Ian Hacking on making up people

Ian Hacking’s recent long article in the London Review of Books is of considerable interest to Foucault scholars.

In fact, Hacking’s work itself has long shown an affinity for certain aspects of Foucault, if it would be a bit much to say that it was influenced by it.

As he described in a recent lecture (.doc) at the Heyman Center on the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Order of Things, he has a long interest in Foucault’s work.

In the spring of 1974 I gave a course of lectures about some of Foucault’s work. A colleague is reported to have told a visitor, ‘if you wonder why the bookshops have copies of Foucault in their front windows, it is all Hacking’s fault’.

Hacking wrote the Introduction for the full recent translation of the History of Madness (the one that got all the controversy recently, with a long reply by Colin Gordon).

The 1961 Folie et Déraison did indeed turn out to be, as its first preface promised, the beginning of a long series of investigations. Innumerable themes found here were to be reworked over the next few years, not least among them being that of something to be called ‘archaeology’, a neologism announced in the same preface. Other themes: Exclusion; Conditions of possibility; The coming into being of a sense of history; Time, yes, but also the spatial character of all Foucault’s analyses is prefigured. ‘Discursive formation’, which became a vogue phrase in American, and still clutters up undergraduate essays, had not yet surfaced.

One thought was to be decisively dropped. It was the idea of there being some underlying truth about madness. The idea that there is in madness an inaccessible primitive purity (F&D, p. 000, in italics). Those words are from the original preface. Part of that preface, including those words, was suppressed by 1964. But I believe they are true to the thought that went into the book. The romantic fantasy lurks here, the purity of the possessed, of those who not only speak the truth in paradox, like the fools in Shakespeare, but who are themselves the truth.

But to get back to the LRB essay, which was headlined “Making Up People” (his own title was “Moving Targets”), he basically discusses subjectification.

I have long been interested in classifications of people, in how they affect the people classified, and how the affects on the people in turn change the classifications. We think of many kinds of people as objects of scientific inquiry. Sometimes to control them, as prostitutes, sometimes to help them, as potential suicides. Sometimes to organise and help, but at the same time keep ourselves safe, as the poor or the homeless. Sometimes to change them for their own good and the good of the public, as the obese. Sometimes just to admire, to understand, to encourage and perhaps even to emulate, as (sometimes) geniuses. We think of these kinds of people as definite classes defined by definite properties. As we get to know more about these properties, we will be able to control, help, change, or emulate them better. But it’s not quite like that. They are moving targets because our investigations interact with them, and change them. And since they are changed, they are not quite the same kind of people as before. The target has moved. I call this the ‘looping effect’. Sometimes, our sciences create kinds of people that in a certain sense did not exist before. I call this ‘making up people’.

How are people made up? Hacking identifies a number of what he calls “engines”:

I am concerned with the human sciences, from sociology to medicine, and they are driven by several engines of discovery, which are thought of as having to do with finding out the facts, but they are also engines for making up people. The first seven engines in the following list are designed for discovery, ordered roughly according to the times at which they became effective. The eighth is an engine of practice, the ninth of administration, and the tenth is resistance to the knowers.

1. Count!
2. Quantify!
3. Create Norms!
4. Correlate!
5. Medicalise!
6. Biologise!
7. Geneticise!
8. Normalise!
9. Bureaucratise!
10. Reclaim our identity!

You can see quite a few Foucauldian themes there, including normalization, but also medicalization and biologization. These themes, although not described as such, certainly shade into biopolitics.

Hacking has written a lot on the emergence of statistics and probability (and even written a nice textbook on the latter) and held a Chair at the Collège de France between 2000-2006.

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6 Responses

  1. Perhaps you’re being humourous and I’m having a literal moment, but you seem to be underselling the explicit relationship between Hacking and Foucault. His work on making people up is elsewhere overtly Foucauldian (evidence below). In many ways Hacking’s work raises questions about protocols of citation and debt- about how the academic traditions of discipleship are asymmetrically enforced through demands that some people continual acknowledge their reliance on big name thinkers, while others can often write without names.

    Hacking’s 1982 article argues for the importance of the biopolitical pole of biopower.
    Ian Hacking, 1982. “Biopower and the Avalanche of Printed Numbers.”
    _Humanities in Society_ 5: 279-295.
    He has stated in one of the introductions to his books on statistics (not in front of me so can’t check which) that he only doesn’t cite Foucault more because he thinks its relevance and effect on his work is so obvious. Plus his work on MPD (numerous articles and his book _Rewriting the Soul_) he describes as memoro-politics which he explicitly states is a supplemental third pole to Foucault’s bipolar model of biopower. Making People Up appears as a framework for Hacking throughout these works, first too hastily (as he says) in Avalanche and then with more specificity in his 1990s stuff on mental illnesses.

  2. I was being very slightly humorous, but also I didn’t want to just say that so-and-so is “influenced” by someone as if they haven’t brought anything to the table themselves. I’m a long-time admirer of Hacking’s work, though by no means a student of it, especially the MPD stuff, but wanted to give him credit.

    Your related point is also a good one: what is the practice of citation and debt? This has come up with Foucault himself (why didn’t he cite Marx and Heidegger more often if he was so influenced by them–a question addressed in the Heidegger and Foucault book). It has also come up in attacks on Foucault’s scholarship (I don’t know how many people have said to me that in reading Foucault’s lectures that they’re amazed by the citations there, which are very pruned in say Discipline and Punish or the translations).

    More recently it has come up in scholarship (beyond the anxiety of influence kind of thing) and proper citation: the Finkelstein/Dershowitz controversy which had its resolution last week, numerous historians being pulled up short such as Michael Bellesiles down the road at Emory, etc.

    So, thanks for your comment. Perhaps this can be taken forward.

  3. [...] Ian Hacking, who as I wrote in an earlier post has made a study of autism and the idea of “making up people.” Has anyone given thought to Michel Foucault’s concept of social construction? So, to [...]

  4. dear hacking,

    i’m PHD student (hassen rebhi from Tunisia)

    I’m interrested in social constructivist constructivism. if possible to send me any article/reference or website that fits the purpose

    thanks alot in advance

  5. I was wondering if there is somewhere an end to the Heyman Center conference?
    I felt that the most important of Hacking argument was just after page 24!

  6. I also think that one major and decisive difference (which isn’t a detail, hum) is that Hacking isn’t a structuralist. That is (which is not insignificant) he can give an account of what a rule is which isn’t clear in Foucault work. Foucault seems to remain what Vincent Descombes calls a structural causalist.
    But since that is what might the end of Hacking’s Heyman Center conference might be about it is very difficult to judge.
    Where is the end of the paper?
    Best…

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