The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

Birth of the Subject

Birth of the Subject
Colin Gordon
Since 1970 Michel Foucault has published three
books, L ‘Ordre du Discours (The Order of
Discourse), Surveiller et Punir (Surveillance and
Punishment) and La volonte de savoir (The Will to
Knowledge), none of which has yet appeared in
English in this country. 1 This body of untranslated
work, which is likely to be rapidly augmented in
coming years, establishes Foucault not only, as
was already evident from his Madness and
Civilisation, The Birth of the CliniC, The Order of
Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge as being
one of the most originai and exciting writers on
history, science and discourse, but also one of the
most politically important and radical theorists
currently working. The ttteoretical conditions
which would permit an assessment of the full significance of these writings have yet to be realised,
and my purpose here is simply to give a rudimentary outline of the contents of Surveiller et Punir
and La yolonte de Savoir. However, it seems already clear that the present chronological threshold
of English translation coincides, if not with a
radical break or change of direction, at least with
a major turn in Foucault’s work; the turn being
marked by the explicit and central thematisation
in L’Ordre du Discours of the question of power.

Like its predecessor The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), L’Ordre du Discours is a systematic
reflection on the principles governing a programme
of historical description of the production of ‘discourses’. The difference between the two books can
be baldly expressed by saying that, whereas in the
Archaeology the focus is on the identification of
‘rules’, in L’Ordre Foucault speaks of the operations of a discursive ‘police’. The immanent ordering of discourses is represented as the effect of an
immanent power. The Archaeology largely consists
of a systematising, retrospective commentary on
Foucault’s earlier studies of the discourses of
psychiatry (Madness and Civilisation), medicine
(The Birth of the Clinic), general grammar, natural
history and analysis of wealth with their respective
precursors and successors (The Order of Things).

It identifies four modes of concrete ‘historical a
prioris’ w4ich regulate the conditions of possibility
of these organised historical collections of statements and practices: the constitution through discourses of certain possible objects of knowledge
(mental illness, the clinical case, the table of
species … ); the social, political and epistemological determinations of the possible place that can be
taken up by the subject of a particular discourse
(alienist, clinician, economist ••. ); the modes of
possible conceptual ordering local to specifiC
discourses (taxonomies, aetiologies, semiologies
.•. ); lastly, the strategic principles governing the
possible options and transformations within discourses of themes and theories, and the strategic
effects of their articulation on to non-discursive
social practices. A year later, Foucault gave the
inaugural lecture at the College de France of which
L ‘Ordre du Discours is the expanded text. The
lecture is a theoretical, programmatic prospectus
for his subsequent researches. Here, the theory of
cijscourse is located for the first time within a
1 ~QulI!uh!…ru~, Gallimard, 1970: _~lIrVClllCl’ ct Punit, Gall1mard,
19‘5; La volontc de Savoir, Gallimal’d, 1076

theory of power. A fundamental theme emerge~
which Foucault has since repeatedly stressed: the
intimate connection between the production of
knowledge and the exercise of power. The means
of regulation of discourses are exhibited as permeating effects of .control anGl delimitation. The boundaries of discourses are demarcated by practices of
exclusion: certain topics and objects of discourse
are prohibited (politics, sex); certain individuals
are radically disqualified as speakers (the heretic,
the madman); certain statements are rejected as
false by the competent social instances. The status
of statements is controlled by structural principles
interior to discourses: the relationship of text and
commentary, the unities established by tre identity
of an author am the coherence of a discipline.

Qualifications are demanded of the speaker in a
discourse: participation in a ritual; admission to a
group; adherence to a doctrine; acceptability, for
example in terms of class, under a social regime
of appropriation of discourse. Finally, Foucault
notes the power of particular philosophical concepts such as ‘ideality’, ‘subject’, ‘experience’ and
‘mediation’ to limit the possible form of production
of statements within the discourses where they hold
sway. For instance: the category of original
experience carries the implication that disco,urse
is to function essentially as a recognition and
repetition of pre-given significations; ‘a primordial
complicity with the world is taken as founding for
us the possibility of speaking of it. •• If there is
discourse, what can it then be in its legitimate
form except a discreet reading? ,3
This development in Foucault’s theory did not
amount to an overall rejection of his earlier work,
but was rather an explication of its implicit orientations – no doubt with a little help from the May
evenements. ‘When I think back now, I say to myself, what could I have been speaking about in
Madness and Civilisation and Birth of the Clinic,
if not power? NOW, I’m perfectly conscious of not
having used the work then and of not having had this
field of analysis at my disposal. ,4 The tentative
remarks in the Archaeology on the strategic ordering of discourses and their articulation on the nondiscursive already opened the way towards the
thematisation of power. In L ‘Ordre du Discours,
discourse is vie~ed ‘from outside’ as a social
entity which implicates power because of its essential attributes of scarcity, instability and desirability. But the operation of power in and upon
discourse is still not theorised here in a form which
integrates it with the principles of discursive
production: power canalises, controls, and delimits
production, but these operations appear as essentially negative and mediated in their relation to production: the historically constituted forms of ‘will
to truth’ and ‘will to knowledge’ which animate-discourse appear in the form of ‘something like a
system of exclusion’. 5 The discursive deviation,
like the mediaeval leper or madman in Madness and
Civilisation, is expelled from the city•. The dialectical pathos of domination and repression which
informed Foucault’s early masterpiece is ~till
2
3
4
5

Cf. ‘Prison Talk’, RadICal Philosophy 16, pp14-iS
I,’Ordre du Discours, p53
MF quoted by Pascal Wcrner, PoliUque Hebdo 247, pp30-31
L’Ordre du Discollrs, p16

15

everywhere – not because it encompasses everything, but because it comes from everywhere ..•
Clearly it is necessary to be nominalist: power is
not an institution, a structure, or a certain force
with which certain people are endowed: it’s the
name given to a complex strategic situation in a
given society! ,7 Foucault affirms the,priority, in
the order of exposition, of power over politics.

Politics, like war, is a particular, derivative
figure produced in the play of power. Power is
exercised, rather than held: it is a general form of
relations rather than a privileged possession, a
form of relations which are immanent to social relations of other kinds – economic, cognitive, sexualand which are productive, rather than superstructural. Power ‘comes from below’: relations of global
domination are effects of, and are sustained by, the
play of power in small, local groups, families and
institutions. The intelligibility of the field of power
relations consists in their being ‘at once intentional
and non-subjective’; they are imbued by a calculation, intrinsically oriented to aims and objectives,
but this form of immanent rationality is not the
effect or creation of a calculating will, that of a
class or an oligarchy. They are made up of local
tactics of power which are often perfectly explicit,
even cynical; but they combine and compose into
co-ordinated strategies without a strategist,
anonymous systems possessing an ullstated, yet
clearly deCipherable, rationality. Finally, there is
no power without resistance as well; indeed points
of resistance are internally related to the operation
of power. This is not to say that power is inescapable and resistance vain, but only that power is
essentially relational in character. In the words of
Nietzsche, ‘The will to power can manifest itself
Gene .. theory 01 powe ..

only against resistances; therefore it seeks that
which resists it. ‘ (The Will to Power p656).

Foucault argues in La Volonte de Savoir that the
Resistances are constituted as resistances by the
structure of social power since the emergence of
the European nation-states has had two distinct
effect of power, but this does not mean that they
and –consecutive organising principles, that the
are eternally passive or hopeless; like power,
former of these regimes of power has continued,
resistances are essentially dispersed, mobile,
in the capitalist period, to determine the ideology
local and heterogeneous, and it is in this shape
that they form the base and the precondition for
of power, and that up to the present time this
occasions of global, revolutionary rupture and
‘inverted repr~sentation’ of power has pervaded
political discourse, including that of the left.

confrontations.

