealogies of Nietzsche and Foucault are deliberately anti-teleological in that they are filled with contingencies and accidental reversals, so as to expose the shaky foundations of some contemporary systems. Yet it seems that such critique only takes place when the authors lapse into teleological history. For example, Nietzsche slips into a teleological framework when he talks of a pure, innocent noble class being corrupted by cunning slaves. Similarly, Foucault occasionally lapses into phrases like “the bodies themselves” – betraying a metaphysics where the virgin body is corrupted by disciplinary power.

It seems that genealogy is trapped in a dilemma: imply that there is a necessary causal chain leading to current systems, thus justifying them (the opposite of what it wants to do as a problematic), or imply that there is no such link (but then what is the point of genealogy if there is no underlying logic behind its narrative?). Either way, it fails to be critical.

Visker, however, suggests a third possibility: limit genealogical criticism to those current systems whose justification for existence relies on erasing their pasts.  In other words, force morality or discipline to adopt paradigms that incorporate their true origins, thus either inducing major change or perhaps even destroying them completely. For such systems, a genealogical critique is possible without lapsing into teleology because the mere description of their history is enough to perform the critical function.

My Evaluation: The topic is interesting but the argument meanders and is rather unfocused. There are also a number of references to other philosophers without much contextual information to support them. In addition, this is a conference paper and so the format seemed somewhat different from your typical journal-published paper. That being said, if you are focusing on rhetorical techniques or the genealogical framework in particular, this paper is probably worth a read because it tackles a big-picture issue that is relevant to both Nietzsche and Foucault.


O’Brien, Ellen L. “The Most Beautiful Murder: The Transgressive Aesthetics of Murder in Victorian Street Ballads.”  Victorian Literature and Culture 28:1 (March 2000). 15-37.


In a fashion following Foucault who argued that conventional practices in the discourse of criminality in the 18th century had the ability to both reinforce and undermine the authority of the penal system viz. gallows speeches and other forms of propaganda (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pg. 65-66), O’Brien examines the dually buttressing and subversive effects which Victorian crime ballads had on political, legal and social systems. The crime ballad is a subgenre of the traditional ballad which describes the narrative events of a murder as well as, on occasion, the events leading up to and after-effects of the latter (O’Brien, pg. 16). O’Brien criticizes scholars for exploring Victorian crime ballads merely as moral conservatism or gruesome fetishism (O’Brien, pg. 19, 35). Crime ballads, O’Brien argues, were also a subversive working class response to the Victorian equation of labor and crime; a poetics to “reconstitute and respond to the political, legal, and social turbulence surrounding murder and its punishment, and which could define, reflect, and contend hegemonic connection between crime and class” (O’Brien, pg. 16). As evidence for her case, O’Brien appeals to the narrative heart of the crime ballad which constitutes an astonishing disclosure of murder; any sentimental moralizing, she argues, was dwarfed by gruesome detail (O’Brien, pg. 20). Crime ballads were not just composed of gruesome detail, however; they were also in part comprised by contextual information which directed judgement to social conditions, as well legal and political problems (O’Brien, pg. 20).

While O’Brien criticizes scholars for exploring Victorian crime ballads as moral conservatism, it is somewhat unclear whether she rejects this interpretation entirely and we should subsequently think of O’Brien’s interpretation and the latter as being in conflict. If this is the case, one might argue that it counts against her argument as, based on her own descriptions of crime ballads it seems as though there are, regardless of other content, moral messages frequently incorporated into this lyrical form. I think it might be possible, however, to defend the rejection of the aforementioned atypical scholarly interpretation of crime ballads as moral conservatism in virtue of the anonymity of the crime ballad which seems to make it an inherently subversive aesthetic medium; it was one of the few mediums in which its authors needn’t have been concerned with upholding moral, social, or political vales and could truly speak their minds: “secured from critics and accountability, which was transferred to the publishers who owned and profited, the subversive ballad voice was protected in a way that other dissident, working-class voices were not” (O’Brien, pg. 35). As previously stated, however, O’Brien does not make it clear if she does reject this typical scholarly interpretation nor whether her interpretation and the latter are truly in conflict.


Boyne, Roy. “Post-Panopticism.” Economy and Society 29.2 (2000): 285-307. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.

