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Security, territory, population: course context

The course context for STP was written by Michel Sennellart, who is a professor of political philosophy at the Lyon École normale Supérieure des lettres et sciences humaines. The discussion, while it mostly focuses on STP, also covers the Birth of Biopolitics as these were published as a “diptych” in French. Therefore we get a preview of next year’s lectures.

Below I provide a short summary of the points I found interesting.

Sennellart says that it is tempting (and somewhat legitimate) to see these lectures as making a “radical turning point” in Foucault’s work, away from the language of battle and the analytics of power, toward governmentality. Yet at the same time the question of biopower is consonant with that of sexuality (or perhaps vice versa). “In 1976 he asserted that sexuality ‘exists at the point where body and population meet'” (p. 370, inner quote from SMD, p. 251-2). The last chapter of History of Sexuality, as Stuart Elden has underlined, was written around this time and Foucault said they were the key to the book, if under-read.

After then discussing the developments at the time these lectures were given, such as Foucault’s personal involvement in the Klaus Croissant affair. This is today illuminating from the point of view of Foucault’s relation to terrorism and the state’s response through security. It is important for Foucault (says Sennellart) not to reduce this security response to traditional categories of politics, nor simply to respond to it by calling it fascist or totalitarian.

This criticism, repeated in the 1979 lectures [7 March 1979], was not only aimed at the leftist theses to which Foucault was quite close for a long time. It also explains his rejection of terrorism as a means of action that draws its legitimacy from the anti-fascist struggle. (STP, p. 373).

This is an important observation. Foucault shows that there is a space that exists that connects being in favor of asylum for the accused and being against terrorism. Nevertheless, this position cost him his friendship with Gilles Deleuze.

Again, in 1979 travelled to Iran to observe the revolts there (at some political cost to his career, it must be said). Foucault attempted to address the problematics of a refusal to condemn the Iranian uprising (at least initially) by saying he took a more general line in favor of an antistrategic morality:

my theoretical morality is opposite to theirs [politicians, historians, revolutionaries, followers of the shah or ayatollah, etc]. It is “antistrategic”: to be respectful when a singularity revolts, intransigent when power violates the universal (Useless toRevolt, p. 453).

In terms of the lectures themselves, really they don’t cover the topic announced in the title. “Government” comes to replace “territory” as a focus. This was prefigured in History of Sexuality Vol 1 and Society Must be Defended.

Government of what? In the first instance, and importantly “population” or a “biopolitics of the human species” (SMD, p. 243). This is “no longer” the anatomo-politics of the human body  and marks a break with the disciplinary society. Yet this is not a dropping out of the term of power to government, but its “extension” to it (STP, p. 382). What is the rationality that underlies the governance of populations? Can we speak of a society of security now? In his initial lectures Foucault takes the argument through a case study of the problem of the town: the population in its “milieu.” This is an interesting discussion as it connects security to populations.

In the third lecture Foucault focuses in on government, and while at first this would seem to be an extension of the earlier lectures, Sennellart says that it is actually a “profound turning point” (STP, p. 379). In fact this is where Foucault says that the hidden title of the lectures is the “History of governmentality” (STP, p. 108).

The course summary then moves to the Birth of biopolitics and the “problem of grain” which is an entryway into economics and liberalism. The latter is defined through its desire to govern less in accordance to the “naturalness of the phenomena one is dealing with” (STP, p. 383). However, this is for next year!

Finally, there are some interesting remarks on counter-conducts. These are discussed extensively in lecture 8 (1 March, 1978). They are not only linked to government, but may lead to a “crisis of governmentality” (BoB, 24 Jan. 1979, and “The subject and power” p. 341). “The reading of liberalism that Foucault proposes can only be understood on the basis of this questioning” (STP, p. 390).

In an interpolated manuscript, Foucault writes:

two formulations: everything is political by nature of things; everything is political by the existence of adversaries [Schmitt].

It is a question of saying rather: nothing is political, everything can be politicized, everything may become political. Politics is no more or less than that which is born with resistance to governmentality, the first uprising, the first confrontation (STP, p. 390).

Schematic no doubt, but indicative of the relationship between counter-conducts and government.


2 Responses

  1. […] Jul 23rd, 2007 by Jeremy Earlier posts looking at Security, Territory, Population are here and here. […]

  2. […] Security, Territory, Population course context […]

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