‘The study of this mitrophysics assumes that the
Surveiller et Punir traces, across a relatively
power which operates in it is not to be conceived of
narrow chronological threshold before and after
as a property, but as a strategy, that its effects of
1800, a transformation in the power to punish;
domination be attributed not to an ‘appropriation’,
La yolonte de Savoir, in a wider-ranging, prelimbut to dispOSitions, manoeuvres, tactics, techinary survey, outlines an ever-proliferating
niques, functions; that one deciphers in it more of
process of investment of the modern regime of
a system of relations always in stress, always in
power in an unprecedented ‘apparatus of sexuality’.

activity than a privilege to be captured; that one
‘By power, I don’t mean “Power” in the sense of
gives as its model perpetual battle, rather than the
a set of institutions and mechanisms which guarantee the subjection of the citizens of a given State …

contract which effects a cession, or the conquest
which takes hold of a domain … This power, moreAn analysis in terms of power should not postulate
over doesn’t impose itself purely and simply, as an
as initial data the sovereignty of the State, the form
obligation or a prohibition, on those who “haven’t
of the law or a global unity of domination; these are
got it”; it invests, traverses and works through
rather only the terminal forms of power. By the
term power it seems to me that one must understand them, just as they themselves, in their struggle
against it, draw support from the very hold power
first of all the multiplicity of relations of force
which are immanent to the domain where they are
exercises on them. Which means that these relaexercised, and are constitutive of its organisation… tions reach deep into the texture of society, that
The omnipresence of power: not at all because it
they aren’t localised in the relation of State to
might have the privilege of regrouping everything
citizens or at the boundaries between classes, and
under its invincible unity, but because it produces
that they don’t merely reproduce at the level of
itself at each instant, at every point, or rather in
individuals, bodies, gestures and behaviour the
ever .relation from one oint to another. Power is
general form of the law or of government; that if
-It be n{‘: a condition and a consequence of these productions of power that
there is a continuity (these relations are indeed
Individuals in general are made, lor the first time, objects of knowledge.

(NB: The·use of the term ‘ideology’ here in a loose, untheoretical scnse
articulated on this general form of power throl1:gh a
Is mine and not Fouc;lult’s; his work is not directed towards the construccomplex series of interactions), there is no analogy
tion of a theory of idcology. Cl. The Order of Things p328; The
perceptible in this formulation of 1970.

Suryeiller et Punir and La Volonte de Savoir
advance, for the first time, a set of general theses
on the history and nature of power itself, with a
critique of the ideology of power as repression: an
ideology whose dominance extends to the radical
left. They examine the histories of two social/
discursive complexes where the language of repression has customarily found its themes and
materials: the prison system and sexuality. Their
common thesis is that the play of power in these
complexes has not, in the modern world, consisted
primarily in the negative procedures of repression
and prohibition, but is characteristically positive,
productive, and creative: a continual process of
proliferating tactics and techniques, which functions in capitalist society by reinforcing both the
relations and the forces of social production, manufacturing, at the concrete physical level, docile,
utilisable social individuals and, at the ‘ideological’

level, constituting individuals as subjects. 6
Foucault is to this extent in agreernent with
Althusser in regarding assujettissement in capitalist societies as meaning not only subjection to, but
also, necessarily, subjectification. In this respect
it would be true to say that Foucault has shown
with greater correctness and historical specificity
than anyone else how (and why) ‘Substance’ becomes
‘Subject’. Moreover, if one can take Foucault’s
genealogical method as correctly positing that, in
history, geneiiis is always also constitution, then
his examination of assujettissemffnt may provide
us with some insights into the true stakes and
dramatis personae of all past and present versions
of the ‘problem of the subject’.

al

Archaeology 01 KnowlC’dge p184-6.)

16

7 La volonte de

&WOlr,

ppi2i-Z3; for the fOlloWing Cf.pp123-7

or homology between the global and the local, but
instead a regional specificity of mechanisms and
modalities. ,8
The development of this theory of power in the
specific investigations of these two books concerns
the interrelated problems of the forms of appear’ance of power (which are also the forms of its
acceptability) and of the modes of its real operation
within and on a particular privileged focus, namely
the body of the individual member of society, on the
one hand through the “institutional discipline and
surveillance of her Ihis physical existence, and on
the other through the organised questioning and
supervision of her Ihis ‘sexuality’ – in both these
cases operating through a regime which is constantly maximising its power by functioning at the same
time as a production of knowledge of the individual.

La Volonte de Sayoir contains a sustained attack
on the dominant notion that the relation of power to
sex is essentially repressive. Foucault argues that
to break away from this conception means at the
same time discarding a certain general view of
power which is prevalent in political analyses and
deeply rooted in European history. This view is
represented in discourse on sexual repression in a
number of ways. First, the relation of power to sex
is negative: power has no hold over sex and its
pleasures, except that of saying no to them. It
produces only absences and lacunae, its effects
have the forms of limit and lack. Secondly, power
acts by pronouncing a rule; the grip of power on sex
is in this way linguistic and discursive; the purest form of power is that of the legislator. Thirdly,
power takes the (paradoxical) form of prohibition
of its objects: ‘renounce yourself on pain of being
suppressed; don’t appear, if you don’t want to disappear; your existence will be prolonged only at
the price of your annulment,g Fourthly, power
operates a logic of censure with three principal
terms: affirming that something is not permitted,
preventing its being spoken, denying that it exists.

Each term supports the other in a circular system,
‘linking the non-existent, the illicit and the nonformulable so as for each to be at once the prinCiple
and effect of the other’ .10 Fifthly, power is a
unitary apparatus; its form of unity is that of the
law, operating in the mutual play of licit and illicit,
transgression and punishment. In all the powerfigures of prince, father, censor, master, ‘power
is schematised under a juridical form; its effects
are defined as those of obedience. In the face of a
power which is law, the subject is constituted as
subject – subjectedl subjectified; the one who
obeys. ’11
Such are the elements of what Foucault calls the
‘juridico-discursive’ representation of power. How
is it that such a curiously restrictive representation
of its operation is accepted? Foucault suggests
two reasons. First, power in general needs an
element of sec:recy; only by a partial masking of
its operations can it be rendered tolerable for its
subjects. ‘Power as a pure limit traced to freedom is, at least in our society, the general form’

of its acceptability.’ No doubt Kant’s equation of
moral freedom with the categorical imperative is
the masterpiece of this jurido-discursive language.

Moreover,. the language of rights and freedoms
(not forgetting duties) is, as Foucault points out in
Surveiller et Punir (pp223-5), consonant with a
system of maximising disciplinary controls. The
8 SillJ~gillgL’~l PurULPp31-3:i
9 J..1..YQlontE’ dE’ Sa voir, p111
10 Ibid, pIll

11 Ibid, p112

greater the valorisation of the individual as ideal
subject (and intensification of his real technicaleconomic value), the greater is the demand and the
legitimation for techniques of individual training
and re-training.

The second reason is historical. The monarchical state apparatus triumphed in the Middle Ages
in the guise of an instance of regulation, arbitration and limitation of the previous tangle of
economiC, civil and military rights and obligations;
monarchical law imposed itself as a principle of
order and hierarchy for ot1jler, pre-existing instances of power. ‘Its formula pax et justitia
denotes, in this function to which it laid claim,
peace as the prohibition of private and-‘feudal wars,
and justice as the way of suspending the private
settlement of claims in law. .. Law (droit) was
not Simply a weapon skilfully deployed by the
monarch~; for the monarchical system it was the
mode of its manifestation, and the form of its
acceptability. Since the Middle Ages, in western
societies, the exercise of power has always been
formulated through the law. ’12 Although correct
in its substance, the critique of monarchy dating
from the 17th century which portrays the king as
an arbitrary power setting himself above the law,
neglects the fact that the principles of universal
justice by which it condemns the monarchy are the
same principles which the monarchy used to gain
acceptability for itself and curtail the rights and
freedoms of classes. These principles themselves
were never called in question by the anti-monarchist. ‘At bottom, despite differences between
periods and objectives, the representation of power
has remained haunted by monarchy. In pOlitical
analysis and thought, we have still not cut off the
king’s head. ’13 At the present time the ‘hypotheSiS
of repression’ concerning sexuality envisages and
directs its liberationist critique under the guidance
of a conception· of the hold of social power over sex
which is framed in terms of law. La yolonte de
Savoir suggests that the historically rooted form
of this critique permits it to be incorporated in and
exploited by a regime of power which it has profoundly misrecognised. The real character of this
regime is the question, to which these books propose
an original and radical answer.