Available online here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/030851400360505#.Uy4acV5rT3U

In this paper, Boyne evaluates whether we should still call Panopticism “the leading principle of social order” (299), questioning the contemporary relevance of what has been “the default background of much social and cultural analysis through the 1980s and into the 1990s” (293). His main purposes are to survey and ultimately reject “Post-Panoptic” theories, and to show—with some caveats—that Panopticism has not left us.

Boyne traces Panopticism’s development from Bentham through Foucault, and shows how it was subsequently taken up widely by social theorists. After introducing Post-Panopticism—a body of theories which say that we have now moved away from a predominately Panoptic society—Boyne surveys five such theories. In summary, these are:

  1. Citizens have become regulated more by consumerism and sensation-seeking than surveillance.
  2. Constant surveillance is redundant; by now, we have been conditioned to self-regulate.
  3. Panoptic surveillance has been replaced with practices of pre-visualization, simulation, and prediction.
  4. Because the masses can now extensively survey those in power, Panopticism is an incomplete picture.
  5. Prison riots, citizen revolts, etc. show that Panopticism is failing.

Boyne’s main strategy contra these theories is to argue that “there are some marked trends which seem to indicate that Western societies may be moving somewhat closer to a general condition of Panoptical surveillance” (302). New technologies make it much easier for both corporations and governments to observe and control individuals: among other examples, phone and internet companies now collect and track private information, and police can very easily tap into telecommunications. Boyne concedes that we should tweak our understanding of Panopticism slightly to accommodate developments like technological advances, and because literal Panopticism cannot exist since there will always be those who protest the established order. Overall, though, he argues that overwhelming evidence shows we are still Panoptic.

Boyne is a bit unsatisfying in that—except for the first version of Post-Panopticism—he spends very little time responding explicitly to each individual Post-Panoptic theory. Most of the paper’s anti-Post-Panoptic work is done by his extensive descriptions of contemporary society’s Panoptic tendencies. While convincing, these would be even more effective had Boyne attempted to show how they can refute each Post-Panoptic theory. Instead, he gives these descriptions as a response to Post-Panopticism in general, remaining unclear exactly how he would handle each theory’s subtleties.


Bernauer, James W, Mahon, Michael. The Ethics of Michel Foucault. Found in: The Cambridge Companion to Foucault, Gutting, Gary (ed). New York: Cambridge Univ Pr. 1994.

This paper begins with two assumptions about Foucault’s work that may indeed be granted by most of us, I think. 1) Foucault is clearly skeptical of notions like “universal human nature” or “universal rationality”.  He associates these notions with the enlightenment, which set up an abstract standard of human essence that forced each particular individual to conform. 2) Michel Foucault’s voice in the texts of his that we have read in class is not intended to lay out histories in a merely descriptive manner, but to point towards normative tendencies that offer clues to Foucault’s ethics.  Although Foucault denies any universal ethical system, he does not abandon ethical inquiry, for he sees inquiry as the only way to “appreciate the contingency and inadequacy of our modern moral identity”.

As a starting point into Foucault’s conception of what exactly ethics are, the paper brings up a fascinating claim that Foucault makes about dreams.  Foucault claims that “dreams reveal “radical liberty” as the human essence, the matrix within which self and world, subject and object, appear”.  The content of dreams cannot be separated from the content of ethics because it “restores the movement of freedom in its authentic meaning, showing how it establishes itself or alienates itself, how it constitutes itself… “.  This “radical liberty” brings the author to what Foucault thinks is the main goal of psychology from an ethical point of view: its goal is the person’s victory over whatever alienates him from the reality of liberty.  The potential alienations of this reality have largely been influenced by processes of “normalization” that Foucault has detected throughout history and wrote about: the liberation of the mentally ill in the asylum, the march of the enlightenment in sciences, reformation in prisons.  These are all examples where he has seen a narrowing and impoverishment of human possibilities.

Thus, the paper sees Foucault’s ethics as being two things. 1) A political ethic:  Promoting ethics that aim to undermine contemporary power-knowledge-subjectivity relations. 2) Promoting a positive ethics of self-formation as free from normalization as possible.  Foucault’s ethics are viewed not as a doctrine but as a practice of an intellectual freedom that is transgressive of modern knowledge-power-subjectivity relations.  To do this, one has to develop one’s own aesthetics of existence or stylization of life that corresponds to our deepest experience of being, of which clues can be found in our dreams.


