Self-policing

Katt asks below if Foucault uses the term “self-policing” in his work.

Sometimes when I have a question like this I use books.google.com to search (they have digitized many though not all Foucault books). In this case you will not find that phrase (or “self-police,” or either of those without the hyphen).

But need we just be limited by that phrase? The idea is prominent enough in Foucault (a related term is “conduct of conduct” which refers to the conduct of others and oneself,) and receives a lot of attention in his “technology of the self and others” phase of his work toward the end of his life; that is, the “governmentality” phase.

These ideas are nicely summarized in the piece known as “The Subject and Power” which forms an afterword to Rabinow and Dreyfus’ book Michel Foucault Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (1983). For example, see pp. 220-1.

The Security, Territory, Population series of lectures coming out this week also discuss “conduct” a lot.

I think we know also that Foucault’s use of the term “police” refers to the historical usage of it, which was originally much wider than its current meaning, and was related to governance.  And therefore could indeed include “self-policing.”

So there is plenty of discussion of this idea in Foucault (another one is the great interview, actually a favorite of mine “Ethics of the concern for the self as a technology of freedom.”)

5 Responses

  1. Thanks, Jeremy!

  2. Hi Jeremy – thanks for your response….

    My original questions to Katt were:

    • On April 28, 2007 at 11:22 am Ann Said:
    No problem. I actually came across your site because I have been reading a book on Foucault that uses that the term “self-policing”. As far as I know Fouault himself doesn’t use the term and so I’m trying to track down where the term comes from. I’m interested – where did you get the term “self policing” in relation to Foucault’s work?
    • On April 28, 2007 at 9:15 pm Ann Said:
    Interesting. I didn’t recall reading that in D&P, so I did a search of the electronic copy on Amazon and I cannot find any mention of ‘self-policing’ or ‘self-subjugation’ or the term subjugation. However, the term subjection is used. The term ‘policing’ is used in D&P but never in the context of policing the self. It seems the term self-policing is used by feminist writers Bordo and also by Bartky who utilize ideas Foucault’s develops in D&P. I also found others, such as Kate Soper in her chapter “productive contradictions” in the edited volume Up Against Foucault, who cite Bordo and Bartky using this term. Many such as Soper are critical of the idea of ‘self-policing’. In the French original of D&P entitled “surveiller et punir ” Foucault uses the term assujettissement which Milchman and Rosenberg argue, in a recent article in Parrhesia Journal, has a range of meanings that are not captured when the term it is translated into ‘subjection’ or ‘subjugation’. While assujettissement entails subjugation and subjection it they suggest that Foucault also see assujettissement as involving autonomy and the possibility of resistance of the one who is assujetti (subjected). They suggest that Nikolas Rose’s translation to “subjectification’ captures the range of possible meanings Foucault’s term contains. At the moment I’m not sure about the use of the term ‘self-policing’. It seems to me to close down some of the complexity in the Foucault’s original ideas. Any thoughts?

  3. The terms “conduct of conduct” and “technology of the self and others” seem to also capture some of the complexity in Foucault’s ideas. The idea that relations of power always involve the possibility of resistance and they involve autonomy seem critical to Foucault’s studies and for me these terms capture these idea in a way that “self-policing” doesn’t.

  4. I use “subjectification” when I want to translate “assujettissement .” It nicely has the sense of “making into a subject.”

    The idea that power is not domination, that is, that freedom exists, is a key part of this, which many commentators (used to?) misread and cause them to reject Foucault as a nihilist or defeatist.

  5. Yes I agree. Although it seems to me that many of those who embrace Foucault also ignore, or misread, that freedom is part of this.

    I’ve done a little bit more research and it seems that the term self-policing is being derived from D&P – see http://aristotelianbirdseyeview.wordpress.com/2007/04/05/foucault-and-the-feminine-body-part-one-of-two-foucault-and-weight-watchers/#comment-138

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