Birth of the prison
Surveiller et Punir, subtitled ‘Birth of the prison’,
traces the transformation in penal theory and practice in France between 1780 and 1840. The narrative has three main phases: the style of criminal
trial and punishment under the ancien regime, the
programme of penal reform advanced by Ideologue
writers in the revolutionary period arid their
Enlightenment precursors, and the new penal
institutions established after the Revolution with
their associated police and legal apparatuses. The
socio-historical scope of the book, however,
ranges beyond this dottlain and period because
Foucault shows that the new prisons do not correspond to the penal theories of the first generation of
reformers, but are rather the successor and the
apotheOSiS of a complex of diSCiplinary procedurel1
evolved over the preceding three centuries in a
variety of different social institutions; the prison is
the focus of the synthesis of disciplinary techniques
with the reformers’ ideology of punishment, and of
their intensification and transformation into a new
type of apparatus of political and social power
12 Ibid, pp1l4~5
13 Ibid, p117

17

which, transcending particular institutions functions as a paradigm for modern society in ~ome of
its fundamental aspects: the ‘carceral society’.

Surveiller et Punir links up with Foucault’s work
of the 19608 by presenting the genealogy of one of
the ‘human sciences’ – penology/criminology; and
by reconstructing the formation of one of the
seminal incarnations of the modern ‘soul’, the Man
of the human sciences – the criminal. Before
attempting a summary of the book it should be said
that Foucault shows himself once again here to be
a virtuoso of the archive; his extraordinarily rich
and dense text is stunningly documented from
original sources, deployed in a subtle and complex
exposition. 14
Readers will perhaps be surprised by the problematisation of a ‘birth of the prison’ dated at the
beginning of the 19th century; the prison as such is
not after all an invention of the Napoleonic period.

But in fact confinement was not primarily conceived in the ancien regime as an instrument of
judicial punishment, and it occupied at best a
marginal place in its penal system. in 1767
Serpillon writes in his Code Criminel that ‘prison
is not regarded as a punishment in our ci vil law’;
a statute of 1670 does not mention imprisonment
among the penalties of the law. In France, imprisonment was either an obsolescent, or a local
and regional practice numbered among the range
of trivial penalties. Execution, corporal punishment and mutilation, the galleys, fines, public
exposure occupy the major penal roles. ‘Prisons,
in the intention of the law, being destined not for
punishment but only for assuring onself of their
persons •.. ,15 The ‘general hospitals’ of Paris
and the provinces indeed make up, as was shown
in Madness and Civilisation, a massive system
for the extra-juridical confinement of troublesome
and deviant individuals; but in law the prisons
function primarily as a place of detention for
accused persons, as well as, for instance, juvenile convicts not yet old enough for the galleys.

The place of the prison is only one of the radical
differences between the criminal law of the 18th
and 19th cenh1ries. Foucault begins by characterising the forensic practices of the ancien regime
in France (which resembled those of most other
European countries, with the exception of England).

Crucial is the relationship of the judicial process
to the accused. In the 18th century judicial investigation is conducted secretly and in writing as an
assembling of ‘proofs’; as the instrument of kingly
.sovereignty, the court retains sole and absolute
power over the investigation and its truth. Proof of
guilt is arrived at additively: a combination of ‘halfproofs’ is reckoned to equal a ‘full proof’; moreover a ‘partial proof’ in itself signifies a partial
culpability an~ justifies a partial punishment; a
suspect is already, as such, culpable to a certain
degree which merits a degree of punishment custodial imprisonment, interrogation administered
in the course of the trial itself. The accused himself enters the procedure directly only at the stage
where he is confronted by the proofs of guilt and
induced to make a confession by an institutionalised
and carefully regulated use of torture. A confession
has the virtue of being the completest possible
proof, making other proofs superfluous; on the other
hand, a prisoner who does not confess under torture
is (normally) exempted from the maximum penalty
14

Foucault himseU summarises some oC the principal themes of Surveiller
n…&!l.ll in ‘Prison Talk'(Radical Philosophy 16). I try here to ~
duplicating this material.

1~ Quoted Sur’ciller ct Punir, p_122. Cf. pp1l9-22

18

he would otherwise suffer.

This physical, corporal struggle ‘for the truth,
and overlapping of trial and punishment, extends to
the execution of the penal sentence par excellence,
the supplice (contemporary definition: ‘A corporal,
painful, more or less atrocious punishment’). The
explicit rationale of the supplice is as..an act of
royal vengeance on one who by his crime (whatever
its other consequences) has violated the sovereignty
of the king; conceived metaphorically as an assault
on the physical form of the sovereign, 16 crime is
repaid literally, in kind, in a form whose greater
intensification reaffirms the absoluteness of the
violated royal power. The execution of sentence is
commonly accompanied by a display of military
force, while the executioner acts as the champiop
of the king who if he fails in his duties may be penalised in place of the prisoner. This procedure of
penal torture has a number of additional features
and functions. The display of symbolism accompanying the ceremony makes the convict into ‘the herald
of his own condemnation … the convict publishes
his crime and the justice he has been made to render by bearing them physically on his own body’ ;17
his public confession before execution prolongs his
trial through a climactic revelation of judicial truth;
the place and means of execution can be used to
establish an immediate symbolic, even theatrical,
correlation between the cr~me and the punishment;
the protraction and gradation of torture, finally,
serve as an ultimate extraction-revelation of truth
through the victim’s public contrition. ‘Judicial
torture, in the 18th century, operates in this
strange economy where the ritual which produces
truth goes together with the ritual which imposes
punishment. The body interrogated in the supplice
constitutes the point of application of .punishment
and the place of extortion of truth. And just as presumption is an integral part of the trial and a fragment of guilt, the regulated suffering of the interrogation is at once a measure of punishment and an
act of inquiry. ,18 The precise function of torture /
supplice is that of ‘a revealer of truth and an operator of power. It assures the articulation of the
written on the oral, the secret on the public, the
procedure of enquiry on the operation of the confession … ‘ Nothing is more foreign to 19th-century
justice than this intimacy between the court of law
and the punishment it prescribes.

It is thus clear why Foucault regards the history
of punishment as needing to be located within a
‘history of the body’; the central peculiarity of
classical penal practice is not so. much its singular
explOitation of corporal violence as the role which
it assigns to the body of the criminal as the point of
integration of power and truth. With the ending of
the supplice, penal practice does not migrate from
the corporal to a disembodied field of moralisation,
but transforms the value, the place and the fate of
the body within a new regime which is none the
less still centred on it. It produces ‘the soul,
prison of the body’. 19
The ‘Ideology’ of the reforming literature which
mediated this transformation proposed effectively
to elide the physical dimension of punishment in
farour of a ‘penal semiotics’, a ‘technique of punitive signsl; its punishments were to consist in the
public display of convicts in a manner calculated to
act as a prophylaxis for the minds of the populace.

The ideas of crime and punishment must be tightly
)6 Foucault cites on this E, Kantorowitz, The King’s Two Bodies

17 Kafka’s story ‘In the Penal Colony’ contains an ingenious elaboration of
this theme.

’18 Suryelllcr et Punlr p46
. 19 Ibid, p34

connected and ‘succeed each other without interval ••
When you have thus formed the chain of ideas in the
heads of your citizens, you may then pride yourself
in being their guide and master. An imbecile despot
can bind his slaves with iron chains; but a true
politician binds them more tightly with the chain of
their own ideas, its end attached to the solid base
of reason – a bond which is all the stronger because
we are ignorant of its substance and believe it to be
of our own making; time and despair can wear down
bonds of iron or steel, but can do nothing against
the habitual union of ideas, except tie them more
firmly still; and it is on the soft fibres of the brain
that the unshakeable base of the strongest empires
is to be founded. ’20 Punishment as terrorism is to
be replaced by punishment as moral representation;
it continues the form of the public and the theatrical
but changes the tone from the horrific to the
‘picturesque’ .

The reform programme of the Ideologues rested
on a multiple critique of the supplice, for its dangerous ambiguity (liable to induce outrage and rebellion
as easily as political edification); for its ineffectiveness (because of an imagined upsurge of violent
crime, ana of a real and economically unacceptable
increase in crimes against property); and for the
irregularity of its convictions and penalties. It
substituted for the deliberate excess of the supplice
a technique of measure and calculation. Excessive
punishments are politically and morally dangerous;
‘it is necessary to punish crime exactly enough in
order to prevent it: just enough to outweigh the
hope of criminal gain.’ ‘What is to be maximised
is the (public) representation of punishment, not
its corporal real ity’; the physical person of the
criminal is the least significant object of the spectacle; the ‘representation’ of justice necessitates
its perfect certainty and truth; the procedure of
judicial investigation must follow the pattern of
research, not that of inquisition, and judiCial
judgement must approximate to judgement pure and
simple. The penal code calls for a sort of double
taxonomy, a ‘Linnaeus of crimes and punishments’ :21
crimes must be exhaustively classified and speci,fied, while penalties are individualised according
to the nature of the criminal, his wealth, his class.