Weir, Alison. “Who are we? Modern Identities between Taylor and Foucault.” Philosophy and Social Criticism 35.5 (2009): 533-553.

Available online here: http://psc.sagepub.com/content/35/5/533.short

In “Who are we?: Modern Identities between Taylor and Foucault” Alison Weir compares and contrasts work by Charles Taylor and Michel Foucault to form a cohesive account of social identity in the context of power relations. Firstly, Weir moves from outlining how both thinkers view identity as socially constructed. Charles Taylor gives an account of identities as embedded in communities, meaning they are formed based on relationships with others, our ethical goods, and ourselves. Foucault puts forward that identity is inherently about relations of power and involves the imposition of social categories.  Weir then takes what she sees as the strengths of each account, namely Taylor’s view of identity through connections and Foucault’s critical examination of power relations, and tries to combine them. As such she tries to argue for a view of identity along Taylor’s lines of connection, but with the awareness of Foucault’s critical examination of power. For Weir, identifications with critical communities and critical self-reflection are essential to understand the context of the connections we use construct our identity.


Thomas R. Flynn, “Truth and Subjectivation in the Later Foucault” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 82, No. 10, pp. 531-540

Available online here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2026360


Flynn predicts that had Foucault not died but continued to write his next text would be on the subject of truth. He looks to examine how Foucault uses ‘truth’ in his later works and makes an argument as to how these notions of ‘truth’ should affect our reading of Foucault’s earlier works.

Part 1:

Flynn argues that Foucault’s concern is with truth as “dividing and excluding, constraining and liberating” and in his next text he would chart this sequence of truth through history. Flynn also suggests in this section that Foucault draws a connection between truth and politics but this connection is not necessarily causal.

Part 2:

With respect to sex, truth controls the proper use of pleasure. Understanding one’s ‘true needs’ allows one to be a moral subject with respect to pleasure. Foucault privileges ‘truth’ in ethics as a subjective fact dependent on the person rather than ‘truth’ as a set of universal rules.

Part 3:

Foucault introduces subjectivity into his discourse examining the relationship between truth and the subject. Flynn argues Foucault’s goal is to liberate the reader and cause them to think differently by examining the ‘history of one’s own truth’.

My conclusion:

Over the course of nine pages the author references Heidegger, Plato, Kierkegaard and Hegel among others. He attempts to relate the writings of these authors with multiple texts and interviews by Foucault. The result is an unclear mass of references without a clear purpose. There is very little tying the authors ideas and his overall argument is unclear. This is not helped by the fact that his conclusion consists of a number of questions he poses yet does not answer.


Article: Appiah, K. Appiah. “Identity, Authenticity, Survival: Multicultural Societies and Social Reproduction.” Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition. Ed. Amy Gutmann. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994. Print.

In this paper, Anthony Appiah examines and problematizes the relationship between our identities and the cultures in which they occur. This paper is an excellent source for examining how the transference from practice into “truth,” which Foucault speaks to, can lead to an inescapable paradox for the individual. That is to say, in order to create our individual identities, we have to return to a larger discourse that contains biased emphasis and purposed concepts.
Appiah begins by arguing that Cultural Recognition is a large issue in today’s society. Cultural Recognition describes our struggle to adequately acknowledge others, especially in our discourse about them. Yet, at the same time, the issue of Authenticity is prevalent in the West, which refers to the desire to make one’s life one’s own. Appiah’s argument centres upon elucidating the incompatibility between this need for recognition and  our desire for authenticity. That is to say, when we try to understand the authenticity of another with language, we constantly grapple to place them in a frame of reference that we understand, something that is, by its very definition, not their own.
In order to make this argument, Appiah uses sociological concepts that Charles Taylor uses: our collective identity and our personal identity. Our collective identity refers to cultural scripts that have widespread understanding, and our personal identity contains things that aren’t the basis for these collective identities. For instance, one might be smart or witty, but these particulars don’t form a category of identity, rather, they are unique features of a concrete subject. Therefore, those qualities would fall into the domain of personal identity. Alternatively, certain genders, sexualities, and races are collective identities, because certain scripts are attached to them. In other words, there are certain expectations that surround the behaviour stemming from these identities.
In the notion of authenticity, we have the idea that we can have our own way of being; however, this is problematic in two ways. Firstly, because I need the very institutions I rebel against in order to come to a conception of my own identity. And secondly, because my identity is only made available by the collective discourse arising from these institutions. That is to say, we require cultural identities in order to get our project of authenticity off the ground.
This is troublesome because we have to find recognition by accessing a type of script or narrative which holds merit on account of its communicability. In other words, we have to find respect under these headings and as a result have to deal with the expectations that surround these scripts. This calls for one to arrange their identity around these scripts. This leads Appiah to conclude that once these identities are collectively recognized, we are incapable of having them contained in ourselves as of mere features of our personal identity.