The casuistic tradition of ancient jurisprudence and
the confessional, whose object of knowledge was the
illicit act, begin at the same time to give place, in
penal concern with recidivism and the ‘crime
passionnel’, to the investigation of the criminal
individual as a delinquent subject, a criminal will.

The discourse of ‘Ideology’22 utilised by the reform,
ers is in this respect a partial precursor of
criminology. This discourse ‘provided in fact,
through the theory of interests, representations and
signs, through the series and geneses (of
ideas) which it reconstituted, a sort of
general recipe for the exercise of power over men:

the “spirit” as the surface of inscription for power,
with semiology as the instrument; the subjection of
bodies through control of ideas; the analysis of
representations, as the principle of a politics of
bodies far more effective than the ritualised anatomy of the supplices. ’23
This reforming literature was directed against
punishment by imprisonment; the secrecy of the
prison was associated, as in the flagrant example
of the Hopital Generale, with the arbitrary royal,
20‘ Suryelller et Punir, pl05, quoting from J. M. Servan, Discours sur
l’administration de la justice criminelle 1767, p35
21 Cf. Suryeiller et Punir, pl02
22. (wh,ose ‘Ne~ton’, according to CondillacJ was John Locke)
23 Survciller et Punlr, plO:i

power of the lettre de cachet. The new prison
system in France, therefore, depended on other
methods anq examples in the field of penitentiary
technique. Foucault cites as the earliest such
initiative in,correctional confinement the Rasphuis
and Spinhuis founded at Amsterdam in 1596, which
practised a form of pedagogical and spiritual transformation of the individual by the imposition of a
system of continuous exercise. In the 18th century
three important foundations introduced a number of
new themes into penal ,technique. The Ghent
reformatory (1749) stressed the function of the
restraining of the prisonet as labourer: the reconstruction of a ‘homo economicus’; in England
Hanway’s.proposals (1775) and Howard and
Blackstone’s Act (1779), implemented notably in
Gloucester prison, emphasised solitary labour as
the optimal method of individual correction; the
Walnut street prison in Philadelphia specified the
non-pUblicity of punishment as a requirement for
its effectiveness as a process demanding a rigorous surveillance and classification of the individual
prisoner – ‘a sort of permanent observatory which
permits the separating out of the varieties of vice
and weakness’. These experiments shared the
Ideologues’ concern with the role of punishment as
prevention, the specificity of penalties and knowledge of the individual, but differed from them
fundamentally at the level of technique – and therefore of policy. To the reformers’ fantasies of a
public domain saturated by moral representations,
there is opposed the necessity of closed institutions
in which the delinquent, instead of being placed on
display as a social enemy, is ‘taken in charge’ in
the totality of his physical daily existe’nce, and
made, by the operation of an absolute institutional
power, the subject not of an ideal and generalised
but of a concrete, individualised, ‘orthopa~dic’,
process of correction. The pure legal subject thus
becomes the real human individual, according to
Foucault, in the shape of a body to be trained.

Discipliae
The question of precisely how and why this institutional technique conquered the field of penal practice is the fulcrum of Foucault’s exposition. He
does not, as with the hospital i~ Birth of the CliniC,
relate the political struggles throug~ which this
penal policy was adopted after the Revolution. In
point of fact his treatment indicates that the questioIl
of the systematic adoption of imprisonment as penal
policy is perhaps wrongly posed; the problem is the
wider and profounder one of the constitution of
punishment as discipline, 24 of the prison as the
point for the totalisation and perfection of a polymorphous disciplinary technique previously elaborated within a variety of other institutions. It is not
surprising that this is also the point where ‘questions of method’ separate Foucault from more
24 The problematic here is formulated by Nietzsche: cf. On the Gimealogy of
~,II, p13. ‘To return to our subject, namely punishment, one
must distinguish two aspects: on thc one hand, that in it which is relatively
enduring, the custom, the act, the “drama”, a certain strict sequence of
procedures; on the other hand, that in it which is fluid, the meaning, the
purpose, the expectation associated with the performance of such procedures. In accordance with the previously developed major point of historical
method, it is assumed without further ado that the procedure itself will be
something older, earlier than its employment in punishment, that the
latter is projected and interpreted into the procedure (which has long
existed but been employed in another sense), in short, that Ule case is not
as has hithcrto been assumed by our naive genealogists of law and morals,
who have one and all thought of the procedure as invented for the purpose
of punishing, just as one formerly thought of the hand as invented for the
purpose of grasping. •• the previous history of punishment in general, the
history of its employment for the most various-purposes, finally crystallises into a kind of unity that is hard to disentangle, hard to analyse and,
as must be emphasised especially, totally indefinable. (Today it is
impossible to say for certain why people are really punished: all concepts
in which an entire process is semiotically concentrated elude definition;
only that which has no history is definable.)’ (translated by Kaufmann and
Hollingdale, Random House, 1969)

19

‘orthodox’ social historians; the eiaboration of
control through discipline is a paradigm case of
Foucault’s ‘intentional but non-subjective’ regimes
of power whose institution cannot be reconstructed
as a history of conscious individual or collective
..hoices.

Marx noted in Capital how the development of a
disciplinary apparatus (and penal code: ‘the la wgiving talent of the factory Lycurgus’) is an essential part of the social regulation of the labour-process in the capitalist mode of production.

Foucault’s genealogy of discipline stands in close
continuity with Vo!. I, part 4 of Capital; he refers
explicitly to Marx’s discussion there of the relations between technology, the division of labour
and the elaboration of disciplinary procedures. 25
But Foucault contributes an added dimension to the
study of ‘the production and reproduction of the
capitalist’s most indispensable means of production:

the worker’. 26 The worker as such is not produced
solely through his insertion into large-scale industry as a ‘living appendage of the machine’, or by
his ‘mutilation’ and ‘crippling’ through the division
of la,bour imposed by manufacture. The positive,
productive arts of discipline function as an analYSis
and transformation of the individual as human
machine – both morally and.physiologically – and
construct a macroscopic model of social mechanics
complementary to that of industrial technology. In
the 19th century, ‘the prison is not a factory; it is,
it must be in itself a machine of which the prisoner /
workers are at once the cogs and the products’ 27
– or, in the words of a contemporary reformer,
‘Labour should be the religion of the prisons. For
a society-machine, purely mechanical methods of
reform are needed. ‘ 28
During the 17th century, concomitantly with the
use of large standing armies, the ‘soldier’, as
specified in his necessary bodily characteristics,
ceased to be a recognisable type identified and
selected from among a population, and became a
type to be produced through military training. The
elaboration of this science was coeval with the influence of Descartes’ mechanical speculations on
physiology and La Mettrie’s L’Homme-Machine
(‘at once a materialist reduction of the soul and a
general theory of training (dressage)’; both drew
inspiration from the celebrated clockwork automata of the period, which ‘were not just a way of
illustrating the human organism; they were also
political dolls, miniature models of power: the
obsession of. Frederick I I, the scrupulous king of
little machines, well-trained regiments and long
exercises. ,29 The focal concept of ‘dOCility’

deSignates this dynamic and constantly intensifiable
interrelation of the attributes of knowability,
malleability and utility of individuals. Foucault
notes the general concern, throughout the 18th
century, with the knowledge of the infinitely small
and the ‘discipline of the miniscule’. La Salle’s
rules for the Christian Brothers’ schools stress
‘how dangerous it is to neglect the little things ••. ‘;
the young Bonaparte dreamed of becoming the
Newton of the microscopic. This military pedagogy
was characteristically ‘analytic/ specific’, analysing
physical manoeuvres into their smallest temporal
segments, and scientifically founding uniform regulations on the study of individual anatomical variations, operating the repetition of precisely defined
exercises and achieving its results within an un.:.

25
26
27
28
29

And also to F. Guerry and D, Deleule, Le corps productif, i973
Pelican, p718
Suryelller et Pun.iL p245
Cited in ~vei!ler et Punir p246
Ibid, p138

CiIillill Vol. I,

2.0

1)1
R.epofl~-‘Vous fur ‘/JO!

·armfS.

E commandement s’execute en
. . ,. quatre temps: le prCn)~cr, en
ctendant le bras droit vls-1.vis la

C

cravatte •.:le mou(quet,!’ lante ,droit
crolli.c. :. le fe,on. tcmp. s) en
l?iifanr g~r it mouf<juet au dell'QUS
de la celn~urc de la Culotte, &; en
haull'ant l;u».ain gauche au bout du
l:anon du lU,ol1fquet: le ttoiueme,
elllailfallt]~mbcr la troifc dumouC
'luet:&l~ kluatrieme ,en gtiffam la
n;a~ldl.:9itel'0ur la joindre llanllllll
galij;!w.

fur fa

P. Gi ttart ,.l…!.All mi litaiE,l francais, 1696 (reproduce

in SyryBillBr

~ ~).

interrupted, calibrated temporal continuum. With
the stop-watch and the parade ground, knowledge
and power elaborate the structure of a ‘disciplinary
time’. This ‘analytical pedagogy’ foreshadows the
paramilitary social regimes of prisons and other
‘total institutions’, and in turn draws upon and refines the disciplinary traditions of Christian monasticism, which received a new impetus and elaboration with the Jesuit colleges in the 16th century.

Foucault proposes a general analysis of the common
disciplinary regime of armies, schools, workshops
and reformatories (whose inherently multipurpose
character is reflected in the curious hybrid foundations of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as
convent-prisons and convent-factories, and reaches
its apogee in the penitentiary school at Mettray
(founded in 1840), ‘the model which concentrated
all the coercive technologies of behaviour’, those
of family, workshop, army, school a.nd judicial/
penal system: ‘the first normal school of pure
discipline’). Discipline involves a typical spatial as
well as temporal technique: an enclosed site
(barracks and factory follow, in this, the model of
the convent), a cellular geometrical organisation
and subdivision (classroom, workshop), a mobile
assignment and ordering, in a space at once ideal
and real, of hierarchical ranks (the ‘legions’ of the
Jesuit schools, the complex seating plans of classrooms) – visible taxonomies like those of botanical
gardens, making possible ‘at once the characterisation of the individual as individual, and the ordering of a given multiplicity. ‘ Individuation as a
technique of discipline.

These procedures are supported by specific
techniques of enforcement. Firstly, ‘apparatuses
of hierarchical surveillance t : the style of ‘architecture’ of the military camp, ‘diagram of a power
which acts by the effect of a general visibility’.

Hospitals, military schools and factories adopt a
spatial plan which ensures the complete visibility
of their inmates; a new intermediary class of
specialised overseers, like the ‘student/officers t
of the mutual schools, takes up the functions of
surveillance. Secondly, an apparatus of ‘normalising sanctions’: miniature institutional penal
systems develop, in which quasi-juridical constraints exist to enforce natural norms, punishments themselves take the characteristic form of
exercises and repetitions isomorphous with
obligatory behaviour itself, and individuals are
continually graded, on a bi-polar continuum between
reward and punishment as members in a parareligious economy, a moral accountancy of
‘penances’ and ‘exemptions’; the knowability of the
individuals is maximised at the same time as

their surveillance to the families of their sutljects.

With the prisons, the police, and the new juridicalpenal conception of criminality, a whole social
class is opened up to institutional management and
an observation which extends political power to embrace the smallest details of social life – the pOlice
were early exhorted to keep an eye on ‘everything
which happens’. (As Foucault explains in ‘Prison
Talk’ – Radical Philosophy 16 – the bankruptcy of
the reformative functions of the prisons by no
means impairs their usefulness as instruments for
the extraction of surplus power, and it is an indication of the over-determined potentialities of the
Th~
disciplinary regime that, as he remarks, it is
Given, then, the prior empiacement, by the period
always the prison which is proposed as ‘its own
of penal reform, of a system which superposed the
remedy’ by reformers of the reformatory. ) The
functions of discipline, pedagogy, surveillance and
criminal is henceforth understood not through his
punishment, it becomes intelligible bow, once it was act, but through his life, which becomes the object
politically established that the judicial power to
of the combined curiosity of the law and the criminpunish in a constitutional state must take the form
ologist, and which receives the correlative ideal
of reformation, not revenge, there rapidly appeared form of a ‘disciplinary career’. The continuum
a new empire of penitentiary institutions in which
established between discipline, law and punishpunishment meant placing, under surveillance.

ment and the scientific normalisation of the legal
Foucault’s fascinating and many-faceted reconstruc- has the effects of ‘lowering the threshold of social
tion of this process cannot adequately be presented
tolerance of penalty’ and of creating ‘not just a
here. What is perhaps most worth bringing out is
new right to punish, but a new acceptance of
the epoch-making significance of the thematisation
punishment’.

and elaboration of the technique of surveillance itself.

It was said above that for Foucault the
(1) It signifies an ‘inversion in the political axis
‘juridico-discursive’ form of appearance of power
of individualisation’ and ‘transforms the whole
has ceased to represent its essence but continues
social body into a field of perception’. It has not
to provide it with its acceptable mask. Here, it
always been the subject, rather than the ruler,
seems that the inalienable power of civil society
whose individuality is of primary concern, nor the
to punish its members continues to serve as the
child who has always been more intensely individual·, underlying ‘natural’ legitimation of the penal prinised than the adult. The beginnings of the institution· ciple, while at the same time the ‘purpose’ of
al practice of documenting ‘cases’, ‘keeping files’

intensified disciplinary control is able to invest
on individuals, goes together with a ‘deglorification’ the ‘custom’ of judicial punishment, elimimte the
of writing and biography; no longer are the personal
appearance of violence previously inseparable from
it, and fabricate an acceptable procedure of. normallives of kings the only ones worthy of written desisation and power which it can bequeath to the noncription. This shift from the visibility of the ruler
punitive social institutions of medicine, psychiatry,
to the visibility of the sqbject appears in the reign
education, public assistance and ‘social work’.

of Louis XIV in the shape of the mass military
Perhaps it is part of the strategic role of the
review as a power-display which inverts the form
prison in transmuting the mode of production of
of the Roman triumph. The individual as subject is
power that the disciplinary regime makes possible
not just the ‘fictive atom’ of a mercantile ideology,
techniques of power in which discipline itself bebut a fabricated reality – the work of a productive
come s barely recognisable.

power. ‘Knowable man (soul, individuality, consciousness, behaviour, no matter Which) is the
Sexuality and the will to truth
object-effect of this analytical investment, this
‘The will to truth, which is still going to tempt us
domination-observation’ .

to many a hazardous enterprise; that celebrated
The theme of visibility is elaborated in specific
veraCity of which all philosophers have hitherto
historical models, both real and imaginary.

spoken with reverence: what questions this will to
Foucault cites from the late 17th century the rules
truth has already set before us! What strange,
for plague towns in France – a total administration
wicked, questionable questions! It-is already a
which immobilises and isolates each street and
long story – yet does it not seem as if it has only
household, imposing a regular, compulsory inspecjust begun? Is it any wonder that we should at
tion of their inhabitants; at the opposite pole from
least grow distrustful, lose our patience., turn
this state of exception, contemporary with the penal
impatiently a way? That this sphinx should teach us
reforms, is Bentham’s project for a ‘Panopticon’,
too to ask questions? Who really is it that here
a circular building composed of cage-like cells
questions us? What really is it in us that wants
whose occupants can be continuously observed from
“the truth,,?31 – Nietzsche, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’

a single closed and darkened tower at its centre:

visibility as a trap. Whether implemented in the
(1885).

form of a factory or a prison, the plan synthesises
Michel”Foucault, following no doubt in Nietzsche’ s
the productive function of the institution with a
footsteps, proposes an interrogation of the will to
power of minimal effort and maximal effect: the
sexual truth. He uses the metaphor of Diderot’s
model for a diSCiplinary society.