Michel Foucault: Nietzsche, Genealogy, History. In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977.

The article elaborates and clarifies the importance of the genealogical method of assessing history as presented by Nietzsche. According to Foucault, the traditional method is wrong in describing history in linear fashion for in so doing it ignores all the exterior elements that have, in each instance, helped to shape history. For Foucault, traditional history focuses on finding ‘origins’ to our current forms of knowledge; it attempts to capture the exact essence of things, and as a result commits to an assumption in the existence of immobile forms that precede the external world. For Foucault, the search for these forms – of ‘truth’ – fail to situate human history within a proper understanding of effective and diverse forces. For Foucault, what is found at the historical beginning of things is not the identity of origins, but ‘disparity’: that is, all the different factors that have helped to shape history. In this sense, Foucault argues that a proper account of history must follow each passing event “in its proper dispersion; to identify the accidents, the faulty calculation, the last minute deviations’ that gave rise to the things we possess that not only continue to have value for us but that continue to exert an influence on us. For Foucault, Like Nietzsche, concepts of liberty and goodness do not exist objectively but are rather formed at an interstice. This means that to properly understand the meaning of a historical term such as goodness, one needs to understand what other events or factors helped to shape the formulation of the term as we know it. For Foucault this is the purpose of genealogy. The article focuses on explaining the importance of the genealogical method by arguing that a proper understanding of history demands that we account for as many vicissitudes in history as we possibly can.


Deutzscher, Penelope. “Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Volume I : Re-reading its Reproduction.” Theory, Culture and Society 29:1 (January 2012): 119-137. 

Available online here (paywall access): http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/29/1/119.short

The paper focuses on the role of reproductivity in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol.1 and argues that it represents an axis between Foucault’s account of sexuality and his account of biopolitics. The paper claims that Foucault’s rejection of the repressive hypothesis implies or produces an account capable of claiming that “the ends of (re) productive sexuality (repressive hypothesis) are in fact served by the perversions that seem to undermine it”. The paper argues that sexual repression resulted in a widespread interest in (the possibility of) illicit or perverse desires. This interest subsequently led to a discursive explosion that produced a knowledge that relied heavily on self-scrutiny and disclosure. Because the governmentality of a state depends on expert knowledge of demographics (which concern populations), it influences and is influenced by public discourse. The paper wants to show how there is an overlap between the sexual reality (practices) that emerged as a result of sexual repression, and the govermentality of the state, which, although not inherently, or morally, concerned with individual sexual practices, is concerned with population control. Governmentality is fundamentally concerned with populations because they are the means by which power (through the form of ideology) is established and maintained. In this sense, biopolitics, as the paper argues, can be seen as acting through the prism of sex: sex and population hinge together at the nexus of biopower. Although Foucault does not directly state that that the ends of perverse sexuality can be understood as a calculably procreative sexuality, the paper claims that such is fully consistent with Foucault’s insights and seeks to show this by focusing on the relationship between sexual repression and its resulting reality: increased sexual discourse and practice. The paper argues that sexuality is in fact the product of a biopolitical ‘target’ and identifies this target as the procreative sex, a sex very much connected to the repressive hypothesis by virtue of its relationship to capitalism and its political need to ensure “population and labour capacity … (or) to constitute a sexuality that is economically useful” (HS1: 36). I believe that the paper highlights the interrelationship between the political sphere and the social sphere and identifies the way in which sexuality is shaped by political demands (necessity) and the way it subsequently influences political mandate.

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