‘Les bijous indiscretes’. ‘This magic ring, this
jewel
which is so indiscreet when it’s a matter of
(2) The archipelago of institutions of surveillance
making
others speak, but so ineloquent about its
is the base for the diSCiplinary colonisation of a
own
mechanism,
it’s this which we must now make
whole society. In the 18th century the schools, the
loquacious
in
its
turn,
it’s of itself that. it must be
hospitals and the public charities began to extend
31 . Part One’ On the Preiudices of Pbllosophers 1 (translated tiy a. J.

control, and assignment of visible rank can count
as a reward in itself; the essence of normalisation
consists in its power simultaneously of homogenising and individualising its subjects. Thirdly, the
special ceremonies of inspection and examination
– the origins, for Foucault, of the methods of the
‘human sciences’. with their questions, notat:j.ons
and classifications. In the schools, examination is
integrated with teaching through daily, competitive
tests; education takes the form of a .continuous twoway exchange of knowledge, a mutually reinforcing
cycle of learning and surveillance.

‘ca..ce ..al a ..chipelago

cad

Holl1ngdale, Pt:l1guill, 1973)

21

made to speak..• ’32
La Volonte de Savoir is the introduction to a
projected six-volume ‘History of Sexuality’, at once
a theoretical preface and an overview of the terrain
to be covered by the subsequent volumes. Its central thesis amounts to something of Copernican
revolution – the denial that the development in the
politics of sexuality for the past three or more centuries in the west can be adequately understood in
terms of repression and censorship, and the assertion that the 20th century’s talk of sexual repression, the ‘great sexual evangelism’ which prophecies an emancipated future and denounces a past
which ‘sinned against’ sex, is in reality a historically determined tactic within a strategy of power
whose essence is, not the suppression, but the
proliferation and incitement of sexualities and the
multiplication of discourses about sex. Foucault
proposes to examine the origin of the modern
‘question’ of sex, of a double process of questioning – the extraction from sex both of its truth, and
of ours. It is the question of the truth of this questioning which is now posed by Foucault. What is
the origin and meaning of this ‘speaking sex’, this
‘fantastic animal housed in us’, and of this ‘game
of truth and sex’ which the 19th century has bequeathed to us’, in which ‘pleasure mingled with the
involuntary, and consent with inquisition’?

If surveillance is the central device in the genealogy of prisons, the confession has a similar
place in that of the ‘apparatus of sexuality’. It is
with the mediaeval development of the confessional
that the modern interrogation has its origin. The
changing meaning of the word ‘aveu’ follows the
changing meaning of the ‘truth’ to be spoken – from
the ‘authentification of the individual by reference
to others and his ties with others’ (the aveu of the
feudal bond), to ‘the discourse of truth he is
capable of conducting about himself’. ‘The avowal
of truth is inscribed at the heart of procedures of
individuation by power. ‘ Where Nietzsche spoke of
western history as breeding an ‘animal with the
right to make promises’, 33 Foucault speaks of
modern man as a ‘bete d’aveu’ – a confessing
animal. The problematic of repression articulates
on to, and is perfectly compatible with, the
strategy of confession. Repression implies a
secret, hidden and guilty: this theme of the enigmatic truth which it is for us to uncover, the
secret of sex, ‘is not the fundamental reality in
relation to ‘which all the incitations to speak about
it are situated – whether they really attempt to
resolve it, or whether they somehow prolong it
through their very way of speaking. It is more a
question of a theme which is part of the mechanism
of these incitations: a way of giving form to the
requirement to speak of it, an indispensable fable
for the indefinitely proliferating economy of discourse on sex. ,34 We no longer perceive the
obligation of confession as the effect on us of a
constraining power, but as a demand of our own
secret truth to reveal itself; ‘if it does not do ‘so,
we believe that some constraint is holding it back,
that the violence of some power is weighing upon it,
and that it will only be able finally to articulate itself at the cost of a kind of liberation. Avowal frees,
power reduces to silence •.. ’35 This modern philosophy of truth through self-interrogation is an
Ihslolre de la Scx~lite Vol.l: La Vol~nte de Sayoir (Gallimard, 1976)
pi 04
33 On the GenE’alogy of Morals, 11, pt. {‘Man himseU must first of all have
beeome calculable, regular !!£.Cessary, even in his own image of himseU,
If he Is to be able to stand security for his own future, which is what one
who promises does! ‘ (ibid»
34 pp48-9
35 p80

12

22

‘inverted representation’ of the real operations of
the ‘political history of truth’, a ruse of power – of
the strategy of subjectification – belonging to the
essence of the confession. The avowal, as it determines the constitution of sexuality as an object of
knowledge, is defined by Foucault as a ritual of
discourse in which the subject who speaks coincides
with the subject of the statement; which is deployed
within a powe:r relationship; where truth is authenticated by the obstacles and resistances which it
must lift in order to be formulated, and where the
utterance itself produces intrinsic changes in the
utterer. Foucault stresses repeatedly that the
reason for the constant valorisation and sensitisation of the truth of sexuality is not to be sought in
the preeminent intrinsic significance of the pleasures of bodies or the functions of reproduction, but
in the multiple challenges and opportunities for
invention and exploitation which the question
presents for the economy of knowledge/power. 36
In the 19th century, the fear of impending scandal
which accompanies the project of a science of the
sexual, and the initially paradoxical appearance of
a theory centred on the individual reflect the magnitude of the task of creating a ‘confessional science’

and the massive consequences of the postUlates
upon which the science was founded. Among these
postulates Foucault numbers: the clinical synthesis
of examination and confession, of visual observation of pathological symptoms and verbal interrogation of their subject; the positing of a generalised
and diffuse sexual causality, as manifested in the
astonishing 19th-century proliferation of sexual
aetiologies; the postulate of the ‘intrinsic latency’

of sexuality, of that which is hidden from the subject himself – hence the need for constraint to a
different avowal; the necessity for an interpreter
who can ‘duplicate the revelation of the conf°ession
with the decipherment of what it says’; the postulate of a morbidity proper to the sexual, of the
essential sexual duality of the normal and the
pathological, with the therapeutical correlate of a
cure accomplished purely through the eliCiting of
sexual truth.

If ‘sexuality’ is indeed constituted by a complex
of discursive practices involving the scientific
deployment of the confeSSion, the genealogical
importance of the historical derivations linking the
penitential with Krafft-Ebing is evident. The confessional was first instituted in a compulsory
annual form in the 13th century; during the CounterReformation it underwent both an intensification of
its frequency and an evolution of method and
emphasis, which ‘makes the flesh into the root of
all sins, and displaces its most important moment
from the act itself to the perturbations,.t so difficult
to perceive and formulate, of desire. ‘J7 Increasing
discretion about direct reference to the bodily act,
but also increasing pertinacity in probing and
rendering into discourse the concupiscence of the
soul. An infinite task; and an illustration of the
thesis that a part.ial censorship can serve an overall
process of incitement to discourse.

The terrain of the confession of sex widens again
with its gradual ’emigration’ from the sacrament
and the bond with moral theology to the relationships of pedagogy, adult and child, family, Pledicine and psychiatry. ‘The confession opens out, if
not on to new domains, at least to new ways of
traversing them. It is not simply a question of say36 ‘In ever narrowing circles, the project of a science of the subject has

tended to gravitate around the question of sex •.. not by reason of some
Datural property inherent in sex itself, but as a function of the t.’lctlcs of
power immanent in this discourst’. ‘ (ibid p99)
37 Ibid, p28

ing what has been done – the semal act – and how;
but of reestablishing in and around it the thoughts
which double it, the 0l?se~~_ions that accompany it,
the images, the desires, the modulations and
quality of the pleasure that inhabit it. ‘

Parallel developments took place in the social
principles of regulating sexual practices. The
triple mediaeval system of canon law, civil law
and pastoral supervision concentrated its attention
on the marriage relationship and its infringement.

The criminal status of ‘sodomy’ was vague and uncertain, the sexuality of children a matter of indifference; there was no clear discrimination in
terms of culpability between the ‘illicit’ and the
‘unnatural’, between marriage without consent and
bestiality, copulation during Lent and rape – or
rather the ‘against nature’ was only the extreme
form of the ‘against the law’. (The hermaphrodite
was a constitutionally criminal being. ) From the
18th century on, this pattern is progressively transformed. The normality of the heterosexual monogamous marriage is increasingly shrouded in privacy and discretion, while attention shifts towards
more marginal infractions. An increasing separation appears between the instances which detect and
sanction on the one hand breaches of the legislation
and morality of marriage and the family, and on the
other infractions of natural sexual functioning.

Beneath the libertine appears the pervert. But what
Foucault particularly emphasises is that the phenomenon is not solely one of a redirection of attention,
of a more discriminate visibility, but also of a production of sexualities, an ‘implantation of perversions’. Where only acts are in question, we can
perhaps speak of perversities; the language of
perversions – and the reality – become possible
only when, beyond and through the act, the individual is seized in his totality.

Foucault distinguishes four of the ‘implantations
of perversities’. Firstly, particularly with the
emergence of the campaign against child masturbation, the contradiction in the practice of prohibiting
something whose (natural) existence is at the same
time denied gives rise to the constituting of
‘perverse’ pleasures as secrets, making them conceal themselves in order to be then uncovered.

Within the strategy of ‘anchoring on the family a
whole medico-sexual regime’, the vice of masturbation figures in reality more as the support of the
campaign against it than as its enemy. What appear
to be barriers to the pleasures of the body function
in fact as the lines of their penetration by power. 39
Secondly, and follOwing on from this policy of
pursuit, there is the process of ‘incorporation of
perversions’, the formation of a new prinCiple of
specification of the individual. To the juridical subject of the illegal act of sodomy there succeeds the
‘homosexual personality’, a perverted essence
pervading the subject’s entire being and consubstantial with his person: his homosexuality (as
with the voices of the Baron de Charlus in Proust)
becomes a secret which his body betrays in his
every act and gesture. This discpurse of specification flowers in the bizarre 19th-century taxonomies
of sexual perversion, and the appearance in 1870
of the concept of ‘inversion ‘ engenders the concept
of the homosexual as a distinct human ‘species’ marked b a ‘hermaphroditism of the soul’, an

‘inner androgyny’. Thirdly, the technology of
sexual health and pathology, as it takes it upon
itself to ‘grapple with the sexual body’, creates
a new form of interplay between power and pleasure
a game of hide and seek in which ‘pleasure diffuses
itself on the power which pursues it, while power
anchors the pleasure which it has uncovered’ i ‘the
“pleasure of analysis”, in the widest sense of the
phrase’. Lastly, Foucault numbers the bourgeois
family itself among the principal sites for ‘apparatuses of sexual saturation’: the multiple relationships between parents, children, nurses and
domestics ,creaj:e a proliferating system of sexual
power, danger, surveillance and deviation.

The historically determined characters of
sexuality ‘correspond’, Foucault arroes, ‘to the
functional exigencies of discourse’. 0 ‘The
various sexualities are all correlates of precise
procedures of power. ‘ The proliferation of perversions is ‘the real product of the interference between a type of power and bodies and their pleasures. ’41 Hence, ‘the history of sexuality – that is,
of what functioned in the 19th century as a specific
domain of truth – must be undertaken, to begin
with, from the point of view o(a history of discourses. ,42 The multiplication of these discourses
derives from the position occupied by sex as a
particularly rich and fruitful nexus for “relations of
power. The” last four of the six volumes of
Foucault’s ‘History’ are planned to examine in
detail four distinct ‘strategic ensembles’ in the
creation around sex of apparatuses of knowledge /
power. 43 These are:

(1) The ‘hystericisation’ of the woman’s body: the
analysis of the woman’s body as one which is
40
41
42
43

Ibid, p91
Ibid, pp65-6

Ibid, p92
The titles of the five furthe:” volumes to be published are: (2) La chair et
le corps (the flesh and the bodYi; (3) La croisade des enfants (the children’f
crusade); (4) La femme, la mere et l’hysterique (the Wife, the mother and
the hysteric); (5) Les pervt:rs (the perverts); (6) Population et races.

s us ra es aga n e essen a y su r ina e unc on 0 a censors p
within the ‘apparatus of sexuality’; on one level schools end!!avour to
eliminate tile sexual component of children’s language, while on another
they erect a pedagogical discourse about their (non-)scxual1ty. Foucault
suggests that thc former may hnve been a necessary condition for thc
Atter. Possibly.lt I!! a gene”l condition of the constituting of a subject
as ‘bete d’aven’ that (becau6c of this discursive ‘cordon sanitaire’) the
sub!ect is on’~ Who can _
cOilfess.

23

‘saturated with sexuality’, integrated by its inherent pathology into a field of medical practices,
socialised and familialised by the discourses of
fertility and nurture. ‘The Mother, with her negative image, the “nervous woman”, constitutes the
most visible form of this hystericisation. ,44
(2) The ‘pedagogisation of the child’s sex’. The
child, biologically susceptible to an activity ‘at
once “natural” and “against nature”’, becomes an
ambivalent and marginal social being, the object
of the pedagogical concern and attention of every
institution into which she /he is inserted.

(3) The ‘socialisation of procreative conduct’: a
developing medical/fiscal/ economic /political
apparatus for the control and/or stimulation of
the birth-rate.

(4) The ‘psychiatrisation of perverse pleasures’:

the isolation of a biological-psychic sexual instinct
which becomes the index for the normality / abnormality of the whole individual and the target of
a corrective technology.

Family, class, race
These themes are given by Foucault a number of
further elaborations which are of immense interest
and Significance, but can only be outlined here in
, the briefest summary.

Firstly, the domain of the family (which covers
three at least of the above four strategies) stands
at the heart of the problematic of sexuality because
it marks the point of articulation of two historical/
ethnographic structures regulating the relations of
bodies and their sex: the alliance, a system centring on the homeostasis of kinship structures, on
the themes of blood and ancestry, where questions
of sex (as in the mediaeval confessional) are predicated on the axis of the matrimonial alliance; and
the more recent system of sexuality, oriented
towards maximisation rather than stabilisation,
‘linked from the start to an intensification of the
body’, relating sex to a problematic of sexuality,
substituting the valorisation of sex for that of blood,
preoccupied with heredity rather than ancestry.

For Foucault it is the family which acts as the
integrating ‘exchanger’ betwee,n the structures of
sexuality and alliance; and this is why since the
18th century ‘the family has become a place of
oblig3.tory affects, sentiment, love’, why ‘sexuality
has the family for its privileged point of emergence’, and why, because of this, sexuality is
‘born “incestuous”’. Hence the early preoccupation of ethnography with the incest-taboo. ‘To
affirm that every society • .. and hence our own,
is subject to this rule of rules, guaranteed that
this apparatus of sexuality . .• couldn’t escape
from the old system of alliance. ‘ ‘If one admits
that the incest-prohibition is the threshold of all
culture, then sexuality finds itself placed since
the depths of time under the sign of the law. ‘

As the family came to’ be penetrated by the discourse previously developed at its margins in the
confessional and the school, its position as the
centre of sexual danger took visible shape in’ the
new gallery of sexual characters: ‘the nervous
woman, the frigid wife, the mother indifferent or
beset with murderous obseSSions, the impotent or
perverted husband, the daughter hysterical or
neurasthenic, the child precocious, already
exhausted, the young homosexual who refuses
marriage or neglects his wife •.. the mixed figures
of disordered alliance and abnormal sexuality. ‘

Hence the mounting chorus of cries for help
addressedfroIJl the family to clinical experts.

44 Ibld,

24

pl37

Hence, again, at the end of the 19th century, the
apparent paradox of psychoanalysis, which ‘uncovered the sexuality of the individual outside of
the family, but rediscovered at the heart of this
sexuality, as the principle of its formation and the
core of its intelligibility, the law of alliance, the
mixed games of marriage, kinship and incest. ’45
The problematic of sexuality, after being grafted
on to the system of alliance, now comes to the
latter’S therapeutic aid. (This is not, Foucault
however adds, to deny that psychoanalysis set
itself in radical opposition to the discourses of
sexual heredity and degeneracy, with their
eugenically-minded therapeutics and fantastic
aetiologies, spuriously buttressed upon advances
in the biology of animal reproduction, which prepared the way for the state racisms of the 20th
century.)
A critique of ‘the repressive hypothesis’ must
take into account the counter-criticisms that psychoanalysis can make of it; Foucault indeed does so,
and his responses connect with both his remarks on
the ‘juridico-discursive’ image of power and his
observations concerning the genealogy of psychoanalysis. 46 But there is also to be considered the
objection that the strategy of sexual repression has
had a major historical function in the service of
capitalism, parallel to that of the techniques of
popular moralisation,. described in Surveiller et
Punir, of disciplining and controlling the poorer
classes. Foucault argues, however, that the construction of the ‘apparatus of sexuality’ had the
initial and primary sense of a self -affirmation of
one class, the ~ourgeoisie, rather than of an enslavement of another, the proletariat. The
‘question of sex’ is originally posed – beginning
with the confessional- by means of subtle techniques
available only to restricted groups. The sexual
family is the bourgeois family; the nervous woman
is Uie leisured woman; the deviant youth is the
college pupil. It is its own heredity, the safety
from degeneration of its own intellectual and moral
powers, the ‘important, fragile treasure, the indispensable secret’ of its own sex which concerns
the bourgeoisie: ‘the high political price of its own
body’. ‘There is a bourgeois sexuality, there are
class sexualities, or rather sexuality is originally,
historically, bourgeOiS, and induces ,in its successive displacements and transpositions specific
class effects. ‘ Foucault identifies three stages in
which sexuality is generalised and transposed to
the masses: the late 18th century al1!Xiety about
popular infertility;47 the beginnings, around the
1830s, of campaigns of popular moralisation in
fa ,”our of the canonical family; the emergence at
the end of the 19th century of mass medico-juridical
measures against perversions, in the interest of
the general biological protection of society and the
race. Foucault remarks on two class effects of this
generalisation of sexuality: on the one hand, the
persistent suspicion of the proletariat that ‘sexuality’ is the bourgeoisie’s affair, not theirs; on the
other, the point of origin of the discourse of repression as a new principle of sexual differentiation
of the bourgeoisie – no longer in terms of the sexuality of its body, but of the intensity of its
repression. ‘Those who have lost the exclusive
privilege of concern with their sexuality have
henceforth the privilege of experiencing more than
others what prohibits it, and possessing the means
45 Ibid, p149

46 On this, see also ‘Madness and Civilisation’.

47 ‘The discovery that the art of tricking nature, far from being the privilege
of city-dwellers and debauchees. was known and practised by those who
(being so close to nature itseU) ought to have been more than all others
repelled by It. ‘ Ubic!.. p161)

I
I

I
I

of lifting its repression. ,48 Hence the possibility
of an archaeology of psychoanalysis as a historic
‘displacement and realignment of the great apparatus of sexuality’; hence also the reason for doubting whether the post- Freudian critique of repression, even in the politically radical form given to
it by Reich, can serve either as a principle for
understanding the history of the apparatus in which
it is itself embedded, or as a means towards
dismantling it.

Instead, the questioning of the ‘question of sex’

has to be located, as Foucault’s concluding chapter
argues, within a historical horizon where societies
appropriate the power not only to destroy the bodily
life of its members, but to manage it: the era of
‘the entry of life into history’ in the sense that the
human species itself appears as a stake in its own
strategies. The political importance of sexuality
consists in its being the point of intersection
between two extreme levels of power over life the discipline of the individual body, and the regulation of the life of the population. 49 The strategies of sexual power enumerated by Foucault have
the function of integrating these dimensions of
‘discipline’ and ‘regulation’. It is in this framework, and that of the tension between ‘alliance’

and ‘sexuality’, that Foucault situates both the
route to genocidal racism and the contemporary
and expressly anti-racist Freudian quest for the
‘law’ of sexual desire.

La Volonte de Savoir ends with a confrontation of
the objection that Foucault has obliterated the fundamental, material fact of sex in favour of a history
of discourses, thereby instituting just one more
form of repression: castration, once again. His
uncompromising response to this is to deny that the
materiality of our bodies and their pleasures is to
be identified with the ‘sex’ of sexuality. It is part
of the armature of the ‘general theory of sex’ that
it ‘permits the inversion of the representation of the
relations of power and sexuality, and makes the
latter appear not in its essential and positive relation to power, but as anchored in a specific and
irreducible instance which power seeks to subject
as it may; thus, the idea of ‘sex’ allows one to
evade the issue of what makes the ‘power’ of power
– allows one to think of it only as la wand interdict •..

Sex is only an ideal point made necessary by the
apparatus of sexuality and its functioning. ’50
Hence one can elicit the message – which is unlikely to be universally welcomed – that the struggle
against sexism (to which, without overtly referring
itself to it, Foucault’s present undertaking makes
an important contribution) can be effective only if it
addresses itself to ‘sexuality’ itself – to the sexism
of sex. Foucault has remarked upon the characteristic mobility of power relationships, citing in particular the instance of homosexuals who, since the
19th century, have seized upon the pathologising
discourse of ‘perverse implantation’ and reversed
it into a discourse of defiant self-affirmation; but
he has recently added that ‘liberation’ movements
are under the necessity of displacing themselves in
relation to the apparatus within ID ich they come into
being, of disengaging from and moving beyond it. 51
As he says in Surveiller et Punir about the prisons,
48 Ibld, pl72. Cl. how the bourgeOisie appropriates to itself the art of the
master criminal. See ‘Pl”ison Talk’ in Radical Philosop!!y 16.

49 What Foucault says here about discipline (cf. ppI84-5) is in complete
continuity with SurveillC’r et Punir- he adds here that the reformist
theories of ‘ldeologues’ (discussed in that book – see above) are an early
attempt, but at an abstract and speculative level only, at the problem of
the integration of these two axes of power: a problem to whose solution in
the 19th century the ‘apparatus of sexuality’ was to make a crucial
contribution.

50 Ibid, pp204-5
51 Le Nouvel Observateur (12 March 1977) p95

his historical inquiry is indeed inspired by contemporary struggles. An anachronistic history, then?

‘No, if one means by that to do the history of the
past in the terms of the present. Yes, if one.

means by that to do the history of the present. ,52
Foucault says that his theoretical postulates about
sex and power stand in a circular relationship to
the historical inquiry which he has undertaken. In
a less defensive spirit, he has said that the gue5tion
of philosophy and history are inseparable. 53 Partly
because I share this view, I am not offering here
a ‘philosophical assessment’ of Foucault’s recent
work. 54 However, one consequence of both this and
his earlier writings is of some philosophical interest. This is that it unmistakably points towards the
final ringing down of the curtain on the theatre of
psychological interiority, and on the latter’s leading
player, ‘the subject’. Probably we have yet to fully
register what it means not to think of human individuals as ‘subjects’, and (of course) one condition
for doing so is the settling of our accounts with
moral philosophy; in any case, ‘the individual’

itself might have a less hegemonic part to play in
a different form of knowledge.

Utilising roueault
Perhaps it is sufficiently clear that, if we choose
to accept and utilise the substance of what Foucault
is saying, this may have immediate consequences
for the way we situate ourselves in relation to
questions of power. These texts, which harp on the
themes of ‘bodies’, ‘diSCipline’ and ‘power apparatuses’, in the absence of any. prior statement of
political pOSition, are perhaps still apt to offend
against our political good taste, our libertarian
prudery, our sense of deoency about discussions of
power. One can simply note that Foucault puts on
to the agenda the question of the political as such,
of the relationship, that is, between our conceptions
of ‘politics’ and our ‘political’ practices. ‘What
strikes me in Marxist analyses is that it is always
an issue of “class struggle’~ but that if there is a
word in this expression to which less attention has
been paid, it is “struggle’~ Here again one must be
more precise. The greatest of the Marxists (beginning wi. th Marx) have insisted on “military”problems
(the army as a state apparatus, armed insurrection,
revolutionary war). But when they speak of “class
struggle” as the general outcome of history, they·
are chiefly worried about knowing what a class is,
where it is situated, who it encompasses, but
never what in concrete terms the struggle is. With
one exception (near to hand, in any case): no~ the
theoretical, but the historical texts of M~5x himself, which are finer in a different way.’

52 Surveiller et Punir p30
53 ‘The questior. of philosophy Is the question of the present which is ourselves. That’s why philosophy today is entirely political and historical.

It is the immanent politics of history, and the history which is indispensable to politics.’ Le Nouvel Observatcur ibid, p1l3
54 One condition for a discussion of this would be an enquiry into the knowledge/power structure involved in the production of ‘history’ – both the
object and the discourse. (Cl. Michel de Certeau, L’Ecriture de
I’Histoire (Gallimard, 1975) and Jean-Pierre Faye, Theorie du Ret’it/
Langages Totalitaires (Hermalm, 1972-3}.) The need for a theory of the
relationship between the standpoint, ‘method’ and object of history is, of
course, particularly pressing when it is the history of power which is in
question. The theory has yet to be produced.

55 Ibid, p130

SUB S CRI B E
T 0

R A DIe A L
PHI l 0 SOP

~

Y

25
.1.

Buy the newest RP in printDownload the PDF